Jewish mystical tradition teaches that we live simultaneously in four worlds: the world of action, the world of emotion, the world of thought, and the world of spirit. We can imagine the Four Worlds as a ladder or a tree (one above the next), and/or as concentric circles (one inside the next). They are:
עולם העשייה ASSIYAH / ACTION
Assiyah is the world of action and physicality. This is the tangible world, the world of the body. In Torah study, this world evokes Torah’s plain meaning. In assiyah we take concrete action to seek our Source through building, making, and doing. Poetically / mystically speaking, this world is associated with the season of winter and the element of earth.
עולם היצירה YETZIRAH / EMOTION
Yetzirah is the world of emotion and relationship. In this world our hearts seek to relate to each other and to our Source. We make connections and draw associations, reading Torah through an emotional lens. The Hebrew name of this world evokes “forming,” as in forming clay into a shape, or as in the inner work of spiritual formation. Poetically / mystically speaking, this world is associated with the season of spring and the element of water.
עולם הבריאה BRIYAH / INTELLECT
Briyah is the world of consciousness, thought, and intellect. In briyah we interpret Torah through story (midrash). The Hebrew name of this world evokes “creation,” and in this world we cultivate mental awareness that God speaks the world into being in every moment, creating us anew. Poetically / mystically speaking, this world is associated with the season of summer and the element of air.
עולם האצילות ATZILUT / SPIRIT
Atzilut is the world of spirit and essence, sometimes called the world of “emanation.” In this world we seek to access Torah’s secret mystical wisdom. In atzilut all divisions fall away as we connect with the ineffable. Poetically / mystically speaking, this world is associated with the season of autumn and the element of fire.
The Hebrew names of the four worlds are drawn from Isaiah 43:7.
We offer this explanation with gratitude to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who brought this teaching forward in our day.