Saturday, March 29, 2014

Partzufim - Divine Personas, Holy Family

Partzufim: (Aramaic, “Countenances,” “Personifications”). First outlined in the Zohar, this metaphysical concept is more fully devel­oped by Isaac Luria. According to the Lurianic cosmog­ony, after the catastrophe of the Breaking of the Vessels, the shattering of the primeval structure of light, the ein sof reconstitutes the fragments of the cosmic order into five “countenances” or “visages” that are able to mediate between supernal and material realities in a way the pri­mordial vessels were not. Think of the Partzufim as analo­gous to a “patch” for a faulty computer program.1
The biblical proof text that Chayyim Vital offers for the partzufim is Gen. 2:4, where he reads the compound word behibaram, “when they were created,” as a notarikon, breaking it up into be-Hay-baram, “Through ‘5’ He created them,” “them” being all of positive existence (Etz Chayyim, Gate III, 39). 
The Partzufim interact with humanity in the work of tikkun. These countenances also constitute and encompass the personal dimensions of God that are described in bibli­cal and rabbinic writings, since they symbolize the male and female principles operating within the Godhead. In fact, the partzufim constitute a kind of “holy family,” a familial metaphor for the divine pleroma. In some writings, the various partzufim are assigned the names of biblical figures: Jacob and Israel; Rachel and Leah. Presumably, one can map the functions of the partzufim on the celestial level through studyingthe biographies and actions of those biblical characters. Other partzufim get titles, such as Yisrael Sava, “grandpa Israel,” for Abba.
 This aspect of Lurianic thought has a complex relationship with the sefirotic structure of classic kabbalah, not unlike the “wave/particle” phenom­enon in quantum physics. Thus whether the divine struc­ture manifests itself as the sefirot or as the partzufim de­pends on certain conditions, but they are essentially two aspects of the same divine force. The five countenances are:
Arikh Anpin: The “long/great countenance,” also called the Atik Yamim, “Ancient of Days.”
Abba: “Father,” the male aspect of the divine gamos is linked to the sefirot of Keter and/or Cho­chmah.
Ima: “Mother,” the celestial mother is tied to Binah.
Zer (or Zaur) Anpin/Ben: “The short/lesser countenance.” Product of the union of Abba and Ima, it is tied to the lower six sefirot: Chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, Hod, and Yesod.
Kalah/Malcha/Bat: “Bride/Queen.” The feminine counterpart to Zer Anpin, she is linked to malchut.
The Partzufim, like their sefirotic counterparts, are also integral to the notion of the restoration of the Adam Kadmon, the cosmic human. In a kind of inverted “imi­tatio dei,” all human actions that advance the cause of cos­mic restoration are mimicked by the Partzufim.2 Thus humans help to activate them and ensure the healing flow of divine energies between higher and lower worlds.
Illustration by Ursi Eso

   1. Scholem, Kabbalah, 140–44.
2. Faierstein, Jewish Mystical Autobiographies, 28–29. Also see Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 65–70.


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