Hunchback Beggar and the Tree of Life
Hunchback Beggar and the Tree of Life
Illustration by Moreen Greenberg from Safed (Isr.)

Jewish History and Tradition

A Greek term meaning dispersion, Diaspora refers to the spread of Jewish people to all corners of the world, often as a result of persecution and exile at various points throughout Jewish history.  Significant moments of Diaspora include the destruction of the Temple in the second century CE and the exile of the Sephardim from Spain in 1492.

PeyosThese are the earlocks (i.e. curled hair) grown by certain strictly observant Jews in response to Leviticus 19:27, which states: “You shall not clip your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard.”

TzaddikThis Hebrew term meaning “righteous one” is used to describe the leader of a Hasidic group, who is viewed by the members of that group as the living incarnation of the Torah.

MessiahOriginally this term, which means “anointed one,” was used to refer to any person anointed with holy oil and consecrated to carry out the purposes of God as high priest or king.  The title has since acquired a special reference to a prophetic figure who, it is said, will usher in an age of universal peace and plenty and bring about the spiritual regeneration of humanity.

Mitzvah (pl. mitzvot)—This term originally refers to divine precepts taking the form of specific behavioral commands, either positive or negative.  There are computed to be 613 such commands contained in the Torah.  Colloquially, the term mitzvah has come to refer to any act of charity or human kindness that fulfills a person’s comprehensive duty towards all humanity.  In mystical thought, the performance of a mitzvah constitutes the triumph of the spiritual nature over the physical nature (or, alternately, the proper recombination of these two fractured aspects of the individual), and contributes to the redemption of the broken universe.

Aspects of the Soul and the Divine

NefeshA Hebrew term meaning “life” or “soul,” the nefesh is that which constitutes a living being.  It is related to the verb “to blow,” and is thus associated with the breath.  The term is used in the Torah in connection with animals as well as men.

RuahAn aspect of the soul somewhat deeper than the nefesh, the ruah is the faculty that motivates man to understand the deeper, spiritual meaning of things.  Perfection of this understanding leads to development of the neshamah.

NeshamahThis represents the deepest level of the soul, which enables man to achieve mystical insight into the nature of the Divine.  It is through the neshamah that man can attain union with the Sefirot.

SefirotThe Hebrew term for ciphers, or numbers, this word has since come to refer to ten divine emanations or aspects of God.  See The Tree of Life section of this guide for a more detailed description of the ten Sefirot and their interrelationship. 

ShechinaAlso called the Princess, the Bride, or Beautiful Girl with No Eyes (she has lost her eyes from weeping while in exile), the Shechina represents the presence of God, the limited aspect of the infinite and unknowable Divine that humans are capable of tangibly experiencing.  The Shechina is considered to be omnipresent and immanent in all things—especially in the performing of a mitzvah, or when man approaches God through worship, prayer, or sacred study.  Shechina is also represented by the Garden, in which the Tree of Life (a symbol for the ten interconnected Sefirot for which the Shechina serves as foundation) is planted.