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The Keys to Life

The Mystical Aspect of Colors and the Spheres

Jewish mysticism teaches that every color in nature represents a different spiritual root—a root from which that color originates and is symbolized by. A fascinating article by Rabbi Zamir Cohen, about the Mystical aspect of colors and the spheres

The Mystical Aspect of Colors and the Spheres

Jewish mysticism teaches that every color in nature represents a different spiritual root—a root from which that color originates and is symbolized by. This means that based on color, we can tell what spiritual root that element belongs to and what the essence and quality of that element is.[1] Therefore, the ten spheres[2] are represented by ten colors—each one according to its essence.[3] There is a clear division of colors in the spiritual realm; each color is based on the spiritual value it relates to. Therefore, in the same way the rainbow is divided into seven conspicuous colors and three obscure colors, so too the ten spheres are divided into the seven lower (conspicuous) spheres and the three upper (obscure) spheres. And just as each of the ten spheres is made up of ten spheres, with that particular sphere being the most dominant among the other spheres, so too each ray of light contains all the colors, with the dominant color being the one that reflects back.

The first sphere is the Sphere of Wisdom. This sphere is blue and bright like a sapphire.[4] However, there’s an upper crown situated above it glowing with the color white. The tenth and final sphere is the Sphere of Malchut, which is red. Regarding this sphere it is written, “Its feet lead to death.”[5] Even though it is just as holy as the rest of the spheres, the level below it is completely different, as it contains all the forces of the Sitra Achra, the “other side,” which tries to extract its energy from the holiness. These are the evil and dark forces that belong to the evil inclination, the angel of death, and the mystical aspect of the verse “You make darkness and it is night,”[6] which are all represented by the color black and are situated below the red.

Out of all the spiritual color sources in the World of Spheres, white is the highest of all the colors, as it symbolizes kindness and the ultimate form of benevolence. Therefore, when materialized in the natural world, the white color casts back all the rays of light that are directed toward it. Black, on the other hand, symbolizes the forces of self-absorption, as it keeps everything for itself and absorbs all the rays of light that are directed toward it without giving anything in return.

This concept of taking without giving anything back is associated with death and the forces of evil. It can be found in many places in nature.

The Dead Sea, for example, was created in such a way that it is virtually lifeless, hence its name. If we examine its nature compared to other bodies of water, we will discover that every body of water receives its water supply from various sources that keep circulating the water. But the Dead Sea, which is situated on the lowest place on earth, only receives water but doesn’t extend it anywhere else. Therefore, a person who takes without giving anything in return is considered “dead.”

It is also important to indicate that the lines of kindness (which are purple, blue, and green) that are formed in nature, transmit very high frequencies, while the colors of judgment (red, orange, yellow) transmit low frequencies.

According to the mystics, the purest point from which the world was created is in the Sphere of Keter, which is comprised of all the spheres. The color of the Sphere of Keter is bright white. All the other spheres derive from Keter along with all their corresponding colors. In his book Pardes Rimonim the Ramak, zt”l, expanded upon this as he explains the color that represents each of the ten spheres.[7] He explains that it certainly does not mean that these spheres have actual colors, rather that each color represents the action of each one of the spheres. Of course, every spiritual root of every color in this world is contained within a particular sphere that causes it to operate the way that it does. Here is a small excerpt:

Oftentimes, a reader will find in the words of the Kabbalists and the Zohar a certain relationship between the colors and the spheres. The reader must be cautious and not oversimplify or take these matters literally, G-d forbid, as a color is something that materializes and is one of the descriptions for materialism. And anything that is not material should not be described as such, G-d forbid. Therefore, the reader should exercise caution in this matter. In properly understanding the colors of the spheres, an analogy can be drawn with respect to the actions that are driven by the upper roots.

The analogy is that a victor of war should be compared to the color red, as it is his nature to spill blood and also, red is a symbol of cruelty and rage. Therefore, redness should be attributed to him. Additionally, there’s no doubt that the red elements [in nature] are derived from this force, as we’ve explained…

While the white relates to mercy and peace, as it is the way of the “white” people to be merciful, like the elderly who have white hair, and who do not typically wage wars. Therefore, when we wish to relate to kindness, peace, and mercy, we shall attribute it to whiteness. And there’s no question that the white elements in nature receive their power from the forces of that particular root which we’ve described in the previous section.

And there’s no doubt that the colors have an introduction in the actions of the spheres and the drawing of their abundance. And for this reason, when a person wishes to draw abundance down to the world from the realm of kindness and mercy, he should imagine the name of the sphere before him in the color of that attribute;[8] if it’s pure kindness then he should imagine pure white, and if it is of a lesser degree then he should paint the color in his mind according to the color of the wall of the Heichal.

Similarly, when he wishes to perform an action in which the attribute of judgment is necessary, then the person should dress in red clothing, and paint in his mind the name of G-d (H-A-V-A-Y-A) in red, and the same goes for any of the actions that follow. And when he requires kindness and mercy, he should dress in white.

We have evidence of this from the Priests who drew kindness and were dressed in white in order to demonstrate peace. And this relates to the matter of the kohen gadol on the Day of Atonement, who used to remove his golden clothing and change into white, as the service of the day was conducted in white. The proof for this is the breastplate, which contained twelve stones of various colors that relate to the drawing of the twelve tribes from a high place [each stone was chosen based on its color, and the root of each tribe].[9]

This was the reason for why the red ribbon became white in the Temple [this was a red ribbon made of wool, which would miraculously transform to white in the Temple thereby announcing that the sins of the people were forgiven]on the Day of Atonement. Because as the judgment was cancelled in the upper root, the lower branches were cancelled as well. And just as the source transformed from judgment to mercy, so too the branch would transform its color from red to white.

The Ramak also stated in Pardes Rimonim that white is the color of the angel Michael, who is in charge of the channel of kindness, whereas red is the color of the angel Gavriel, who is responsible for the channel of judgment.[10]

White vs. Black, Blue vs. Red

As a general rule, the colors that represent the spheres of kindness, which have a masculine, giving nature are white, blue, and light blue. Whereas the colors that represent judgment and strength and bear the qualities of inhibition and selfish taking are red and black. This relates to the same property of black, whose nature is to absorb the rays of the sun and not give anything in return. At its root, black is considered red, only on a lower level. This comes from the Talmud, “Black blood is really red blood that has darkened.”[11] The red fire too consumes and takes without giving anything in return, besides some charred remnants that are black in color.[12]

On a deeper level, the redness of the sky during sunset,[13] before the “black” nightfall, expresses the transition of the moments in which the forces of the “other side” take control, as it says in the verse “You make darkness and it is night, in which every forest beast stirs.”[14] On the other hand, water that is naturally clear, with a resemblance to white, appears bluish in color in oceans and rivers (for the same reason that the sky appears blue—there are certain elements in the air and water that better absorb the blue rays of the sun). We were also commanded to dye the central thread of the tzitzit (Jewish fringes)—to which the other threads are attached—to blue, whose role is to protect the person wearing it in a time of danger.[15] We were commanded to color that thread using a bluish dye that is extracted from the aquatic creature known as a chilazon.[16]

The Blue Sky and the Tzitzit: Said Rabbi Meir: What is so unique about the color blue that it was the one chosen (for the thread of the tzitzit) from all the other colors? Because blue resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Exalted Throne. As it says, “And under his feet was the likeness of the Livnat HaSapir  [sapphire brickwork, which comes from the word levenah, as it resembles a form of a rectangle (malben)].”  And it was like the essence of the Heaven in purity (like clear blue skies without any clouds ) as it says, “An appearance of sapphire stone in the likeness of a throne…”

When the eight white and blue threads of the tzitzit were made and worn according to Jewish law, they released abundance onto the person who wore them. This abundance contained the influence of the Spheres of Mercy and Kindness. They protected him on all four sides and provided safety that was lifnim mishurat hadin, beyond the letter of the law. (Shurat hadin is the Sphere of Justice, which operates on the basis of strict judgment and truth.)

Since the destruction of the Temple and the disappearance of the chilazon, the white threads of the tzitzit became a sufficient channel through which the person is able to receive abundance.[17]

Even the colors of metals, like gold, which is inclined toward red, and silver toward white, expose the white/red phenomenon found in nature. Gold, which has reddish undertones, comes from the root of the Sphere of Justice, and silver, which leans toward white, originates from the root of the Sphere of Kindness.[18] When they were combined, they created the perfect spiritual influence by the upper spheres of this world, through the spiritual center of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), and the service of the kohen gadol. This is why the pillars of the Mishkan stood on a silver foundation that was coated with gold. Similarly, the drapes of the Mishkan and the clothing of the kohen gadol were woven with white flax threads called shesh,[19]together with light blue, scarlet, red (tolaat hashani—scarlet wool) and golden threads. The former ones, the white and light blue, as well as the silver, are from the Spheres of Kindness. While the latter ones, the scarlet, red, and gold are from the Spheres of Justice. When they were combined, they created a perfect spiritual influence from the upper spheres down to the world through the Mishkan and the service of the kohen gadol.

Therefore it is not without reason that the Jewish custom to mark “meat” dishes in red (justice) and “dairy” dishes in blue (kindness) has become widespread.

It is amazing to see that even in nature, the elements that provide from above are white and blue, while those providing from below are red and brown—the sky and clouds provide from above, while the earth and land receive from below. This is likened to kindness versus judgment, or male versus female. After all, all the elements of nature were created by one G-d, based on the principle of the spheres and their colors—as His wisdom has dictated. Therefore, this idea manifests itself in every area, both in the world itself as well as within all the elements of the universe.

Notes and Sources

[1] That is why the Torah often specifies color-related information that may seem trivial. For example, “The first one merged red” (Bereishit 26:26). The color is the indicator of the root.

[2] Regarding the essence of the spheres, see “The Structure of the Spheres and the Development of the Realms” in HaTzofen.

[3] Refer to Pardes Rimonim, Gate of Colors, ch.1.

[4] Refer to Sotah 17a, where it proves that the hue of the Divine throne is that of the sea and sky, as it is proven in Yechezkel 1:26, “The appearance of sapphire stone in the likeness of a throne.”

[5] Mishlei 5:5. Also, refer to the chapter on the letter kaf in HaTzofen.

[6] Tehillim 104:20. Also, refer to Bava Metzia 83b regarding this verse and the words of the Ramchal in Path of the Just, ch. 3.

[7] Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, Gate of Colors, ch. 1.

[8] See the Gate of Ruach HaKodesh regarding the significance of the colors that are formed in the mind of a person when he reflects upon the shape of the letters, H-A-V-A-Y-A.

[9] Refer to the words of Rabbenu Bechaye in his commentary on the Torah (Shemot 28:15) regarding the potential powers of the breastplate

[10] Pardes Rimonim, Gate of Colors, ch. 3, s.v. “hashishit tiferet.” It is uncertain if he meant that they actually had the appearance of those colors, or that these colors only represented their roles. Although in Daniel (10:6), it says that the angel Gavriel appeared as a man wearing cloths, “His body was like tarshish, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, and his arms and legs like the color of burnished copper; the sound of his words [loud] as the sound of a multitude,” see the commentaries there on the word tarshish, and burnished copper’s resemblance to redness. Also see Yoma 77a.

[11] Sukkah 33b, Niddah 19a.

[12] The Rambam wrote in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishit 1:1), “And the fire is called darkness because the original fire has darkened.” You can see from the above that the beginning and end of the ten spheres, which are compared to the parts of the human body, are blue [representing the first sphere, the Sphere of Wisdom], and the red [representing the final sphere, the Sphere of Malchut. This sphere has a feminine, engendering quality, as in the spheres of the channel of Judgment]. While black and the white are outside the body, white is above and black is below. Refer to Pardes Rimonim, Gate of Colors, ch. 3.

[13] The scientific explanation for the red skies during sunset is that dust in the atmosphere disperses and neutralizes the blue wavelengths in the sun’s rays, while the red wavelengths pass through them and become visible. However, the spiritual reason (which will be explained in the following note) is the root cause of this natural phenomenon.

[14] Tehillim 104:20. On a simple level, the meaning of the verse is literal—pertaining to the natural world. However, on a mystical level, the verse is referring to the negative spiritual forces of the world, whose power intensifies from sunset to midnight. From this point forward, the situation changes. As morning gets closer, the illumination of daylight comes closer in the natural world, and with it comes the spiritual illumination from the upper realms that shines on the physical world in a natural way. Therefore, midnight (as in chatzot, not necessarily 12:00 a.m.) is an opportune time to pray for mercy and for the redemption of the nation of Israel. This is the source for the Tikun Chatzot prayer which is said specifically at this hour. For the reason stated above, neither Tehillim nor Selichot are recited from sunset to chatzot. The Kabbalists do not even cut their hair or their nails from sunset to chatzot, as hair and nails have the property of din (judgment), and they should not be cut while judgments are intensifying.

[15] Regarding the protective power of the tzitzit, refer to the Ben Ish Chai in his introduction to Parshat Noach. See the chapter on “A Spiritual Quest” that discusses the words of the Talmud in Menachot 41a. The virtue and reward of one who wears tzitzit is discussed in Shabbat 32b and Menachot 43b. And an explanation regarding the supernatural aspects of the number 8 can be found in HaTzofen, in the chapter that discusses the letter chet.

[16] Menachot 44a.

[17As explained in Tosefta, Sotah 15a.

[18] Refer to the Zohar, Parshat Terumah 148a, and Pardes Rimonim, Gate of Colors, ch. 3.

[19] Refer to the Even Ezra’s commentary on the Torah, Shemot 25:4.

Adapted from "The Keys to Life" by Rabbi Zamir Cohen