The sefirot functioned as a bridge between Eyn Sof and the finite world for Spanish Kabbalists. Through the study of the Torah, one could find the secrets of God hidden there to achieve a relationship with Eyn Sof. Specifically, the entrance into the world of God was through the last of the sefirot , the Shekhinah. Spanish Kabbalists introduced a revolutionary aspect into mysticism with the conception of God as having masculine and feminine attributes. The Shekhianh was believed to be the feminine aspect of God and she was important to achieving a relationship with God.
The conception that God had both masculine and feminine aspects was first introduced in Sefer ha-Bahir (Dan 29). As Eyn Sof, God was beyond the distinction of male and female. Eyn Sof was a wholly united divine androgyne. When Eyn Sof limited Itself to emanate and create the finite world, the division into male and female aspects occurred. This division allowed the entrance of sexual symbolism into Kabbalistic thought. The Shekhinah was the only one of the sefirot to be directly related to the world. The other sefirot , particularly the ninth sefirah Yesod, were conceived as flowing through the Shekhinah as an active, procreative force to create the universe (Scholem, Major Trends 227). This type of sexual imagery was one of the most characteristic elements of Spanish Kabbalah (Dan 30).
The Shekhinah was often described as the queen, bride, sister, wife or daughter who stood by the side of the figure of the masculine divine (Dan 92). She was to be understood as a distinctly feminine aspect of God as well as being a completely separate aspect of Eyn Sof. She was depicted by Kabbalists as the daughter of God who in turn gave her to the Jewish people as their wife (Ariel 92).
This giving away of the bride was understood as the exile of the Shekhinah. The exile of the Shekhinah was connected to the deep seated feeling of exile experienced by the Jewish people (Ariel 103). Kabbalists believed that by righteous action the shekhinah could be returned to her unified state with God. Religious actions could unite the Shekhinah with the sefirah Tifeeret which then had a theurgic impact on God to establish a relationship (Ariel 98).
The Shekhinah was the gateway to reach the other sefirot in order to achieve her union with Tifeeret as well as to learn the hidden secrets of God (Ariel 93). There was a distinction between torah de-beri'ah , the Torah in a state of creation, and torah de-'atsiluth , the Torah in a state of emanation (Scholem, On Kabbalah 66). Torah de-beri'ah was thought of as the outer garment of the Shekhinah, the revealed Torah as opposed to the hidden face of God. The truly devoted mystic could illuminate the Shekhinah to enter her gateway into the hidden, secret world of God found in the other sefirot (Scholem, On Kabbalah 67).
The Shekhinah was the only aspect of God which could be felt immanently in the world. She was the intermediary between the sefirot and the finite world (Ariel 94). As the wife of the Jewish people her presence was palpable. She was the caring part of God, dwelling in two worlds at once (Ariel 94). Both God and the Jewish people wanted nothing more than the end of her exile which Kabbalists especially worked to achieve by reuniting with Tifeeret (Ariel 103).
The Shekhinah functioned as a two way street. The emanated world of Eyn Sof flowed through her to create the world. At the same time she was the gateway by which Kabbalists could enter into the hidden world of God to learn Its secrets. She was the feminine aspect of God in exile. What was necessary to the Kabbalists was an active pursuit of returning the Shekhinah to a unitive state thereby reuniting God into Its divine androgynous aspect.
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