Counting up towards marriage: 10 sefirot levels of developing a relationship
Over 3000 years ago, the Jewish people stood with trepidation at Mt. Sinai and God gave them the Torah. Every Shavuot, the Jewish people recommit themselves to God and his Torah. However, this is a process that begins from Passover. In Judaism, we count the Omer every day from the second day of Passover until Shavuot—the giving of the Torah. The counting of the Omer is a way of watching our development as we transition from slaves to free (actualized) people. We look forward to the freedom to renew “our vows”—our commitment to God and the Torah. Indeed, our rabbis often describe the giving of the Torah with a marital metaphor: God was like the groom, and we were his beloved, his bride. According to midrash (rabbinic commentary) Mount Sinai is turned upside down and forms a chuppah (wedding canopy) above this most enchanted union.
As we count up, we strive to climb an extra rung on our spiritual ladder each day. We have an opportunity to work on ourselves and develop our character to achieve our potential. One beautiful way to do this is to learn how we can apply the Sefirot (the 10 levels of divine emanation that filter down into the physical world, which we learn about from Kabalah) to our relationships. Whether you’re just starting out in something new or are long settled, internalizing the deeper meanings of this time period can help make your relationships even more special.
The ten Sefirot can be divided into two groups: intellect and emotion. Our relationships follow this same pattern. For example, first you make a conscious decision to date someone; you start with intellect. After you see that they “make sense on paper,” you want to make sure your values, interests and future goals align. Therefore, you continue to date to see what develops between you. The more time you spend with a potential marriage partner, the more the emotions come into play. The last step is to connect emotionally.
The first of the Sefirot is Chochmah, wisdom or intellect, which represents the potential of what is and what could be. Like a first date, it holds all of the potential of what could be the start to a beautiful relationship and marriage within it. This is only the first level, however, because it is all just potential—we must actualize the potential. A first date has the power to be the seed of what is yet to come.
The second Sefirah is Binah, intuition. It builds and expands on the potential. This is what happens once a couple begins dating. That spark of potential grows as the couple learns more and more about each other and begins to develop a relationship. It is the process of coming to understand another person, expanding the original potential that was there.
The third Sefirah is Daas, knowledge, and it typically symbolizes a sense of unification of the intellect and intuition, which then becomes the foundation of the relationship. For example, in Bereshit (Genesis), when Adam is said to know Chava, a form of the word “Daas” is used. When the masculine (Chochma) and feminine (Binah) come together, they produce Daas. It is the beginning of the intellectual turning into the emotional connection. Once a couple begins to learn more and more about each other, the knowledge they have gathered slowly turns into feelings of attachment and connection.
The fourth Sefirah is Chessed, translated as loving-kindness. It is showing compassion and giving without limit. Seeing this side of someone while in a relationship is key. It would be a major red flag if someone was lacking active kindness.
On the other hand, the fifth Sefirah is Gevurah, meaning limitation and restriction. Without boundaries, a relationship cannot thrive. Someone who is full of giving but doesn’t take the time to step back and focus on his or her own self-care won’t be able to give. Someone who gives to those who do not deserve it must also recognize that it may not be the right way to give. When someone is too kind, others may take advantage of him or her. Gevurah is what helps balance the characteristic of Chessed. Both qualities are needed in a balanced person and relationship.
The sixth Sefirah, called Tiferet, it is the right balance of giving to the appropriate recipient. It is also known as the characteristic of truth. When two people can be completely honest with each other, there is a new level of intimacy that is achieved. Tiferet is symbolized by the heart, and relates to balance and harmony.
The seventh Sefirah is called Netzach, which relates to the theme of eternity. Netzach is represented by the right leg, and it represents will and action. In order to move a relationship forward, action is required. Sitting back and just letting a relationship happen in a passive way is not a Jewish value. Anything worth having takes effort.
The eighth Sefirah is Hod, which represents majesty. It is represented by the left leg. At a certain point, every relationship requires effort to move things forward. You can’t see the majesty and splendor that a relationship has to offer without taking things to the next level. Whether it’s the act of being ready to commit, getting through a difficult time, or working through a hard conversation. We need to ready ourselves to action so we can work through the challenges our relationship faces and enjoy the beauty we build through this process.
The ninth Sefirah, Yesod, rests between Netzach and Hod. Yesod creates communication and a balance between the two. The proper balance required is a combination of having convictions and standing up for oneself without going overboard, and yielding to someone else without becoming submissive. There is a way to communicate without falling into either extreme. As a relationship grows, both partners should feel equal. Neither partner should become the dominant voice of the relationship, nor the submissive one. A free flow of communication is needed to develop the relationship into a potential marriage.
The tenth and final Sefirah is called Malchut, translated as royalty. This characteristic means both “exaltedness” and “humility.” This is taking that potential (Chochmah) and actualizing it completely. This is a lifelong process, as no relationship is ever perfect. We must always be growing and communicating with our spouse, and developing the potential of what the relationship could be. A new entity is created with Malchut. In our example, a couple that was dating took the potential that was there on their first date and worked on themselves and their relationship, creating something new—a marriage. This is the finale of the entire process of getting to know someone—fulfilling the original purpose and actualizing the potential.
The first three Sefirot, Chochma, Binah and Daas, represent the mind. The middle three, Chessed, Gevurah and Tiferet, represent the inner emotions. The last three, Netzach, Hod and Yesod, represent action. Malchut is the final experience after going through the mind, heart and body. When our intellect, emotions and actions are in alignment, a healthy relationship evolves.
May you find potential in the relationships you seek, and may the potential be actualized and evolve into a relationship you treasure.