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
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,
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
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.