The Veil of Paroketh
Paroketh is rather an odd part of the Tree. Sources don’t agree on where it comes from, what its name means, what it represents, or even whether it’s a veil at all. What’s right? Can we even tell?
I have seen it said of Paroketh that:
The Veil of Paroketh falls in the Path of Samekh between the two Sephiroth called Yesod and Tiphareth. The word Paroketh (PRKTh) refers to the four elements: Peh is Water, Resh is Air, Kaph is Fire, and Tau is Earth. It is the Word of the Veil of the Temple, before the Holy of Holies. It is the Veil of the Four Elements of the Body of Man.
According to Western Hermetic Qabalah, those elemental assignations seem wrong in nearly every particular. Peh equates to Mars, which emphatically is not water. Resh is the Sun … fire, not air. Shin is fire, whereas Kaph is Jupiter, not very fire-like. Insofar as we treat Tau as the Center, we can accept it as Earth in some sense, but it’s a stretch. …But read on; we’ll come back to this.
I’ve also seen an author claim that the name “Paroketh” was likely chosen for its gematria: spelled as noted above, פרכת sums to 700. However, this same author tells us that Paroketh isn’t really a Veil at all, but instead a “state or entity.”.
Yet another author says that Paroketh is named for “the Hebrew letters that are placed in that part of the tree.” This also looks incorrect … until we look at the Gra tree. Now we’re getting somewhere! Peh, Resh, Kaph, and Tau are all double letters, which the Gra places as connecting Sephiroth along the Pillars. Sure enough, viewed that way, Peh, Resh, and Kaph do in fact cross between the two Triads in Yetzirah. And Tau does make a reasonable addition to that name, as it descends from Yesod to Malkuth.
Furthermore, if we use the Gra’s layout we can draw lines below each of the mother letters to mark a Veil on the Tree as we currently know it. Including Paroketh as a Veil then makes perfect sense.
The Ari tree is also a useful picture for this, but the Gra’s picture illustrates the principle more clearly.
This also explains and justifies the assignation of letters to elements: they make sense when we understand that they aren’t using the correspondences taught by Western Hermetic Qabalah. The three ancient Hebrew elements were air, water, and fire. If we must find a fourth element, Tau would be earth, since it connects to Malkuth.
So there we have it. And it looks as though yes, Paroketh is a Veil, just as we’d like it to be. …Whew!
That said, however, saying that “It is the Word of the Veil of the Temple, before the Holy of Holies” is misleading in that it can make us think that to pierce that veil is to come face to face with the Divine. In fact, in some sense quite the opposite is true: Paroketh sits between Tiphareth and Yesod, and so is the barrier that separates our everyday consciousness from our subconscious. It is the veil that, going down, is the mirror of the Abyss that, going up, separates us from our super-conscious.
That’s true when considering the parts of the Tree as they pertain to our Self as a Self. When working Qabalistic rituals up the Tree, however, it applies similarly. Piercing the Veil of Paroketh brings you to stand at the Sun before the Sun — Tiphareth as the light that presents itself to us to hide Kether. There remains another veil to be pierced before you can contact the Divine, and another yet before you may face the One.
 Spelled as noted above, PRKTh could as easily be pronounced “parakeet”. I’m just sayin’.
 That same author says, “The origin of the word Paroketh is obscure: it is not Biblical, nor modern Hebrew.” …Well, nonsense: it is attested in Torah. The word פרכת does in fact mean “veil”, “that which habitually shuts off”. See for example Exodus 26:31 or 35:12.
 Personally, I think those two Triads need a veil between them, as I claim they are the conscious and subconscious. Others call them “soul” and “body”, or “morality” and “nature”.
 Peh is water, the left pillar. Resh is air, the middle pillar. Kaph is fire, the right pillar. [Tao is earth.] This is very much not how we’ve been taught to think of these letters, but with the Tree organized this way, it works.
The Gaon of Vilna, also called the Gra (an acronym of “Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu”), was an 18th Century kabbalist and Talmudic scholar. His layout of the Tree sets out the thirty-two paths as shown here. In this picture, you can see —
- The three mother letters acting as horizontal connectors between the positive and negative Sephiroth of the three Triads, connecting the active and passive Pillars.
- The seven double letters acting as vertical connectors between all ten Sephiroth, forming the Pillars.
- The twelve simple letters connecting the slantwise paths, communicating between adjacent Pillars.
The assignations shown for each letter in this diagram are not the same as the ones shown elsewhere on this site. This is a different interpretation than the one commonly used today. There is, moreover another layout yet: the older Ari tree. Gra and Ari agree in some things, disagree in most regarding the placement of letters on the Paths. The Ari layout is the one most commonly expounded in writings about Sepher Yetzirah and the Bahir.
The Ari Tree
The Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, was a Sixteenth Century C.E. Jewish mystic and scholar. He expounded a layout of the Tree of Life different from both the usual Hermetic Qabalah and the Gra. The Ari’s layout, which you can see here, is the one generally used in Jewish expositions about Sefer Yetzirah and the Bahir.
This is the arrangement of Sephiroth we normally associate with the Tree, but you will notice some radical differences in the paths. First, perhaps most significantly, there is a path connecting Binah with Chesed; and so there are paths associated with the entire path taken by the Flash in its descent. This path and the one connecting Chokmah to Geburah are missing from the Hermetic Tree; and the paths in that tree connecting Malkuth with Hod and with Netzach are missing here.
Too, most of the paths are assigned to different letters. This and the Gra Tree hold to the idea that mother letters connect the left and right Pillars and doubles reach up the Pillars; but the Gra holds that simples connect between adjacent Pillars whereas the Ari breaks that pattern. Ari and Gra also disagree in their assignation of letters to paths.
You can explore these paths further by reading about Adam Kadmon.
Which one is “right”? Not my place to say, though I will say that this is my favored arrangement. See how this arrangement places ר, which we equate with the Sun, reaching up toward Tiphareth, the Sephirah we associate with the Sun. Ari and Gra share this arrangement, but see here too how ה and ו, two letters of the Ineffable Name, communicate between the Supernals: ה (indicating “breath”) from Kether to Chokmah; and ו (indicating “phallus”) from Kether to Binah.