There are ten sefirot and they are the means by which Being is expressed. Expression means to press out. Expression of being develops through ten stages: Keter crown, Chochmah wisdom, Binah understanding, Chesed loving-kindness, Gevurah strength, Tiferet beauty, Netzach victory (eternity), Hod glory, Yesod foundation, and Malchut kingdom. These are the ten sephirot. As everything in the universe is an expression of God's being, everything has the internal structure of the ten sephirot.
The ten sephirot are part of the Tree of Life which consists of ten sephirot and twenty two letters making up the thirty two paths of wisdom discussed in Sefer Yetzirah. These thirty two paths of wisdom also correspond to the thiry two times verbs with אלהים, Elohim, as the subject are used in the first chapter of Genesis.
The tree is represented in a geometric arrangement with the ten sephirot as circles and the twenty two letters as links between the circles. In this geometric arrangement the circles are on three vertical columns. Proceeding from top to bottom, on the right column is Chochmah wisdom, Chesed loving-kindness, and Netzach victory. On the left column is Binah understanding, Gevurah strength, and Hod glory. On the middle column is crown, Tiferet beauty, Yesod foundation, and Malchut kingdom.
Between the circles are links. There are three horizontal links, seven vertical links, and twelve diagonal links. The three horizontal links correspond to the mother letters א, מ, ש: Aleph, Mem, and Shin. The seven vertical links correspond to the seven double letters ב, ג, ד, ה, כ, פ, ר, ת: Beth, Gimmel, Dalet, Caph, Pey, Resh, and Tav. The twelve diagonal links correspond to the twelve single letters ה, ו, ז, ח, ט, י, ל, נ, ס,ע, צ, ק: Hey, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samek, Ayin, Tsaddi, and Quf.
The dynamics of the expression of being has three pillars: the pillar of expansion, the pillar of contraction, and the pillar of balance. These three pillars are the three columns of the Tree of Life. The right column is the pillar of expansion. The left column is the pillar of contraction. The middle column is the pillar of balance.
The sefirot are divided into two groups. The first is a group of three representing the intellect. The second is a group of seven sefirot representing the emotions. These two groups of sefirot represent the two connected realities in which we live: our inner reality and our outer reality.
In Kabbalah, the first three sephirot are called מחין, Mochin, which literally means brains. The last seven sephirot are called מדות, Midot, which literally means measures. The kind of measures can be more easily understood by the phrase מדה טובה literally, Good Measures, or simply virtue, and the phrase מדה רעה literally, Bad Measures, or simply vice.
The first sefirah of the intellect, our inner reality, is Keter crown. It represents the dimension of our being that is our free will. The process in this sefirah is the activating of our will. The second sefirah is Chochmah. It represents the dimension of our being that is wisdom. The process in this sefirah is becoming aware of the values, definitions and axioms by which we choose to live and integrating them into our intellect. The third sefirah is Binah. It represents the dimension of our being that is understanding. The process in this sefirah is the process of developing the inferences that follow from our values, axioms and definitions.
Once our will is set, we draw upon wisdom, that flash of insight, hopefully associated with Torah correct thought, and we realize the expressed essence of the reality we are given. We call this undifferentiated realization of the essence-idea. This is the action of the sefirah Chochmah wisdom. We then develop the essence-idea into its particulars, its logical components and inter-relationships and come to as full an integration of the reality as we need in order to feel and chose the mode of how to express our feelings. The development of these particulars and their integration into an interpretion of the situation is the action of the sefirah Binah understanding. In essence, our interpretation is the mental component of our turning toward God or our turning away from God.
Chesed is the sefirah of out-pouring loving kindness. It is the sefirah of emotion extended outward or toward. It functions on the pillar of expansion. When we feel like moving toward something, we are activating Chesed. The sefirah is called loving kindness because the very nature of loving kindness is a movement toward. Moving toward always has an element in it of boundlessness or expansion. This positive phase of being is to expand. That is why one of the alternate names for Chesed is Gedulah -- greatness.
Gevurah is the sefirah of strength. It is the sefira of emotion extended inward or away, thereby limiting expansion. It functions on the pillar of contraction. When we feel like moving away from something, we are activating Gevurah. The sefirah is called strength because it takes more energy to move away or limit ourselves than to move toward. Moving away or inward always has an element in it of limitation or contraction. The negative phase of being is to limit or contract. Contraction always has an element of limiting judgment and that is why one of the alternate names for Gevurah is Din -- judgment.
Tifereth is the sefirah of beauty. It is the sefirah of balanced emotion toward and away. It functions on the pillar of balance. It is called beauty because when the right mixture or arrangment of two contrasting emotions are created, the result is harmonious and therefore called beautiful. By analogy, a drawing that is all white is not beautiful. A drawing that is all black is not beautiful. A drawing that has a balanced pattern of white within black and black within white is beautiful.
Netzach is the sefirah of victory or overcoming. It is the extension of Chesed. In Chesed there is only the feeling of moving toward. But there is no determination to manifest this feeling of moving toward. Netzach is the intent or will to do something about manifesting the feeling of moving toward. It functions on the pillar of expansion. The sefirah is called victory or overcoming because when we hold on to this determination to do something about our feeling to move toward, we are victorious. We are able to overcome anything that might be in the way of our moving toward.
Hod is the sefirah of glory. It is the extension of Gevurah. In Gevurah there is only the feeling of moving away or limiting. But as in Chesed, there is no determination to manifest this feeling of moving away or limiting. Hod is the intent or will to do something about this feeling of moving away. The sefirah is called glory because when we hold on to the determination to do something about our feeling of moving away, to properly limit our own tendency to expansiveness, it becomes possible for other people to willingly receive what we might be giving. It functions on the pillar of contraction. In Hod, we are in essence giving up our own desire to fill the place of our world leaving some of it available for others to be. This is glory. Hod has a sense of subservience to another's expansiveness.
Yesod is the sefirah of foundation. It is the extension of Netzach and Hod. In Netzach and Hod, there is the determination to do something, but there is no binding of this determination to an action by means of a plan. Yesod is the binding of the determination to an action, the connecting of the determination to a plan of action, so that the determination to manifest the balance of the feelings of moving toward and moving away comes about. It functions on the pillar of balance.
Malchut is the sefirah of kingdom. It is the extension of Yesod. In Yesod, the plan of action has been identified. In Malchut the action is carried out. In Malchut the feelings of Chesed and Gevurah are finally manifessted in physical reality by action and deed. It functions on the pillar of balance.