The GRA’s Tree of Life and how it differs from Aryeh Kaplan’s Natural Array
“In 1997, Aryeh Kaplan published a revised paperback edition to his translation with commentary of the Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. (Samuel Weiser, Inc., Second Edition 1997). This was an important event. It presented a new English translation of the text, a history of the publication with a history of its commentaries, as well as the detailed an erudite commentary that Kaplan offered on the text.
It is the 1884 Warsaw edition which has the GRA’s commentary that is the focus of much intense interest by Kaplan and it is this text that is offers an illustration that should be called ‘The GRA’s Tree.’ Kaplan uses this illustration on the cover of his book and presents it as well as figure 6 on page 31.
The intent of this article is to understand and explain what is going on in that figure 6. To explain each line and every intersection and determine what they are. I only care to explain what is actual in that figure, I do not care if that seems to violate some traditional view of what the Sefirot aka Tree, is supposed to be like according to the traditional commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah or Kabbalah in general. As I worked out what is in this figure, I can only conclude that what currently is known as ‘Tradition’ is based on information that does not take into account this figure. If I had access to an English translation of the 1884 GRA edition of the Sefer Yetzirah then and only then could I determine what is the meaning and purpose behind this figure. Then and only then could we know what the Kabbalah meant to the GRA. I can prove that Kaplan’s ‘Natural Array’ though it bears a resemblance to the GRA’s tree in figure 6 it diverges from it. I just do not know why. Kaplan does not explain his intention of creating his Natural Array.
This paper is based on a few assumptions.
1) The figure 6 called the GRA Tree was indeed rendered under some supervision by the GRA. It therefore will assume it represents his intent and his understand of the Sefer Yetzirah and the Kabbalah. I will assume he is either creating a new Tradition or working within his understanding of the existing Tradition.
2) I am assuming that each of the Hebrew letters are assigned to one and only one of the 22 paths of the Tree.
3) I assume that mistakes in printing and drawing are possible and might be difficult to fix. I am assuming that once an imprint block is set up for the book’s publication it is too costly to change totally. Therefore, a mistake becomes permanent, and nothing can be removed, though something might be able to be added.
4) Human beings have an infinite capacity to rationalize anything. I assume that if my logic and analysis is correct then the GRA invented some explanations to justify what I am describing. Therefore, either the GRA, or I, am rationalizing their work. I am willing to accept that we both are.
With those assumptions as a foundation, let us begin.
If you do a search on the Internet, you will find images and references to this ‘Natural Array’ and they all treat it as the ‘GRA Tree’. Even though, Kaplan only said this pattern in Figure 5 is ‘The Paths according to the Gra’, meaning that the letter placement on the paths imitate the pattern that the GRA used for his tree. Though it will turn out that this resemblance is only superficial, as I will explain. Still, the reference ‘according to the Gra’ associated with Kaplan’s Natural Array is I believe the reason that people equate the ‘Natural Array’ as actually representing the GRA’s Tree. I wish to set the record straight and explain that the ‘Natural Array’ cannot be an accurate representation of the GRA’s idea of the tree. This tree in figure 5 is the error I refer to in the title of this article. Kaplan’s ‘Natural Array’ I posit is a fabrication of Kaplan and is a misreading of the GRA’s 1884 figure. This article will present my defense of this statement.” [From my essay on Kaplan and the GRA’s Tree, 2017]