THE THIRTY TWO PATHS OF THE TREE OF LIFE
The ten sefirot are connected by a series of twenty-two lines. Each of the twenty-two connectors represents one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These twenty-two letters plus the ten are referred to as the thirty-two paths of wisdom.
As each of the sefirot represents a vowel, and every connecting link is a consonant, we can readily see that every word in the Hebrew language is a combination of different paths in this schematic. This opens up a huge potential for analyzing words.
Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines connect the sefirot. There are twelve diagonal lines, said to represent the twelve tribes. This becomes a gateway for an entirely new set of associations, representing characteristics such as: twelve months, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve permutations of the tetragrammaton (the four letter holy name of God), and twelve primary qualities of human expression--speech, thought, action, sight, hearing, motion, coition, smell, sleep, anger, taste, and laughter.
The Kabbalah is holistic in many dimensions. All thirty-two paths are connected with each other, either directly or indirectly. A change in any one affects them all. Moreover, each individual sefirah represents layers upon layers of inner sefirot. Thus each sefirah alone has an entire Tree of Life with thirty-two paths in it. We must view it as spheres within spheres within spheres. Like a stack of chinese boxes, each time we open one, we discover a new one inside that looks just like the outer box.
PERSONALITY AND THE TREE OF LIFE
Each aspect of creation, and each individual person, is a miniature Tree of Life. Each of us represents a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual shape based upon the way we harmonize our inner tree. Some parts of us pull more strongly than other parts. We have dominant traits, personality quirks, physical strengths and weaknesses, emotional idiosyncrasies, neuroses, patterns of social behavior, and so on.
If we had tools to measure all of the energies represented in the Tree of Life, we could find patterns just like the micro-biologist does with amino acids. However, as the kabbalistic system is extraordinarily diverse, expanding well beyond the field of genetics, our task is far more complicated than that of a scientist measuring the spectrograph of DNA results.
A popular system today of personality classification, called the Enneagram, suggests that there are nine personality archetypes. Some commentators have shown the parallels between this system and the Tree of Life. But the kabbalistic approach is somewhat more subtle than the descriptions of personalities in the Enneagram. The Tree of Life is modeled in triads; two aspects work in opposition to each other with a third on a moving equilibrium point between the two. This is how it works.
Chesed is the quality of expansiveness and generosity, the part of us that yields even though another part says no. It operates best when there is no self-consciousness holding it back. The tendency of chesed is to be extremely liberal, willing to try anything. Uncontrolled, however, it has the potential of smothering the recipient. It has no self-limitation; it only knows how to bestow things. Pure generosity will keep piling the food high on the plate, it will spin cotton candy until it fills the circus tent, it will give away the family jewels.
Gevorah is the quality of contraction and restraint. It is in opposition to generosity. Restraint is the ability to say no even when social pressure is brought to bear. Gevorah represents universal justice as well; it understands that everything impacts and has repercussions. The tendency of gevorah is to be excessively conservative, preferring things just as they are. Uncontrolled, gevorah is stifling. It does not allow for any movement. It is strictly conformist, unspontaneous, rigid, and hypercritical.
These two poles work and interact with each other. At times we are drawn more by our generous spirit; others times we withdraw. The system is dynamic and continuously fluid. We all have tendencies to lean one way or the other. Yet, we are under the influence of many variables. Thus, nobody is ever one-hundred percent predictable.
As the poles of generosity and restraint constantly tug or push against each other, the pendulum or balance point of tiferet mediates between the two. Tiferet represents compassion and beauty. In many ways it is the middle path, neither too self-indulgent nor too self-restrictive. It is important to note that tiferet has its own impact on the triad; it is not merely the passive consequence of the two opposing forces. It brings to bear a third component, which is drawn from the trunk of the tree itself, bringing reflection to generosity, and consideration to restraint. Thus one can see that the entire triad is dynamic and mobile.
The next triad includes netzach, which represents parent, domination, confidence and self-centeredness. Its opposite is hod, which represents child, yielding, receptivity, and acceptance. We can immediately see positive and negative aspects in this dichotomy. Parenting, which is a force of protection as well as one of domination versus childing, which has purity and innocence as well as dependency. In simple terms, this is the dance between our inner parent and our inner child, between self-confidence and yielding to that which is outside of the self.
The mediator for this is yesod, normally translated as foundation, but is often called harmony. Without a balance in the drama between inner child and inner parent, we do not have a solid foundation. Once again, however, this is a dynamic system. Sometimes we are more self-confident, other times we are quite insecure. We have various degrees of acceptance depending upon the strength of our inner voice of doubt. We sometimes push harder to get our way, while at other times we yield to a situation.
Harmony slides along this line, and brings to bear an additional force. It pressures the inner child to be more assertive, it pushes against our ego-centeredness to lighten up. It invites a balance between individual confidence and the potential of yielding to reason.
Finally, malkhut at the bottom of the tree is the result of everything happening in these other six sefirot. It is our reality. Things happen to us in life that cause ripples upwards. Malkhut is the receiver from both ends. We are the accumulation of a set of archetypes that interact with the world drama that enfolds us.