Four Worlds

9-jacobs-ladder-3-scaFour Worlds

The Four Worlds (Hebrew: עולמות‎ Olamot/Olamos, singular: Olam עולם), sometimes counted with a prior stage to make Five Worlds, are the comprehensive categories of spiritual realms in Kabbalah in the descending chain of Existence.

The concept of “Worlds” denotes the emanation of creative lifeforce from the Ein Sof Divine Infinite, through progressive, innumerable tzimtzumim (concealments/veilings/condensations). As such, God is described as the “Most Hidden of All Hidden”, and Olam is etymologically related to, and sometimes spelled as, עלם (Noun: העלם Helem meaning “concealment”).

While these dimmings form innumerable differentiated spiritual levels, each a particular World/Realm, nonetheless, through the mediation of the sephirot (Divine attributes), five Comprehensive Worlds emerge. “Higher” realms metaphorically denote greater revelation of the Divine Ohr light, in more open proximity to their source, “Lower” realms are capable of receiving only lesser creative flow. The Worlds are garments of the Ein Sof, and Hasidic thought interprets their reality as only apparent to Creation, while “from above” the Divine Infinite fills all equally.

As particular sephirot dominate in each realm, so the primordial fifth World, Adam Kadmon, is often excluded for its transcendence, and the four subsequent Worlds are usually referred to. Their names are read out from Isaiah 43:7, “Every one that is called by My name and for My glory (Atzilut “Emanation/Close”), I have created (Beriah “Creation”), I have formed (Yetzirah “Formation”), even I have made (Asiyah “Action”). Below Asiyah, the lowest spiritual World, is Asiyah-Gashmi (“Physical Asiyah”), our Physical Universe, which enclothes its last two sephirot emanations (Yesod and Malchut). Collectively, the Four Worlds are also referred to as ABiYA, after their initial letters. As well as the functional role each World has in the process of Creation, they also embody dimensions of consciousness within human experience.


The Worlds are formed by the Ohr Mimalei Kol Olmin, the Divine creative light that “Fills all Worlds” immanently, according to their particular spiritual capacity to receive. The 10 sephirot attributes and 12 basic partzufim personas shine in each world (though not yet manifestly in Adam Kadmon), as well as more specific Divine manifestations. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the partzufim dynamically interact with each other, and sublime levels are enclothed within lower existences, as their concealed soul. Nonetheless, in each World, particular sephirot and partzufim predominate. The Five Worlds in descending order:

Adam Kadmon (A”K – אָדָם קַדְמוֹן) meaning Primordial Man. The anthropomorphic metaphor “Adam” denotes the Yosher (Upright) configuration of the sephirot in the form of Man, though not yet manifest. “Kadmon” signifies “primary of all primaries”, the first pristine emanation, still united with the Ein Sof. Adam Kadmon is the realm of Keter Elyon (Supernal Crown of Will), “the lucid and luminous light” (Tzachtzachot), “the pure lucid sephirot which are concealed and hidden” in potential. Containing the future emergence of Creation, it is Divine light with no vessels, the manifestation of the specific Divine plan for Existence, within Creation (after the Tzimtzum in Lurianic Kabbalah). In Lurianism, the lights from A”K precipitate Tohu and Tikun. As Keter is elevated above the sephirot, so Adam Kadmon is supreme above the Worlds, and generally only Four Worlds are referred to.

Atziluth (אֲצִילוּת), meaning World of Emanation, also “Close.” On this level the light of the Ein Sof (Infinite Divine “without end”) radiates and is still united with its source. This supernal revelation therefore precludes the souls and Divine emanations in Atzilus from sensing their own existence. In Atzilus the 10 sephirot emerge in revelation, with Chochma (Wisdom) dominating, all is nullification of essence (Bittul HaEtzem) to Divinity, not considered created and separate. The last sephirah Malchut (Kingdom) is the “Divine speech” of Genesis 1, through which lower Worlds are sustained.

Beri’ah (בְּרִיאָה or בְּרִיָּה), meaning World of Creation. On this level is the first concept of creatio ex nihilo (Yesh miAyin), however without yet shape or form, as the creations of Beriah sense their own existence, though in nullification of being (Bittul HaMetzius) to Divinity. Beriah is the realm of the “Divine Throne”, denoting the sephirot configuration of Atzilus descending into Beriah like a King on a Throne. The sephirah Binah (Understanding) predominates, Divine intellect. Also called the “Higher Garden of Eden”. The Highest Ranking Angels are in Beriah.

Yetzirah (יְצִירָה), meaning World of Formation. On this level the created being assumes shape and form. The emotional sephirot Chesed to Yesod predominate, the souls and angels of Yetzirah worship through Divine emotion and striving, as they sense their distance from the Understanding of Beriah. This ascent and descent channels the Divine vitality down through the Worlds, furthering the Divine purpose. Therefore, in Yetzirah are the main angels, such as Seraphim, denoting their burning consummation in Divine emotion. Also called the “Lower Garden of Eden”.

Assiah (עֲשִׂיָּה), meaning World of Action. On this level the creation is complete, differentiated and particular, due to the concealment and diminution of the Divine vitality. However, it is still on a spiritual level. The angels of Asiyah function on the active level, as the sephirah Malchut (fulfilment in Kingship) predominates. Below spiritual Asiyah is Asiyah Gashmi (“Physical Asiyah”), the final, lowest realm of existence, our material Universe with all its creations. The last two sephirot of Asiyah channel the lifeforce into Physical Asiyah.


Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:12 of a ladder between Heaven and Earth. In Kabbalistic interpretation, the Sulam-ladder’s four main divisions are the Four Worlds and the angelic hierarchy embody external dimensions of the lights-vessels, while souls embody inner dimensions

These four worlds are spiritual, Heavenly realms in a descending chain, although the lowest world of Assiah has both a spiritual and a physical aspect. The physical level of Assiah is our physical finite realm, including the cosmological Universe studied by Science. Consequently, as Kabbalah is a metaphysical study, its reference to Ohr (“light”) is a metaphor for Divine emanation, and the terms “higher” and “lower” are metaphors for closer and further from Divine consciousness and revelation.

The 16th-century systemisation of Kabbalah by Moshe Cordovero brought the preceding interpretations and schools into their first complete rational synthesis. Subsequent doctrines of Kabbalah from Isaac Luria, describe an initial Tzimtzum (withdrawal of the universal Divine consciousness that preceded Creation) to “allow room” for created beings on lower levels of consciousness. Lower levels of consciousness require the self-perception of independent existence, by the created beings on each level, to prevent their loss of identity before the magnificence of God. This illusion increases with more force in each subsequent descending realm. The number of graduations between the Infinite and the finite, is likewise infinite, and arises from innumerable, progressively strong concealments of the Divine light. Nonetheless, the four worlds represent fundamental categories of Divine consciousness from each other, which delineates their four descriptions. Consequently, each world also psychologically represents a spiritual rung of ascent in human consciousness, as it approaches the Divine.

Kabbalah distinguishes between two types of Divine light that emanate through the 10 Sephirot (Divine emanations) from the Infinite (Ein Sof), to create or affect reality. The continual flow of an immanent lower light (“Mimalei Kol Olmin”), the light that “fills all worlds” is the creating force in each descending world that itself continually brings into being from nothing, everything in that level of existence. It is this light that undergoes the concealments and contractions as it descends downward to create the next level, and adapts itself to the capacity of each created being on each level. A transcendent higher light (“Sovev Kol Olmin”), the light that “surrounds all worlds” would be the manifestation on a particular level of a higher light above the capacity of that realm to contain. This is ultimately rooted in the infinite light (“Ohr Ein Sof”) that preceded Creation, the Tzimtzum and the Sephirot, rather than the source of the immanent light in the “Kav” (first emanation of creation after the Tzimtzum), in the teachings of Isaac Luria. Consequently, all the worlds are dependent for their continual existence on the flow of Divinity they constantly receive from the Divine Will to create them. Creation is continuous.

The faculty of Divine Will is represented in the Sephirot (10 Divine emanations) by the first, supra-conscious Sephirah of “Keter”-Crown, that transcends the lower 9 Sephirot of conscious intellect and emotion. Once the Divine Will is manifest, then it actualises Creation through Divine Intellect, and “subsequently” Divine Emotion, until it results in action. The reference to temporal cause and effect is itself a metaphor. The psychology of man also reflects the “Divine psychology” of the Sephirot, as “Man is created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). In man the activation of willpower through intellect and emotion until deed, requires time and subsequent cause and effect. In the Divine Sephirot and their activation of Creation, this does not apply, as limitations only apply to Creation.

The Book of Job states that “from my flesh I see God”. In Kabbalah and Hasidism this is understood to refer to the correspondence between the “Divine psychology” of the Four Worlds and the Sephirot, with human psychology and the Sephirot in the soul of man. From understanding the Kabbalistic description of the human soul, we can grasp the meaning of the Divine scheme. Ultimately, this is seen as the reason that God chose to emanate His Divinity through the 10 Sephirot, and chose to create the corresponding chain of four Worlds (called the “Seder hishtalshelus”-“order of development”). He could have chosen to bridge the infinite gap between the Ein Sof and our World by a leap of Divine decree.

Instead the Sephirot and Four Worlds allow man to understand Divinity through Divine manifestation, by understanding himself. The verse in Genesis of this correspondence also describes the feminine half of Creation: (Genesis 1:27) “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them”. Consequently some of the Sephirot are feminine, and the Shechina (immanent Divine presence) is seen as feminine. It is the intimate relationship between the Divine sceme of four World and man, that allows man’s ascent more easily to Divine consciousness (see Dveikus).


World: Descriptions: Dominant Sephirah: Letter of Tetragrammaton: Level of soul: Level of Torah-PaRDeS: Other associations:
Adam Kadmon
“Primordial Man”
Primary form of Kav
Above consciousness
Sephirot concealed
Latent potential
United with Ein Sof
Divine intent
Pure light, no vessels
In relation to 4 Worlds
Inherent Will to Create
Revealed in Keter-Will of Atzilut
Apex atop י Yud
Above representation
Alluded to by thorn
Essence of soul
Unity with God
Sod Sh’b’Sod
Secret within Secret
Reflects Atzmut-Essence
Inner soul of Torah
Yechidah-source of Torah
Beyond all names
Including all names
Beyond good-bad polarity
From Tohu to Tikun
Sephirot revealed
First perception
Unrestricted illumination
Divine insight
No self-awareness
Nullification of Essence
Divine All
Source of intellect
Partzuf of Abba-Father
י Yud
Dimensionless point
First illumination-Male
Dot in the Palace
Encompassing soul
Spiritual awareness
Soul of Torah
Chayah-Wisdom of Torah
Concealed World with Beriah
Divine name ע״ב
Divine good
Torah scroll Ta’amim-Notes
Formless existence
First self-awareness
Parsah-Veil from Atzilut to Beriah
Divine Intellect
Nullification of Being
First sensed Creation
Divine Throne
Higher Garden of Eden
Grasp of intellect
Partzuf of Imma-Mother
Higher ה Hei
Dimensional expansion
Vessel for intellect-Female
Divine intellect in soul
Highest internalised potential
Breath is internalised
Neshamah-Understanding of Torah
Aggadah alludes to Kabbalah
Divine name ס״ג
Mostly good
Little potential source of bad
Thought garment
Torah scroll Nekudot-Vowels
General existence
Divine Emotions
Striving for ascent
Awareness of distance
Active self-nullification
Archetypal forms
Lower Garden of Eden
Midot-6 Emotions
Chesed to Yesod
Centred round Tiferet
Partzuf of Zeir Anpin-Son
ו Vav
Descending illumination
Emotional revelation-Male
Reveals Da’at-Knowledge
Divine emotions in soul
Potential internalised spirit
Emotional movement
Ruach-Emotions of Torah
Soul of simple meaning
Some Torah commentaries
Revealed World with Asiyah
Divine name מ״ה
Equal good-bad potential
Speech garment
Torah scroll Tagin-Crowns
Particular existence
Divine action
Concealment of God
1 Asiyah Ruchni-Spiritual
Below it:
2 Asiyah Gashmi-Physical
Purpose of Creation
Fulfilment in action
Partzuf of Nukvah-Daughter
Shechinah-Divine Presence
Lower ה Hei
Dimensional expansion
Vessel for emotions-Female
Nurtures action
Vitality of actions
Invested in body
Nefesh-Physicality of Torah
Halachah and Torah narratives
Divine name ב״ן
Mostly bad-little good
Action garment
Torah scroll Otiyot-Letters



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