Elements of Judaism

Elements, (CC) Daryl Sim

The concept of the elements as building blocks for creation has a long-standing history in Judaism.  It is found in the Sefer Yetzirah, the Zohar, and even Maimomedes utilizes this concept.

There are four bodies (gufim), and they are fire (eish), air (ruach), water (mayim), and earth (afar). They are the foundation of all that is created beneath the firmament. (Maimomedes as found on Telshemesh.org)
We can take these elements at face value or we can dig deeper.  These lists of correspondences are just a beginning to understanding the elements and how to work with them in our spiritual practices.  For each element I’ve assigned a season, a time of day, a form of the Divine, Patriarchs, Matriarchs, ritual actions, mythical beings,  Kabbalistic world, form of being, level of the soul, and more.   You’ll notice that Fire and Water have two options for directions; this is because their locations seem to vary depending on the Jewish source you read.  Many of these are compiled from traditional sources, and some are my own associations.  Along with the four traditional element, I’ve also added a fifth – center or void.  This is common in many traditions, and I think has always been the unspoken element in Jewish tradition.  All the correspondences for Aether (center) are my own.
FIRE (אֵשׁ): South/North, Summer, Noon, Burning Bush / Pillar of Fire,  Strength, Issac, Rebekah,  Candles (Sabbath, Havdalah, Yahrtzeit, Chanukiah, Menorah) Ner Tamid, Bonfire of Lag B’Omer Burning Chametz, Sun, Gabriel, Gold, Priesthood, Divine Connection, Cooking, Aaron, Staves, Burnt Offerings, Letters on Parchment, Salamander, Myrtle, Phoenix (חוֹל Job 29:18), Snakes, Spiritual authority, Light, Atzilut, Existing, Chayah (level of the soul), Divine connection
WATER (מַיִם): North/South, Winter, Midnight, Well of Miriam, Love, Sarah, Abraham,  Silver, Michael, Mikvah, Washing,  Dipping Greens in Salt Water at Passover, Tashlich,  Bat Yah, Moses, The “Whale”, Water libation, Willow Branches, Reeds, Sea of Reeds, Wine, Miriam, Joseph, Noah, Annointing oil, Divination, Intuition, Dreams, Willow Branches, Lotus flowers, Water lillies, Emotions, Leviathin,Darkness, Yetzirah, Feeling, Ruach (level of soul), Creativity

EARTH (עָפָר): West, Autumn, Sunset, Ten Commandments, Raphael, Shekhinah, Rachel, David, Iron, Challah, Salt, Lulav, Etrog, Fruit, Flowers on Shavuot, Trees and tree planting, burying foreskin, earth in coffin, burying sacred texts, shoveling earth on grave, building of stone altars (cairns), bones, gardens, fields, Ruth, Boaz, the Shofar (not blown), Stones, Behomot, Life, Assiyah, Doing, Nefesh (level of soul), Resources we Consume

AIR (רוּחַ): East, Spring, Dawn, Cloud of Glory, Balance, Leah, Jacob, Bronze/Copper, Uriel, Scent, Incense, Blowing of Shofar, Besamin, Sukkah, Greggors, Singing, Chanting, Speech, Spoken Prayer, Dancing, Breath, Blades/Knives (air feeds fire), Tzipporah(?), Inspiration, Imagination, Bells on Priestly garmets, Keturah, Tzovah, Ziz (aka Renanim, Sekewi), Cloud of Glory, Judith, Solomon, Joshua,Wisdom, Briah, Thinking, Neshamah (level of soul), Community

AETHER/AKASHAH (חַשְׁמַל): Center, Void, Sabbath, Mt. Sinai, Wilderness, Liminal Space, Transformation, Gestation, Calendars, Mishkan, Temple, Passover Table, Seder Plate, Garden of Eden, Mystery, Sheol, Shamayim, HaSatan, Lilith, Sound of the Shofar, Baalot Ov, Circles, Shamir Worm , Foundation Stone , Moon, Torah, Talit and Tzittzit, Magen David, Tamei/Tahor, Menorah (6 branched), Containers, Vessels, Tohu v Vohu,   Yechidah (level of soul)

I would love feedback, so comment away! I don’t believe there is any one system that will work for everyone or that is “right.” Play with this one and see what works for you and what doesn’t.

Elements of Embodied Judaism Series:

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Thanks to  Katrina Messenger for inspiring and making space for this work.

[update: 1/20/11: Decided to experiment with the word חַשְׁמַל for void/ether.  The word appears in Ezekial 1 and is often translated as “electrum.”  But in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism it is described as “The mysterious substance or entity illuminating the heart of Ezekiel’s chariot vision.”  It’s also the word for electricity in modern Hebrew.  What do you think?]

[Update: 1/4/11]: Thanks to a blogpost by Brooke over at “The World Will Be Bright,” I’ve added the directional correspondences back in. Her explanations totally worked for me for which element is dominant in each direction. I think each direction probably has an have/need relationship with the elements like the seasons do, so the directions and seasons associated with each element above are the “have” elements.

[update: 12/29/10: – I changed “Center (Above/Below) to Void/Ether because I realized it was the only one that was not actually an “element.”  Center works with this if there are directions, but I had removed the directions. I’m still debating the right Hebrew word to fit this non-element]

[update: 9/6/2010 – I’ve changed the title of this from the Elements of Jewish Magick to the Elements of Judaism.  I did this because it’s not just about “magick” as most people understand it.  It’s really about providing a rich mental tapestry to draw on for any kind of Jewish practice. I’ve also changed the introduction, to allow this to function better as a stand-alone piece over time.]

[update: 7/20/2010 – removed the directions.  I’ve never really gelled with elements being in one direction or another so this has always felt like a false thing to include.]

6 Comments

  1. I appreciate your distinction between shofar (blown) as air and shofar (unblown) as earth. In ritual use, I incorporate the other elements as well. I pour water through the shofar to "wet the whistle" and make it easier to blow, and I understand my kavanah, my prayers put into the shofar, as the fire.

    I have written about this in "Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram's Horn", available for download at <a href="http://www.HearingShofar.com” target=”_blank”>www.HearingShofar.com.

  2. Michael

    I finished reading all three volumes of your book. I'll post about that soon. I really enjoyed it. I loved how you actually have the shofar as all four elements. I was really moved by the revelation that the sound of the shofar was the sound of the voice of YHVH at Sinai. I'd never noticed that in the text before!

  3. I've also been doing a lot of "elemental" thinking lately and you've provided many extra correspondences I was previously unaware of – thank you! Anything that can add something more, or provide another perspective or direction of thinking is very valuable.

    For some reason, the way you've described the 5/6 elements here instantly evoked a 3-d image in my head. It's a diamond – 2 pyramids joined at their bases to form a whole -, slowly rotating clockwise and it is bright green… I've never had this response before, but there you go.

    p.s. I was very excited to be able to comment on this 🙂

    • Sounds like you just saw a merkabah image. Interesting choice of green. The six pointed star is also the symbol of the heart chakra, which is usually seen as green. — and Yeah!! I'm glad you finally found a post to comment on.

      • Oooh, interesting association. I didn't even think of the heart chakra, but the shade of green I was picturing definitely matches. My "picture" looked more like this: http://media.photobucket.com/image/sims%20diamond… (which is from the Sims videogame!), but with only 4 sides to the pyramids. Maybe an expanded merkabah? I'll be paying attention to other shapes that pop into mind!

        • Ben Newman /

          The shape you describe — two four-sided pyramids attached base-to-base — is an octahedron. The geometric figure known as a merkava is a stellated octahedron, which can also be formed by two interpenetrating tetrahedra, making it a 3D analogue of the star of David.

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