The Mysterious Kabbalistic Concept Of Partzufim – What They Are And How To Relate To Them

The concept of Partzufim can be traced back to the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Arizal, the most famous and powerful Kabbalist of the last 1.000 years who revolutionized the study of Kabbalah.

The Arizal, through his primary disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, developed a comprehensive system that explained the dynamics of the divine emanations and their impact on the spiritual and physical realms. Among the profound teachings of Kabbalah, one of the central concepts is that of Partzufim, which provides a framework for understanding the dynamic interplay between Hashem, the four spiritual worlds and us.

In Hebrew, “Partzuf” means “countenance” or “face,” and the plural form is “Partzufim.” Partzufim represent the manifestation of Hashem’s attributes and energies in a structured and hierarchical manner. They serve as vessels through which the infinite divine light is channeled into the finite realms, allowing for the creation and sustenance of all existence.

I personally like to refer to them as “spiritual systems”. For those who study the Kabbalah of the Rashash, it makes sense because each piece of Avodat Hashem we perform has its own spiritual system (“Partzuf”) which we are seeking to rectify.

According to the teachings of the Arizal, Hashem’s divine essence (called Ein Sof) is beyond human comprehension, transcending any categorization or description. However, in order for the divine light of Ein Sof to be experienced and interacted with by created beings (us), it descends through a series of progressive stages, known as the Partzufim.

Partzufim encompassing all of creation

There are 6 main Partzufim: Atik Yomin, Arich Anpin, Abbah, Imma, Zeir Anpin and Nukva. According to Etz Chaim, each Partzuf contains 10 Sephirot, though this is not an iron-clad rule.

Each Partzuf represents a distinct aspect or attribute of Ein Sof. They are vestments to the infinite divine light that Ein Sof uses to animate and manage Creation. The Partzufim are often depicted as anthropomorphic figures in Kabbalistic texts to convey complex spiritual concepts in a more accessible manner. These figures possess various “organs and features”, each corresponding to specific creative quality and function.

However, we should never (ever!) imagine them to be like the physical representations or even spiritual counterparts of what we understand these things to be here below!

I cannot emphasize this enough: There are only three reasons I can think of why we refer to these Kabbalistic concepts in anthropomorphic terms (Partzufim), which is to:

  1. Know where they stand: for example, the eyes are higher than the mouth and the nose.
  2. Understand the specific function these parts perform in Creation: for example, Hashem “smells” the incense with the “nose”, or he “watches” over Creation with his “eyes”, or we must elevate prayer to the “ears.
  3. Develop a relationship with Ein Sof (and use the Kavanot) otherwise, it would’ve been impossible.

Again, we should never think that there’s an “ear, which is spiritual”, or that “Hashem’s Tefilin resembles our own in the physical world”. These concepts are way beyond our grasp and certainly different from anything we can ever imagine in a physical body.

How the Partzufim are organized

As I wrote before, the Partzufim are arranged in a hierarchical structure, forming a complex network of interrelated energies/lights. The higher Partzufim serve as the source and reservoir of abundance (shefah/light), while the lower ones receive and disseminate this divine energy to the realms below. This flow occurs through a process of emanation, contraction, and diffusion, creating a chain of spiritual and material realms.

It’s important to keep in mind that all this is alluded in the Torah, and even Rashi’s commentary (that’s right, Rashi also alludes to Kabbalistic concepts).

The study and contemplation of the Partzufim are important in the practice of Kavanot, because one of the main purposes of Kabbalah is to rectify them. By understanding the different attributes and functions associated with each Partzuf, we gain insight into Hashem’s involvement and manifestation in the world. In the writings of the Arizal, we see that the goal is to align oneself with the divine attributes and strive to refine and elevate one’s own neshama, harmonizing with the Partzufim and really contributing to Tikkun Olam.

While all four spiritual worlds of Kabbalah (Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah) possess Partzufim and Sephirot, nevertheless when we mention them, we generally mean from the world of Atzilut.

The Partzufim of Atik Yomin (Internal Keter) and Arich Anpin (External Keter)

The Partzuf of Atik Yomin, as described in the Zohar and teachings of the Arizal, is the highest and most hidden aspect within the framework of Hashem’s manifestation and makes the connection between the upper world and lower world (like Atzilut and Beriyah or Assiyah and Yetzirah).

Atik Yomin, translates to “Ancient of Days” or “Primordial One,” while Arich Anpin, translates to “Long Face” or “Elongated Countenance,” and they both represent the expansive and compassionate aspect of Hashem. There are in fact no dinim (judgments) visible in them and both are often considered one Partzuf of the Sephirah of Keter.

The Zohar describes Atik and Arich as a single Partzuf that possess an expansive and ineffable countenance. It is depicted as an aged sage, radiating an aura of ancient wisdom and eternal existence. This is the revelation we received on Har Sinai.

The teachings of the Arizal further expound on the nature of the Partzuf of Atik Yomin. It is considered the inner dimension of Keter, beyond the more external aspects of this divine attribute. Atik Yomin is associated with the state of pure unity and undifferentiated oneness, preceding the subsequent stages of divine manifestation and differentiation.

One the other hand, Arich Anpin, the external part, is seen as the source of divine will and intention, as well as the reservoir of blessings and abundance. From this Partzuf, light flows into the lower realms, nurturing and sustaining creation with its overflowing compassion and grace.

The Zohar writes that were it not for the fact that Arich Anpin never sleeps, the world could not endure a single moment. It is however so hidden that it’s not visible except at specific times of the year like after Mincha of Shabbat, Shavuot, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

Both Atik Yomin and Arich Anpin are represented by the tip of Yod of the Ineffable name Yod Hey Vav Hey (יהוה)

The Partzuf of Abba (Chokhmah – Wisdom)

The Partzuf of Abba comes below that of Arich Anpin, and also holds a significant place within the complex tapestry of the divine manifestation. Abba, which translates to “Father,” represents the attribute associated with wisdom and creative power.

According to the Arizal, Abba is associated with the Sefirah of Chochmah, related wisdom and creative insight. Thus, Abba embodies the active and generative aspects of divine inspiration and the impetus for creative expression.

Abbah is represented by the Yod itself of the Tetragrammaton Yud Hey Vav Hey (יהוה)

The Partzuf of Imma (Bina – Understanding)

The Partzuf of Imma, as described in the Zohar and teachings of the Arizal, is another significant aspect within the intricate framework of the divine manifestation. Imma, which translates to “Mother,” represents the divine attribute associated with understanding, intuition, and nurturing.

In Kabbalistic works, Imma is associated with the sefirah of Binah, which signifies understanding and comprehension. Imma embodies the receptive and intuitive aspects, representing the capacity to conceive, nurture, and give birth to new insights in all their details.

The Zohar portrays Imma as a Partzuf that radiates a sense of maternal love and compassion although – the Zohar writes – “from there, the Dinim (Judgments) begin to stir”. It is often described as a figure symbolizing the divine mother, encompassing the qualities of unconditional love, and guidance.

This is also the dimension of Olam HaBah and Teshuva.

Imma is represented by the first Hey of the ineffable name of Hashem.

A Partzuf is a set of divine energies, or 10 sephirot working together in synergy

The Partzuf of Zeir Anpin (6 Sephirot)

The Arizal teaches each and we should regard ourselves as following the Partzuf of Zeir Anpin. Zeir Anpin, also known as Z”A or the “Small Face,” represents the intermediate level between the higher divine realms and the lower realms of creation.

It is made up mainly of the sefirot of Chesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (strength), Tiferet (beauty), Netzach (victory), Hod (splendor), and Yesod (foundation). These attributes represent various aspects of the human character traits that we need to rectify.

Zeir Anpin represents the divine attributes that form the structure and harmony of the universe, guiding and governing the interactions and dynamics within creation. They are related to the 6 days of Creation.

It is seen as the archetype of the human psyche (according to the Baal Shem Tov), representing the spiritual and energetic blueprint for humanity. It encompasses both the collective soul of humanity and the individual souls within it.

Since ZA contains 6 Sephirot, it is associated with the letter Vav of the Tetragrammaton (which is Gematria 6). Zeir Anpin is also the source of the Written Torah.

The Partzuf of Nukvah (Malkhut – Kingship)

The Partzuf of Nukva is probably the most crucial within the intricate framework of divine manifestation because it’s the one closest to us. Nukva, also known as Malchut or the “Feminine Presence,” (Shekhina) represents the final sefirah in the descending order of the sefirot.

In Kabbalistic teachings, Nukva is associated with the divine attribute of sovereignty, receptivity, and manifestation. One who wishes to ascend the rungs of divine service must “receive” the yoke of Torah through Teshuva. Only through this portal can he ascend the order of the Sephirot.

Malchut represents the divine feminine aspect, symbolizing the vessel or receptacle through which the divine energies flow and become manifest in the lower realms of Creation. It literally channels everything from Atzilut down to the lower spiritual worlds.

It is often depicted as the Shabbat Queen, representing the receptive aspect of the divine providence that bestows blessings and sustenance upon creation. There are many allusions to this which we will see in a separate article.

The teachings of the Arizal further elucidate the nature of the Partzuf of Nukva. It represents the culmination of the divine emanations, serving as the vessel through which the divine energies manifest and actualize in the world. It is also the aspect that dispenses judgment to the wicked, as it did with the Egyptians.

Nukva, the feminine aspect, is seen as the counterpart and complements Zeir Anpin, the Partzuf that is the root of men. Together, they form a dynamic union, symbolizing the interplay and harmony between the masculine and feminine aspects of Hashem’s divine providence. Remember: they are vestments of Hashem’s infinite light, the interface through which we can perceive Him.

It is represented by the final Hey of the Name of Hashem, and is related to the Oral Torah.

Concluding remarks on Partzufim

Partzuf literally means countenance or face. Just as one can see what is inside a person through his face expression (which is a combination of parts working in synergy), so too we can have a glimpse of Hashem’s involvement in Creation through Partzufim.

The concept of Partzufim in Kabbalah provides a logical for comprehending the manifestation of the divine attributes and lights in a structured and logical manner.

They are logical because, in one sense, they are the source of the family archetype we see in the realm physical world:

  • Atik Yomin represents the figure of great grandfather (and great grandmother)
  • Arich Anpin represents the figure of the grandfather (and great grandmother)
  • Abba represents the figure of the father
  • Imma represents the figure of the mother
  • Zeir Anpin represents the figure of the groom
  • Nukva represents the figure of the bride

Since all of them are present in every aspect of Creation, they also hint to the interconnectedness and interdependence of all aspects of Creation, as every act below generates a response above in all levels of Creation.

It is important to note that the understanding of Partzufim and their significance is much more complex and nuanced than what was presented here in this short article.

Still, I believe this is a good introduction.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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