So…who is the GRA?
He is Elijah ben Shlomo Zalmen ( aka the GRA) who was born in Vilna Lithuania in 1720. The GRA is a Hebrew acronym that stands for ‘Gaon (Hebrew for ‘genius’) Rabbi Elijah.’ He is the genius of Vilna. His knowledge, understanding and insights into Torah, Talmud, and Jewish Kabbalah earned him this title.
He is important to us for his commentary published in 1884 on the Kabbalistic text The Sefer Yetzirah. In that text he presented a figure which has become known as the GRA’s Tree. It is a diagram of the Sefiroth aka The Tree of Life. Many books and websites have referred to this version of the Tree. The vast majority of images found on the web and the vast majority of the books talking about the GRA’s tree are mistaken. They are not describing and discussing the GRA’s tree but rather are discussing Aryeh Kaplan’s version of the Tree that he calls ‘the Natural Array’ from Kaplan’s The Sefer Yetzirah, The Book of Creation: In Theory and Practice (Revised Edition), Samuel Weiser Books Inc, 1990.
To my knowledge the only book illustrating and explaining the GRA’s tree is my own book The Qabalah Paths of Light. This blog is a simplified presentation of what can be found in my book pp 154 – 176, as well as on my Acedemia.com website postings.
Let me explain. To understand what Kaplan called figure 6, the actual 1884 GRA Tree we need to understand the following rules.
1) They are ten sefirahs on the Tree. These would be found at the intersections of the lines on the GRA’s figure. Also included in this figure is a circle above representing AYN SOF, the name of the Infinite Divine according to the Rabbis. The bottom circle I deduce as the sefirah Malkuth. (To understand this statement you would need to refer to my writings on this subject in my book and online essay.)
2) There are 22 paths/lines that connect those sefirahs.
3) There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
4) Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned to one and only one path/line of the Tree.
5) According to the Sefer Yetzirah the Hebrew letters are grouped into 3 groups. Three letters are the Mother letters and these are assigned to the 3 horizontal path/lines on the Tree. Seven letters are the ‘Double’ letters and these are assigned to the 7 vertical path/lines on the Tree. The remaining twelve letters are assigned to the 12 diagonal path/lines on the Tree.
6) According to rules 2-5 I deduced that the letter Mem that is shown twice on figure 6, was a publishing error in the 1884 book. The Mem being one of the three Mother letters can only be assigned to a horizontal path/line and not to a vertical line. Therefore the Hebrew letter that should be assigned to the bottom vertical line should be the Tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
According to my understanding of the GRA’s thinking based on commentary made by the GRA (again see my book for further insights) I conclude that given that the upper circle designates Ayn Sof, the lower circle connected by a final vertical line is Malkuth and that means that on the GRA’s tree at one of the intersecting points is located the sefirah Daat.
Hence my rendering of the GRA’s Tree.
As for what is commonly found on the web as the GRA’s Tree? This is due to a misunderstanding of figure 5 in Aryeh Kaplan’s book The Sefer Yetzirah.
Note that the figure is described as ‘The 32 paths according to the GRA’. What I interpret this to mean is that Kaplan assigned to his Natural Array the Hebrew letters according to the principles as Kaplan understood them by examining the 1884 figure of the GRA’s Tree, Kaplan’s figure 6.
It is interesting to note that even Kaplan is a bit dubious about his own ‘Natural Array’. His text even says that the ‘Natural Array’ was never used by the Rabbis. ‘In practice, for reasons dealing with the basic nature of the Sefiroth, they are not arranged in this natural order, but have the middle line lowered somewhat.‘ (Kaplan, pg. 32)
Therefore what is called on the web and in all other books as the 'GRA’s Tree' is in actual fact is only Aryeh Kaplan’s Natural Array with Hebrew letters assigned to them. This version of the tree is an invention of Kaplan. Any association of this with the GRA is a complete mistake and misunderstanding.
Garshom Yaron aka Gary Jaron has been exploring the Occult Qabalah and the Rabbinic Kabbalah since he was a teen.