Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Kabbalah of Parallel Creations: Divine and Human

The seventh portion of Exodus, Terumah/Contribution, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, February 13, 2016.

I draw on kabbalah to explore the 50 links between the two tapestries made to cover the Tabernacle described in this week’s Torah portion.  Kabbalah is a down-to-earth mysticism that provides a symbolic language, a spiritual bar code, for exploring how divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world.

First, I present here one of the 52 posts of the Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage. During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  See how Miriam and I link the Torah portion Terumah/Contribution to our life together.

The second part presents a discussion of kabbalah in selected excerpts from the chapter “Discovering Kabbalah through a Creative Lens” in my book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE

Exodus 7: Parallel Creations

Terumah/Contribution (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

“Make 50 loops on one tapestry and 50 loops on the edge of the second tapestry so that are parallel (maKBiLot) to one another.   Make 50 golden fasteners to join the tapestries together so that the Tabernacle should be one.” (Exodus: 26:5,6)

(Our grandson Or Alexenberg is the photographer for “Parallel Creations.”)


The Tabernacle was not covered by one tapestry canopy, but by two that complement one another.

The word maKBiLot in this Torah portion is the source of the word KaBaLah, an exploration of parallel creative processes, Divine and human

This parallelism between human creativity and Divine Creation is derived from the confluence of two scriptural passages:

The Tabernacle’s chief artist Bezalel was filled with “a Divine spirit, with Wisdom, Understand, and Knowledge and with artistic talent.” (Exodus: 31:3).

“God founded the earth in Wisdom, established heavens in Understanding, and with Knowledge the depths opened and skies dripped dew.” (Proverbs: 3:19-20).

Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge are only found together in the Bible to describe the creative artist and God, the Creator of the universe.

Kabbalah invites us to discover spiritual secrets of God’s Creation through gaining insight into our own creative process.

Having been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), every person has the potential to create new worlds, to renew the cosmos.

When you photograph God with the creative eyes of an artist you become God’s partner in creation.

Or created photographs of the majestic Negev mountains where he lives, studies and works as a professional photographer.

He explored the desert’s diversity with his creative lens: trees, migrating birds, ibex at the Ramon Crater, and first blooms of spring.


I hear the word kabbalah spoken frequently in Israel where I live.  I hear it from the supermarket checkout clerk when she hands me the long paper ribbon saying, “kabbalah shelkhah,”  “your receipt.”  The Hebrew word kabbalah means “receipt.”  In addition to its use in mundane affairs, kabbalah is the hidden wisdom of the deep structure of Jewish consciousness received from generation to generation.  It is appropriate that both a supermarket computer printout and the Jewish mystical tradition share the same word.  We all stand illiterate before the secret language of the digital age that only supermarket lasers can read — the bar code on boxes, bottles, and cans.  Kabbalah is a down-to-earth mysticism that provides a symbolic language, a spiritual bar code, for exploring how divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world.

When my wife, Miriam, and I carry our groceries from our car in the underground garage to the elevator, we hear an automated announcement in both Hebrew and English: “knisah rashit kabbalah, main entrance reception.”   Kabbalah is the reception desk at the entrance to our building. Entering our apartment, we unpack the bags and cook lunch together.   It is being in our kitchen with each other that the mystical secrets of life, the deepest meaning of human existence, are revealed.


Studying kabbalah invites the learner to visualize its symbolic language in terms of concrete experiences.  The deepest mysteries of kabbalah can only be understood at the level of everyday life.  In his book Fragments of a Future Scroll, Rabbi Zalman Schachter tells a Hasidic tale set in Eastern Europe more than a century ago to illuminate this core concept in understanding kabbalah.

Shmuel Munkes was walking down a road on his way to see his illustrious Rebbe when an elegant carriage stops.  A well-dressed dandy invites him to ride with him since he is going to see the Rebbe, too.  The dandy brags about being the son and grandson of kabbalists.  Shmuel asks this self-proclaimed kabbalist for help in deciphering a kabbalistic text of cosmic proportions that he said he had found on a scrap of paper in a old holy book:

“In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate.  Grainy nuclei unconnected.  Swirling.  Then fiat, they were one in one sphere.  The sphere unfolded into an orb.  On the orb-lines appeared, forces cut the space in fields.  These fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point.  Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid and in their cooperation all came our as it ought to be.”

The dandy expressed amazement at this mystical text that he admitted he could not place.  Shmuel explained that since he was a young student, he would have to wait weeks before the Rebbe would see him.  He said, “Since you are such an important man, you will be invited to see the Rebbe soon after you arrive in town.  Please ask the Rebbe about the text and tell me what he says.”  The dandy agrees and does get to see the Rebbe without a long wait.  The Rebbe slowly reads from the scrap of paper, closes his eyes and stares into inner places searching for the deepest meaning the text.  He opens his eyes and turns to the anxious dandy explaining the text with one word: kreplach (a Jewish version of ravioli).

“In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate, grainy nuclei unconnected swirling.” (That was flour.)  “Then fiat, they were in one sphere.” (Dough.)  “The sphere unfolded into an orb.” (The dough was rolled out flat.)  “On the orb lines appeared, forces cut the space into fields.” (Of course, diamond shaped pieces of dough are cut and meat put in.)  “The fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point. Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid.”  (As the pot was filled with water and put on the stove to boil, the kreplach were put in.) “And in their cooperation all came out as it ought to be.”

The Rebbe laughed when he finally saw Shmuel.  “What a dish you cooked up,” he said.


Kabbalah teaches how your creativity can draw holiness into a profane world by opening channels through which divine light illuminates your material reality.  You become a creator of worlds when you use your camera to reveal fresh visions of God in your surroundings in ways that no one has ever seen before.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik sees the transformation of the profane into the sacred when you become a partner of God in the act of creation, when you bringing into being something new, something original. Through your acts of creation, transcendence is lowered into the midst of our turbid, coarse, physical world.   The person who never creates, the passive type who is derelict in fulfilling his task of creation, the person who never brings into being anything new, cannot be holy. If you wish to attain holiness, you must become a creator of new ways of seeing the world.

Abraham Isaac Kook, a poet and down-to-earth mystic who served as the chief rabbi of the Land of Israel during the first part of the 20th century, teaches:

“Whoever is endowed with the soul of a creator must create works of imagination and thought, for the flame of the soul rises by itself and one cannot impede it on its course…. The creative individual brings vital, new light from the higher source where originality emanates to the place where it has not previously been manifest, from the place that ‘no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen.’ (Job 28:7), ‘that no man has passed nor has any person dwelt’” (Jeremiah 2:6).


Kabbalah is a metaphorical way of thinking rather than a body of knowledge to be seized.  Rabbi Arthur Green teaches that kabbalah offers a choreography for a dance of the mind to be apprehended by the part of the mind that appreciates poetry and hears its inner music.

This imaginative way of thinking led to the creation of a graphic model representing a spectrum of ten hues of divine light flowing down into our everyday world.  Each of these hues is called a sephirah (sephirot in plural).  The ten sephirot are interconnected by 22 pathways, each representing one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Hebrew letters are not merely letters.  They are the raw material of Creation combined into phrases in the spiritual realm like atoms into molecules in the physical realm and bits into bytes in the digital realm.


The kabbalistic model of creative process, both divine and human, is depicted by ten sephirot with 22 pathways linking them.  It is called a “Tree of Life.”  It was crystallized by Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as The Ari, and his circle in the Galilee mountain town of Tzfat in the sixteenth century.  In a single visual image, it revealed the major concepts of kabbalah that had formerly been hidden in a vast body of obscure verbal discourse that could only be deciphered by a learned few.  It made a profound contribution to understanding the complexities of kabbalah by a wider circle of people.

The ten sephirot are grouped into four Worlds: Emanation/Intention, Creation/Mind, Formation/Emotions, and Action/Making.  Although the Hebrew names of these worlds are usually translated as Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action, it is most relevant to the aims of this book to call the worlds by names denoting their meanings: Intention, Mind, Emotions, and Action.

At the top of the Tree of Life, closest to the source of the emanation of divine light, is the sephirah of Crown (Keter) the will and intention to create essential to setting the process of creation in motion.  Crown is the single sephirah of the World of Intention.

Crown is followed by two cognitive sephirot: Wisdom (Hokhmah) and Understanding (Binah) of the World of Mind.  Wisdom and Understanding are followed by six affective sephirot of the World of Emotions: Compassion (Hesed), Strength (Gevurah), Beauty (Tiferet), Success (Netzakh), Splendor (Hod), and Foundation (Yesod).  The eight sephirot from Crown to Splendor are funneled through Foundation into in the tenth sephirah Kingdom (Malchut) where they are actualized in the realm of space and time in our here and now World of Action.

Consciousness of the flow of divine light down through the worlds of Mind, Emotions, and Action “liberate the people who are blind though they have eyes and deaf though they have ears” (Isaiah 43:7-8).  Photography can be liberating when you open your eyes fully to see what was always there in fresh and creative ways.  Be on the lookout for acts of compassion, strength, beauty, success, and splendor as they illuminate the World of Action.  Listen closely enough to discover the delicate beauty in elusive melodies emanating from your everyday life.   Pay attention to the cries of the widow and orphan and the songs of birds.

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
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