Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kabbalah and He, She and IT

A few years ago I developed a bit of interest in Kabbalah, and no doubt, He, She and It holds some definite connections, so allow me to explain a bit about Kabbalah to the best of my ability. I must preface that I am by no means an expert on Kabbalah or even Judaism but I hope to shed a bit of light on the subject nonetheless.

In the Old Testament there exist two trees: the tree of life and the tree of wisdom. The tree of life grants immortality and a peaceful existence, which is what Adam and Eve originally held within the Garden of Eden. However, after “the fall” as it is often refered to, Adam and Eve took from the forbidden tree of wisdom which is what allows one to be conscious of their own self, stride forth in the pursuit of knowledge and basically makes us the rational beings we are. However, obviously by taking from the tree of wisdom we lost the tree of life in banishment from Eden. Along with it, humans gained “original sin”, sickness, strife, and all those other bad things we unleashed after opening Pandora’s Box.

In the tradition of Kabbalah, the sephirothic system (see link below) represents the tree of life, and thus a map between humanity and God, a means of returning to the creator or a “blueprint of creation” (Cooper 84). Therefore, by ascending the sephiroth completely, one basically becomes reunited or even obtains divinity. Logically it would seem that if one could understand the tree of life, humanity could return to its former state of bliss. Moreover, if one maintains the fruit of wisdom, they basically become equal to God.

As you can imagine, once you get into the system, things become rather complicated, but basically it is a set of virtues one must understand, one building on top of the other. The system consists of ten rings (sefirot) representing the main virtues, and 22 lines (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) connecting each sefirot together. This link is an image of the sephirothic tree:


From top down and right to left, the sefirot are as follows: keter (Crown_supreme/total consciousness), Chochma (wisdom_power of wisdom), Binah (understanding_power of vision), chesed (loving/kindness_power of love), Gevurah (strength_power of intention), Tiferet (beauty_creative power), Netzach (victory_power of the eternal), hod (empathy_intelectual/observation power), yesod (foundation_power of manifesting) and Malkhut (sovereignty/world) (Cooper 87).

So, the general populous of humanity starts at Malkut and the goal is to ascend each sefirot, eventually reaching Keter, basically equal to god. There are quite a few interesting little aspects to the Kabbalah and the sephirothic system such as the patterns which emerge, which is where numerical significance comes in. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value, for instance: Gimel is the third letter and its numerical value is three, yod is the tenth letter and repsents ten. Yod holds special significance in that it is believed to be the number of creation, thus the ten sefirot, but there are supposedly patterns everywhere in the Torah, and by understanding them, one could understand the path of the sephiroth. One example of the patterns uses the words for: father, mother child: father is bet (2) aleph (1); mother is mem (40) aleph (1). The sum of these numbers equals 44. Now the word for child is dalet (4) lamed (30) yod (10), the sum of which is 44. This is a nice simple example from the film pi, but I hope it facilitates my point. Notice also, the appearance of yod in terms of creation.

A bit of a lengthy explanation but in reality nothing but the tip of what Kabbalah means and I feel as though I have not done the topic justice, but this is the basic idea. Now the point in how it relates to He, She, and IT is I believe basically the subjectivity of humanity. Humans may gain or loose their humanity up and down the sephiroth. We are born at Malchut but throughout life, most should ascend a few sefirot, perhaps not gain a perfect understanding of them, but at least a crude one. For instance, take Hod which represents empathy which we have discussed as a rather important facet of humanity. Within this subjectivity, highly advanced machines such as Yod can also ascend the sephiroth and gain humanity in the same way any human could. Yod of course begins his life at Malchut like any other, but also had incomplete knowledge of dictionary definitions without experiences to back them up. However, while spending time with shira, Yod slowly begins to understand and fill in the gaps of his existence. Here is where the significance of Yod’s name fits in as well. The novel is also about man’s first attempts at playing god, so Yod’s namesake fittingly pertains to his own unique creation.

Cooper, David A. God is a Verb. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1997.

Pi a film by Darren Aronofsky

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