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Kabbalah symbols

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The Kabbalah has a series of symbols, the understanding of which is essential for all those embracing this new vision of the world. The majority of these symbols is essentially of Judaic nature and each of them can be taken separately and analyzed as such. The following paragraphs shall present in brief the main aspects of the Kabbalah symbols, with the brief mention that the Tree of Life symbol shall be discussed in a separate article.

Many of these symbols are present in pieces of jewelry and decorations, showing thus the comprehensive dimension of the Kabbalah manifesting in all manners, both domestic and spiritual. Even though some of these objects appear to be regular religious objects, they are imbued with great mystical significance.

Hamsa Hand/ Hand of Fatima /Hand of Miriam

This symbol is common to both Judaism and Islam and consists of a representation of a hand with an eye in the palm. The hand has three straight fingers and the curved finger and the pinky one are tilted upwards and always symmetrical. The eye displayed on the palm is an expression of the evil eye, and the whole ensemble is used as a protective amulet against the evil eye. In order for its protective powers to be highly efficient, it is worn either as a pendant, bracelet or hung on the walls of the home.

Star of David/Magen David

The Star of David is the most well-known emblem of Judaism. It was first featured as such during the Middle Ages when it could be found on synagogue walls, tombs and flags. Since the Kabbalah developed around the same time, the symbol was easily embraced by it. From a Kabbalah perspective, the hexagram is imbued with the symbolism of space, the union between male and female energy and the presence of the four elements: air, fire, water and earth.

Menorah

The menorah is a Jewish symbol dating back to the time of the Temple of Jerusalem. Initially it was considered to be of Babylonian influence, as it used to have seven branches. Additionally, seven is a sacred number in Judaism as it refers to the seven days of the Creation.

The seven-branched menorah survived in the Temple until its sacking by the Romans in 70 AD. However, during the rededication of the Temple in the second century BC, the oil is said to have burnt in the Temple’s menorah for eight days, generating thus the nine-branched menorah which is employed during Hanukkah. Eight of its branches are supposed to be lit for each day of Hanukkah, while a ninth, which is usually placed higher or lower than the rest is for domestic use or for lighting the rest of the branches.

Dreidel (s’vivon)

The Dreidel is another symbol associated with Hanukkah. It consists of a four-sided spinning top which is inscribed with Hebrew characters. The Dreidel was associated from the beginning with gambling and since during Hanukkah gambling rules tended to be more relaxed it remained a symbol of the holiday. The letters “nun, gimel, heh, shin” are inscribed on the Dreidel and they mean “A great miracle happened there” referring thus to the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days in the Temple. The Dreidel Is currently used in games during Hanukkah.

Priestly Blessing ( also known as Birkat Kohanim or Aaronic Blessing)

The Priestly Blessing is in fact a gesture accompanied by a blessing (known as Preistly Blessing, or Birkat Kohanim) given to the believers on holidays. The gesture consists of positioning one’s hands into two “V” shapes, taking the form of the Hebrew letter Shin, which symbolizes the Presence of God or Shekhina.

The blessing is taken from the Book of Numbers and is the following: “The Lord bless and keep you./The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you./The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”

Mezuzah

A mezuzah is a case containing the Shema Israel prayer on a small scroll attached to the doorpost in a home, school and/or synagogue. The aim of the mezuzah is to protect the inhabitants of the house. There are several traditions regarding the placement of the mezuzah, according to each of the branches of Judaism. Thus, some place it horizontally, some vertically and some tilted. However, it is essential to take great care of the mezuzah, and remove it when moving from the house, to prevent it from being disrespected by the new owners.

Chai

In Hebrew the word means “living” or “alive”. Chai is also the symbol used for number 18, a number associated with life and the presence of God in Judaism. Additional meanings of the word are: charity, good fortune and even longevity. From this point of view, whenever someone donates money it is common to donate a multiple of 18.

Pentagram

The pentagram is a five-pointed star which dates back to Babylonian times and was constructed by a careful assessment of the pattern established by the movement of planet Venus on the sky. Although it has been embraced by different cults such the Wicca, Satanism or the Masonry, the pentagram used to be the seal of the city of Jerusalem.

Another symbolism attached to the pentagram is that of the Middle Ages when it was considered to be a representation of the five wounds of Jesus Christ.

Adam Kadmon (Keterim)

In Hebrew, Adam Kadmon means “primal man” and is a reference to the primordial Spirit existing before the creation of Man. The term is a result of an arrangement of the four letters of the term “tetragrammaton” which is the name of God as it was transmitted to Moses in the Torah. From a Kabbalah point of view, this is the first version of the Ain Sof as it was represented in the Book of Ezekiel.

Sefer Yetzirah

This symbol is illustrative of the Order of Creation as it was presented in the book bearing the same name (Sefer Yetzirah means “Book of Formation”). The elements of the symbol contain: a central star which contains three letters which make up the word “mother” in Hebrew – the three letters are to be correlated to the elements of air, water and fire, followed another seven “double letters”. Altogether, these 10 letters establish the horizontal and vertical paths of the Kabbalistic symbol of the Tree of Life. There is also an outer ring, comprising 12 simple letters, which are also assigned the 12 diagonal paths of the tree.

Tetragrammaton (YHVH, IHVH)

The four letters of this symbols are in fact the name of God as it was known in the Torah – Yahweh or “Yod Heh Vau Heh”.

At the time of the writing of the Torah, bearing in mind the fact that the Creation was considered to be an utterance, to know of and speak the name of God was considered to be a powerful element. As a result, God’s name was considered a secret, only high-ranking priests were allowed to utter It and only on the occasion of the Feast of Atonement, which is nowadays celebrated as the Yom Kippur.

Within the Kabbalah, the “Tetragrammaton” is the equivalent of several elements: the four elements, the four Kabbalistic worlds of the Creation, the four cardinal points and the four archangels. Thus, Kabbalistic doctrine assigns each letter with a form of manifestation of the Creation.

Messianic Seal (Messianic Christianity)

The “Messianic Seal” is the emblem of groups which are attempting to perform a more primitive form of Christianity, one using several Jewish practices and attempting to convert Jews to Christianity. Its symbol comprises several Judaic elements: a fish, followed by a Star of David and topped by the image of a menorah. Such an emblem has been discovered by archeologists to some populations dating back to the first century AD, populations which have been considered to be Jewish followers to Jesus Christ.

Cherubim (Kerubim, Kerubs)

In the Mesopotamian tradition, the Cherubim were the protectors of the Tree of Life. In Judaism, the Cherubim appear in the visions of Ezekiel as four winged creatures each having a different face – one has the face of a lion, one of a bull, another of an eagle and the last has the face of a human. Later on, in the New Testament, the four Cherubim would be associated with the four Archangels. From a Kabbalistic point of view, the Cherubim are a living expression of the energy emanated by the Tetragrammaton.

Seraphim (Seraphs)

In Hebrew, Seraphim means “flaming serpent”. In Judaism, there are however, various representations of the Seraphim: as the angels whose mission is to surround the Throne of the Presence, or, according to the Book of Enoch, as the serpents which are said to have assaulted the Israelites. A more common representation of the Seraphim is that of a creature having four heads, multiple eyes and six wings of flame.

Within the Kabbalah, the Seraphim are part of the Nine Choirs of Angels and are the ones associated with holding the purity of God.

Pomegranate

In Ancient Phoenicia, the Pomegranate was a symbol of fertility, love and marriage. For the Ancient Israelites, the temples were richly adorned with representations of this fruit. In Judaism and the Kabbalah, the pomegranate symbolizes wisdom, as the fruit is said to be containing 613 seeds – the exact number of mitzvot present in the Torah. Also, the bases of the Temple of Solomon pillars used to have representations of a pomegranate.

Joachim and Boaz (Mercy and Severity)

Jachim and Boaz are the symbolic pillars of the Temple of Solomon. In the Kabbalah, they are also the pillars representing mercy and severity in the Tree of Life symbol. In addition to this, Kabbalistic interpretations place them as the masculine and feminine symbols which helped create the Universe

Lulav and Etrog

In Hebrew, the Lulav and the Etrog mean the “palm-branch” and the “citron” and are, in fact, a symbol of a group of plants (named Arba Minim in Hebrew) which are used in the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival which commemorated the Israelite journey to the desert. The group of plants consists of the branch of a date palm (Lulav), myrtle (Hadass), willow tree (Aravah) and a fruit of citron. The plants are waved on all seven days of the feast at the same time as reciting a blessing. During the blessing, the branches are held in the dominant hand, while the fruit is held in the other hand.

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