Joseph's Bones

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Joseph converted a number of souls in Egypt and therefore circumcised them. These were the "mixed multitude" that left with the Jewish people.

[When the Jewish people left Egypt,] Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for [Joseph] had adjured the children of Israel, saying: "G‑d will deliver you, and you will bring up my bones from here with you." (Ex. 13:9)

As you know, our sages tell us that when Pharaoh told the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you," Joseph required them to circumcise themselves. (Gen. 41:55)

After storing up food during the seven years of plenty, the Egyptians found that when the years of famine began, it had all rotted. They went to Pharaoh, who advised them to go to Joseph and ask him for food. Joseph told them that he would distribute food to them only if they circumcised themselves. Pharaoh advised the Egyptians to comply with his demand, for "he [evidently] decreed that the produce should rot; what happens if he decrees that we should die?"

[In so doing] he converted a number of souls and [therefore] circumcised them. These were the "mixed multitude" that left Egypt with the Jewish people.

When the Jews left Egypt, "a mixed multitude also left with them". (Ex. 12:38) These were converts from a number of peoples - including Egyptians. (See Rashi's commentary on this verse.)

Moses also wanted to accept them and take them in under the wings of the Shechinah.

See Rashi's commentary on Ex. 32:7.

Therefore, since Joseph began this deed and was the first one to convert them to Judaism, [it is appropriate that] Moses took him [Joseph] with him [personally].

In the Talmud Sota (13a), the Sages point out, "Whereas all the [other] Jews were occupied with the spoil [of Egypt], Moses occupied himself with the commandments," i.e. with fulfilling Joseph's wish to be exhumed and taken to the holy land. The Arizal gives a thematic explanation of why this was so.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Not through the Land of the Philistines

End of the Path: Part 1

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The journey to Israel manifest mystical unifications in the spiritual worlds.

This week's Torah portion opens with the words:

"And it was, when Pharaoh sent away the people, that G‑d did not lead them by way of the Land of the Philistines, for it was close. For G‑d said, 'Lest the people change their mind when they see war, and return to Egypt' So G‑d led the people around by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds, and the Israelites went out from Egypt armed. Moses took Joseph's bones with him, for he had made the Israelites swear, saying, 'G‑d will certainly redeem you, so take my bones out of here with you.' (Ex. 13:17-19)

The word for "and it was" presaged trouble for the Jewish people from the fact that "Pharaoh sent away the people", that is, the Mixed Multitude.

The word for "and it was/vayehi", is understood by the Sages to presage trouble. (Megilla 10b) When the Torah uses the term "the people" instead of the more usual "the Israelites/Benei Yisrael", it is often understood to refer to the Mixed Multitude of gentiles that Moses converted and accompanied the Jews out of Egypt. These converts were moved to convert by the miracles they saw performed for the Jews rather than by sincere devotion to G‑d. Since their intentions were not pure, they proved repeatedly to be a source of trouble during the ensuing trek to the Land of Israel.

For it was because of them that "G‑d did not lead them…", i.e. the Jews, ["by way of the Land of the Philistines] for [this route] was close", and they would have entered the [Promised] Land immediately [had they taken it]. G‑d suspected that "the people (i.e. the Mixed Multitude) would change their mind and return to Egypt".

chanoch adds: HaShem knows not suspect. The translation might be incorrect.

When Moses saw that they had to travel "by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds", and they would have to cross the sea, "he took Joseph's bones with him" in order to use them to split the sea, similar to [the idea in] the verse, "the sea saw and fled". (Psalms 114:3)

According to the Midrash, it was Joseph's bones that the sea saw and "fled", i.e. retreated on either side, leaving a dry path for the Jews to use to cross. It was because Joseph fled when he was tempted by Potiphar's wife that the sea now fled before him. (Bereishit Rabbah 87:8)

Rabbi Shalom Sharabi notes that since this verse continues "for he had made the Israelites swear, saying, 'G‑d will certainly redeem you, so take my bones out of here with you'", we cannot say that Moses took Joseph's bones because he realized he would have to use them to split the sea, because the Jews were obligated to take his bones in any case. Rather, he says, the Arizal means that the reason Moses took Joseph's bones "with him", i.e. keeping them next to him, rather than putting someone else in charge of them, was for this reason.

The Arizal goes on to explain the Kabbalistic dynamics behind this change of plans in Part 2: Curly-Haired Philistines

(click here)

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah, parashat Beshalach; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Curly-Haired Philistines

End of the Path: Part 2

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

[This article is a continuation from Part 1: Not through the Land of the Philistines

(click here).]

This week's Torah portion opens with the words:

And it was, when Pharaoh sent away the people, that G‑d did not lead them by way of the Land of the Philistines, for it was close. For G‑d said, "Lest the people change their mind when they see war, and return to Egypt." So G‑d led the people around by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds, and the Israelites went out from Egypt armed. Moses took Joseph's bones with him, for he had made the Israelites swear, saying, "G‑d will certainly redeem you, so take my bones out of here with you." (Ex. 13:17-19)

The Arizal now explains the Kabbalistic dynamics behind this change of plans:

Now, the Philistines are situated [spiritually] in the location of the hairs [referred to in the phrase] "his locks are curled". (Songs 5:11) [They are alluded to] by the combined numerical value of the ten names Elokim of constricted consciousness, from which these hairs issued above [in the spiritual realms].

Energy passes out of the brain and metamorphoses into hair….

Hair is seen as a manifestation of the brain's excess "light" (mental energy). As this excess energy passes out of the brain and metamorphoses into hair, it undergoes an extreme qualitative contraction (tzimtzum); hair, together with nails, is the most lifeless part of the body, since it can be cut painlessly.

chanoch adds: The Kabbalah explains that Light enters the top of the head and spreads to share as is the nature of Light. Some is able to spread outwards back through the top of the head. This restriction or Tzimzum has the effect of judgement. Other aspects of the Light spreads through the neck to the body. Some parts of the Light can not “fit” through the neck and becomes the hairs of the beard.

The Arizal states elsewhere (Shaar HaKavanot, Tzitzit 5) that the hair on the head of Arich Anpin is white (or blonde), the hair on the head of Zeir Anpin is black, and the hair on the head of Nukva is red. The verse applying to the hair of Zeir Anpin is "His locks are curled, black as a raven".

He further states that there are three types of hair on Zeir Anpin's head: long locks ("kevutzot"), medium-length hairs ("nimin"), and short hairs ("saarot"). These three types of hair originate in the three parts of the brain, which in turn correspond to the three components of the intellect.

The long kevutzot originate in daat (which is centered in the brain stem or cerebellum). Daat comprises the origin of the midot, which, as we have seen previously, are manifest principally as fives states of chesed and five states of gevura. There are thus ten contracted states of excess mental daat-energy that emerge from daat. Inasmuch as the name Elokim signifies contraction (tzimtzum), these ten contracted states are manifest as ten names Elokim.

here are the links to deeper exlanations about hair by the Ari.

To continue on to Part 3:

Medium-Haired Philistines (click here)

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah, parashat Beshalach; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Medium-Haired Philistines

End of the Path: Part 3

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

[This article is a continuation from Part 2: Curly Haired Philistines (click here).]

The word for "lock" is "taltal". The numerical value of this word is 860:

"Taltal" is spelled tav-lamed-tav-lamed = 400 + 30 + 400 + 30 = 860.

The numerical value of the name Elokim is 86 (alef-lamed-hei-yud-mem = 1 + 30 + 5 + 10 + 40 = 86), and 10 x 86 = 860.

The addition two letters of the plural, "locks" ("taltalim"), are yud-mem (10 + 40 = 50), alluding to the 50 letters used to spell ten names Elokim.

The medium-length hairs ("nimin") come from bina and the short hairs ("saarot") from chochma. The short hairs function as the encompassing light (or makif) around Zeir Anpin itself; the medium hairs function as the encompassing light around the partzuf of Leah, and the long hairs function as the encompassing light around the partzuf of Rachel.

The Hair of Zeir Anpin

type of hair – origin - encompassing light

short hair ("saarot") – chochma - of Zeir Anpin

medium-length hair ("nimin") – bina - of Leah

long locks ("kevutzot") – daat - of Rachel

The Philistines personified over-indulgence in the sensuality of this world. This is alluded to by their name, which is derived from the root pei-lamed-shin, meaning "breaking through" or "overdoing it". In the realm of holiness, the Philistines signify excessive joy in the service of G‑d, breaking all boundaries of propriety. This is generally frowned upon, because there is always a danger that excessive expression of joy - even in a holy context - can degenerate into "joy for joy's sake", i.e. for the enjoyment of joy itself, and this is a form of self-indulgence and thus evil. This is why Michal rebuked her husband, King David, for rejoicing excessively when he brought the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines (Samuel II 20). Michal was wrong because King David was exceedingly pious, but her supposition was essentially correct. (See Or HaTorah, Beshalach, pp. 369-370.)

Thus, inasmuch as both the Philistines and hair express the idea of excess, the Philistines are situated spiritually proximate to the location of hair. Indeed, elsewhere (Likutei Torah on Samuel I) the Arizal points out that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for "Philistines" ("Pelishtim") is also 860:

"Pelishtim" is spelled: pei-lamed-shin-tav-yud-mem = 80 + 30 + 300 + 400 + 10 + 40 = 860.

It is known that [the Philistines] derived from [the partzuf of] Leah.

Leah signifies thought, as opposed to Rachel, who signifies speech….

The partzuf of Leah is situated opposite the upper half of Zeir Anpin, particularly opposite his head or intellect, for Leah signifies thought, as opposed to Rachel, who signifies speech. Although both thought and speech serve and express the intellect and the emotions, thought is used more for intellect and speech more for the emotions.

As we saw above, the medium-length hair of Zeir Anpin originates in bina of Zeir Anpin and forms the encompassing light around the partzuf of Leah. It is evidently these hairs that serve as the thematic connection between the Philistines and Leah. The inner dimension of bina is joy: joy accompanies the full integration of the insight of chochma into the individual's overall worldview, revitalizing his life, and this is accomplished by bina. As a result of this joy, the individual can have an emotional response to his new intellect, as alluded to in the phrase, "the mother of the children is joyful" (Psalms 113:9), which can be read, "the mother [bina, Imma] of the children [the midot] is joy."

But [the Israelites] were now proceeding toward the Land of Israel, which is associated with [the partzuf of] Rachel.

Thus, just like a person has to think before he speaks, the Jews had to pass through the partzuf of Leah (manifest in the Land of the Philistines) before entering the partzuf of Rachel (manifest in the Land of Israel).

[G‑d] feared that if they would go through the place of Leah, where there was hair, they would return to Egypt. For [the territory of Leah] is also a type of "Egypt", and [perhaps] they would become entangled and caught there.

He therefore led them around "by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds", that is, via Rachel, who is the "end of the levels".

chanoch adds: In todays world the land of the Philistine is Gaza. The people who live there are called Palestinians and the potential Egypt still applies.

The Sea of Reeds expressed Rachel….

The word for "reeds" is "suf", which is spelled exactly the same way as the word for "end", "sof". Rachel is the partzuf of malchut, which is the last and lowest of the ten sefirot and is therefore termed in the Zohar "the end of all levels". Thus, the Sea of Reeds expressed Rachel.

Now Moses, who personified yesod of Abba, could only enter the Land of Israel, which expressed Rachel, by [being channeled through] yesod of Zeir Anpin, which was personified by Joseph.

We have seen previously that Moses personified yesod of Abba. While yesod of Abba can couple with Leah, for they are at the same level, it is too high to couple with Rachel. It therefore has to descend to the level of Zeir Anpin and be vested in it in order to couple with Rachel. We have seen previously that Joseph - the paradigm of sexual purity - personified yesod of Zeir Anpin.

Scripture therefore states that "Moses took Joseph's bones with him". This means that Moses, who personified yesod of Abba, became vested in Joseph, who personified yesod of Zeir Anpin. In this way, he was able to descend to "the end of all levels", i.e. to enter Rachel.

At this point, it was still assumed that Moses would enter the Land of Israel.

chanoch adds: This always amazes me, how the ARI relates the simple story to the Sefirot. Then everything becomes simple and everything unifies.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah, parashat Beshalach; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Conversation with a Soul

In Paradise you will eat the bread of the Torah that you studied while you were in that world

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The following is a nice [mystical] interpretation of the Exodus from Egypt, as an allusion to the departure of the soul from the body [at death].

When Pharaoh sent the [Jewish] people forth… (Ex. 13:17)

This refers to when the soul departs the body. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is the neck, for [the body] is stubborn. [Stubbornness] rules over the body, which is Egypt.

The Hebrew word for Pharoah [pei-reish-ayin-hei] is composed of the same letters as the word for "the neck" [ha-oref, hei-ayin-reish-pei], as we have explained previously. The idiom for "stubborn" in Hebrew is "stiff-necked." The body may be described as "stubborn" since it insists on imposing its gross, material perspective on the soul. "Egypt" [mitzrayim] means "constrictions" [meitzarim], an apt term for the body, since it limits the powers of the soul to those of this world, forcing it to conceive of everything in terms of time and space.

G‑d hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued the Children of Israel. (Ex. 14:8)

[When the soul leaves the body,] the powers of the evil inclination set out to chase the soul in order to harm it. This is because the evil inclination is also the accusing angel. After taking the soul [from the body], it pursues it in order to harm it and take vengeance on it.

It is enough, the soul complains, that I had to live a full life in this grave of the body; why must I suffer further?

As the sages have said, the evil inclination [yetzer hara], the angel of death [malach hamavet], and the accusing angel [Satan] are all one.

He overtook them while they were camping by the sea… (Ex. 14:9)

The sea refers to Purgatory [Gehinom], known as "the river of fire."

When the soul leaves the body it must first be purged of the existential crust of materialism and negativity it acquired during its stay in the physical world. Only then can it proceed to experience the pure spirituality of Paradise.

As Pharaoh drew near (Ex. 13:10)

to give the soul over to the agents of damage and inflictors of pain to torture them…

The Children of Israel raised their eyes and caught sight of the Egyptians advancing at their rear, and they became very frightened. So the Children of Israel cried out to G‑d.

In order for the soul to be purified of its worldly, material crust it must be made to experience the extent to which this materialism is antithetical to truth and spirituality. This is an agonizing, torturous awakening.

They said to Moses (Ex. 14:11)

i.e., to the good inclination:

"Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the desert?"

i.e., "Now that you see all this pain and suffering these powers of evil are inflicting upon me, this "battering in the grave" [Hebrew phrase: 'chibut ha-kever'], was it not enough pain that I had to be buried and suffer inside the body and constrictions of the physical world, that I must now experience as well the pain of this grave" - this refers to how the soul is battered inside the grave - "and I have been taken to die [again] in the desert?" i.e., in Purgatory, the desolate abode of the forces of evil. Here is where vengeance is extracted from the soul.

The soul refers to its birth into a physical body as being "buried" inside a "grave." Death is not seen as a cessation of existence, but rather as a descent from one spiritual level to a lower one. It is enough, the soul complains, that I had to live a full life in this grave of the body; why must I suffer further?

The image of the soul being "battered" in the grave refers to how it is existentially "shaken" of its materialistic encrustation, as above.

"What is this that you have done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we spoke to you about in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Ex. 14:11-12)

i.e., "it was better for me in the body. I may as well have submitted to the evil inclination in the physical world; at least then I would not be suffering the pain I am suffering now."

By being shown the truth and the splendor of spirituality, the soul is rudely awakened to the triviality of all the things the body convinced it to be important in this world. This realization of the futility and emptiness of the material life of the physical world is more painful than any pain than can be experienced in the physical world itself.

As the sages say, "against your will you are born, and against your will you live."

The opposite is true of the tzadik; he yearns for death from this world in order to go on to live in the world of truth.

As the sages say, "against your will you are born, and against your will you live."

But Moses said to the people, "Have no fear… (Ex. 14:13)

The good inclination tells the soul, have no fear of this punishment, for it is for your own good. Through it, you will be rid of these inflictors of pain and be spared the ordeal of Purgatory. All the powers of impurity will remain there in this sea, i.e., the river of fire.

"Stand firm and witness the deliverance that G‑d will perform for you today…

By means of the purification process of Purgatory you will be cleansed of your sins.

…for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again."

For they will remain in Purgatory.

Toward the end of the night G‑d looked down upon the camp of the Egyptians with the pillar of fire and cloud…(Ex. 14:24)

This refers to the descent of the soul to be judged in Purgatory. When this is over

…He threw the camp of the Egyptians into confusion.

This refers to the powers of the evil inclination, who are cast into the "sea," where they remain.

But the Children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, while the water formed a wall for them, on their right and on their left. (Ex. 14:29)

The Hebrew word for "wall" is 'chomah', which is written the same as the word for "anger" [in Hebrew, 'cheimah'].

The powers of evil are angry as the soul departs Purgatory purified of its material dross.

Moses then caused the Children of Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds and they went out into the Desert of Shur. They walked for three days in the desert without finding any water. They came to Mara, but they could not drink water at Mara, for the water was bitter; that was why the place was named Mara ["bitter"]. (Ex. 15:22-23)

After the soul departs Purgatory, it starves for three days, since it spends three days without learning Torah. Torah is the nourishment of the soul, enabling it to endure Purgatory before entering Paradise.

The people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"(Ex. 15:24)

i.e., "since we have not learned any Torah. The Torah is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it."

G‑d showed [Moses] a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. It was there that He gave [the people] a statute and a law, and there He tested them.

i.e., [the good inclination] shows the soul the reward awaiting it in the world to come.

The idiom "statute" also means "provision"; the word for "tested" also means "lifted up." As it is about to enter Paradise, G‑d prepares the soul by telling that it is about to experience the true value of the mitzvot it performed while in the body. This sweetens the water of Torah, which it may have experienced as bitter deprivation in the physical world.

He said, "If you diligently heed the voice of the L-rd your G‑d and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully listening to all His commandments and observing all His statutes, then none of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt will I bring upon you, for I am G‑d Who heals you." (Ex. 15:26)

i.e., G‑d promises the soul that since it observed the Torah [during its life in the physical world] and underwent its purification process in Purgatory, it will no longer experience any of the negativity and depression of evil, for it has been cured of all these.

chanoch adds: The cure for depression is Torah study especially Tanach and Zohar.

In other words, the future tense of the verse should be read as the past: "Since you diligently heeded the voice…" etc.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they encamped by the water. (Ex. 15:27)

There are twelve rivers of pure, spiritual water surrounding Paradise, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. Every [soul of each] tribe immerses in its respective river in order to be cooled from the fire of Purgatory and healed of its wounds.

…in the "circumcision of the heart" there are two stages as well

They moved on from Elim, and the entire community of Israel came to the Desert of Sinn, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth of the second month after they had left Egypt. There, in the desert, the entire community of the Children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron.(Ex. 16:1-2)

i.e., after all this, [there is one more stage before the soul enters Paradise]. It immerses again to be judged in "the flame of the revolving sword," referred to here as the Desert of Sinn.

When Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise, G‑d placed the flame of the revolving sword at the entrance to guard it. This purifying fire is a much more subtle one than that of Purgatory, and is necessary in order to remove the subtle materialism that still remains after the preliminary purification accomplished there.

This may be compared to the two stages of circumcision: after removing the thick foreskin, the thin mucous membrane must be peeled back as well. Neglecting to do this invalidates the circumcision. Similarly, in the "circumcision of the heart" there are two stages as well.

The Children of Israel said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of G‑d in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you have taken us out to this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death!"(Ex. 16:3)

The soul complains about this more subtle punishment as well. But it undergoes it, and when it passes this stage and wants to enter Paradise, G‑d tells it:

"I am going to rain down bread for you from the sky." (Ex. 16:4)

i.e., here in Paradise you will eat a lot of the bread of the Torah that you studied while you were in that world; this Torah is the nourishment of the soul. It is the 248 limbs and 365 sinews [of the soul], which are the 613 mitzvot that form the soul's garment. The Torah itself [ - as distinct from the mitzvot - ] is the soul's nourishment. If someone did not occupy himself with the study of Torah day and night in the physical world, he has nothing to eat in the world of the souls, even though he may have something to wear, formed by the mitzvot he performed.

"The people will go out and gather each day's portion…"

In Paradise, the soul collects its daily reward and nourishment…

The entire community of the Children of Israel moved on from the Desert of Sinn on their journeys, according to the word of G‑d. (Ex. 17:1)

i.e., after receiving its reward in the lower level of Paradise, the soul goes on to the upper level of Paradise, referred to as Sinai, in order to receive [new levels of] the Torah from the mouth of G‑d. The letter yud is added to Sinn to give Sinai.

They encamped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink…. (Ex. 17:1) Amalek then came and fought against Israel in Rephidim. (Ex. 17:8)

The higher one ascends in spirituality, the more the previous levels he was on appear to be gross and crass

But before it ascends to the upper level of Paradise, there is another type of Purgatory that it must traverse, more subtle than the river of fire, in order to burn away those "sins" of the righteous that are as tenuous as a thread of hair. The gross sins had already been rectified by the lower Purgatory.

The higher one ascends in spirituality, the more the previous levels he was on appear to be gross and crass. Thus, at a higher level, a person may come to consider a way of thinking or behaving he had previously considered "spiritual" or "good" to be egocentric or "childish." In order to proceed to the higher perspective of reality, he must rid himself of the lower one, which he now finds embarrassing or even shameful.

This is why G‑d judges the righteous "to the breadth of a string of hair": their higher standard of being makes attitudes or actions that would be normally considered innocuous or even meritorious look depraved in context.

This higher Purgatory is called Rephidim, which alludes to the righteous who "whose hand-grasp of the commandments was weak."

According to the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 106a, the implication of the name Rephidim is that there the Jews "loosened their hand-grip on the study of the Torah," for the word Rephidim is derived from the root rafeh [reish-pei-hei], which means "loose" or "weak."

This means that [in Rephidim] the Jews did not perform G‑d's commandments properly, but in laziness and unwillingly. Similarly here, the soul has already gained entrance to the lower level of Paradise, but in order to enter the upper Paradise it must have performed mitzvot [in the physical world] in love, with great desire and will. It receives its punishment for not having done this in this upper Purgatory, which is synonymous with Amalek, the highest level of impurity, the subtle fire that is perennially at war with Israel. Thus, "Amalek then came and fought against Israel in Rephidim" means "because of Rephidim."

Amalek is synonymous with uninspired, unenthusiastic performance of G‑d's commandments, as it is written: "Amalek…who cooled you off on your way [to receive the Torah]." (Deut. 25:18)

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]

The Snake at the Sea's End

Kabbalah teaches that Pharoah represents a misplacement of divine consciousness.

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

When the Egyptians realized that they were being attacked by supernatural forces at the Red Sea, they said, "I must flee from the presence of Israel, for G‑d [Havayah] is fighting for them against Egypt." (Ex. 14:25)

As you know, Pharaoh derived sustenance entirely from immature divine consciousness [mochin d'katnut], which is alluded to by the word "End".

chanoch adds: The code word “end” refers to Malchut, which is considered immature sincde it has no Light of its own.

Pharaoh personified the Primordial Snake….

The words usually translated as "Red Sea" [in Hebrew, "Yam Suf"] really mean "Reed Sea", and can also be read as if they were vocalized "Yam Sof", meaning "Sea of the End". The "end" is the final sefira, malchut, which descends into the lower worlds, i.e. the lower levels of divine consciousness. Relative to its native environment, these lower levels of consciousness are "immature" or "constricted".

This is the significance of [the fact that] the snake puts its tail in its mouth.

Pharaoh personified the Primordial Snake.

A person's mouth should properly utter words of divine wisdom. But when the tail, the lowest level of the body, is placed in the mouth, the mouth is misused to utter words of "immature", constricted consciousness, i.e. awareness of divinity only as it is expressed in Creation and nature.

This elevation of material consciousness to the status properly reserved for true divine consciousness, i.e. awareness of G‑d as outside and unbound by the laws and limitations of nature, is the essence of the Primordial Snake.

Those who give their bodies preeminence over their souls see only the outer shell of their fellow man….

In the Zohar, the imagery of the snake putting its tail in its mouth is used to illustrate the sin of "the evil tongue", i.e. slander, a gross misuse of the power of speech. (Zohar III:205b) People commit this sin when material consciousness gets the better of them. As is explained in the Tanya (ch. 32), those who give their bodies preeminence over their souls see only the outer shell of their fellow man, which differentiates between people, and are oblivious to the inner souls. They thus fall into the sin of hatred, which leads to slander.

This being the case, Pharaoh was both a head and a tail, in the idiom of the verse, "G‑d will cut off from Israel both the head and the tail…on one day."(Isaiah 9:14)

Pharaoh, here signifying the evil inclination in general, acts as the tail, the lowest consciousness of the Jew, and as the head, i.e. the tail elevated to and usurping the role of the head, proper divine consciousness.

This also alludes to the [Primordial] Snake. Originally, he was the tail and Adam was the head, but [because of the Primordial Sin] this was inverted and the snake became the head and Adam the tail.

Sin consists of reversing the hierarchy between divine and material consciousness….

Adam here personifies the Good Inclination, or divine consciousness. Sin consists of reversing the hierarchy between divine and material consciousness.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse "He will hit you on the head and you will bite him in the heel" (Gen. 3:15).

Man hits the snake on the head because the snake has usurped man's role as the leader; the snake bites the heel because by sinning man has become the heel/tail instead of the head.

For the same reason, the snake gives preeminence to the tail, carrying it above his head, and licks the dirt.

He puts his head in the dirt instead of his tail. He thus embodies the upside down order caused by sin.

Pharaoh was the image of the Snake; he was "the great serpent".

Ezekiel prophesied against Pharaoh: "Thus said G‑d: Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great serpent that crouches inside its rivers, who has said, 'My river is mine, and I have made myself.'" (Ezekiel 29:3)

The river of Egypt, the Nile, was also the god the Egyptians worshipped. The Nile provided Egypt with water to irrigate its crops by overflowing regularly. It thus represented the immutable laws of nature, whereas the irregularity of rain encourages reliance upon G‑d.

Thus, Pharaoh became synonymous with his river, his god, his philosophy of denying G‑d's active involvement in life.

Therefore G‑d was angry with Pharaoh, and He exacted retribution from him - i.e. from the Nile river, changing it to blood - using the very letters of the name Havayah that he denied.

At the sea, the entire name Havayah was mobilized against the consciousness of Pharaoh….

When Moses first approached Pharaoh, he told him to release the Jews from slavery, saying, "Thus says G‑d [Havayah], G‑d of Israel: 'Send out My people, that they may celebrate for Me in the desert.'" But Pharaoh replied, "Who is G‑d [Havayah], that I should listen to Him and send out Israel? I have not known G‑d [Havayah], and I will not send out Israel." (Ex. 5:2)Pharaoh was acquainted with "Elokim", G‑d as nature, but not with "Havayah", G‑d above nature.

With the yud [of His Name, whose numerical value is 10], He struck him with ten plagues. He began with that which made him into the head - the Nile - and changed it into blood.

Corresponding to the first hei [of the name Havayah, whose numerical value is 5], He said, "Behold, the hand of G‑d [is upon your cattle,…"] (Ibid. 9:3) [the hand] comprising five fingers.

Pestilence was the fifth plague.

Regarding the hand, [Rabbi Yosi the Galilean] said, "With how many [plagues] were [the Egyptians] struck by [G‑d's] finger? Ten plagues! [Thus, you must conclude that in Egypt they were struck by ten plagues]" (Passover Haggadah, quoting Mechilta on Ex. 14:31, Midrash Tehillim 78:15, Shemot Rabba 23:9) - this is because the finger forms one yud, representing ten plagues - "and at the sea they were struck with 50 plagues" - corresponding to the first hei [of the name Havayah].

When the Egyptian sorcerers could not reproduce the plague of lice, they declared, "This is the finger of G‑d [Elokim]." (Ex.8:15) As the Arizal states in the present passage, this characterized the Egyptians' awareness of G‑d throughout the ten plagues. Thus, the overall effect of the Ten Plagues is considered that of the "finger" of G‑d.

Even though the expression "Behold, the hand of G‑d is upon your cattle…" was said with regard to the plague of pestilence, one of the Ten Plagues, the Arizal here is interpreting it as a portent of the blow the Egyptians were to suffer at the sea. In this, he is basing himself on the above-quoted passage of the Haggadah, in which it is pointed out that the idiom "the hand of G‑d" is used also to describe the scene at the sea: "Israel saw the great hand that G‑d laid against Egypt." (Ibid. 14:31)

Since "the finger of G‑d" alludes to the ten plagues, and the hand possesses five fingers, the effect of the "hand of G‑d" was the equivalent of fifty plagues.

Corresponding to the vav [of the name Havayah] is the staff of G‑d [that Moses used to begin the plagues and split the sea]. The vav is beneath the [first] hei, which is divided into a beginning, a middle, and an end, i.e. three vav's.

The vertical line form of the vav signifies the downward channelling and flow of the mental content of the hei into the emotions. The hei is composed of the three lines: a top horizontal line and right and left vertical lines. These three lines can be visualized as three vav's.

[The three vav's of the hei] also form an allusion to the three [consecutive verses that begin with] vav's, i.e. "And it traveled…", "And it went…", and "And he extended…" (Ibid. 14:19-21), each of which possess 72 letters, and with which [Moses] split the sea, i.e. the "sea of the end", which is the latter hei [of the name Havayah].

We have seen previously that these three verses form 72 three-letter divine names. See our comments on parashat Netzavim and the 2nd installment of parashat Beshalach.

Inasmuch as the vav produces another vav [when spelled out, as vav-vav], it alludes to the twelve paths that appeared in the sea when [Moses] split it.

The numerical value of vav is 6, so twice vav is 12. We are taught that a dry pathway through the sea appeared for each of the twelve tribes.

What struck this vav in order to transform it into three vav's? The power of the yud of the name Havayah, above the vav.

The intensity of the insight-experience of chochma is what serves to produce an emotional response to the intellectual abstraction of bina, transforming its three inherent vav's into an actual vav of emotion. Thus, at the sea, the entire name Havayah was mobilized against the consciousness of Pharaoh.

G‑d was fighting the Egyptians with His name Havayah….

This [is the meaning of the fact that Pharaoh's constricted consciousness was only that of] the names Elokim, while of the name Havayah, which signifies expanded, mature consciousness, he knew nothing. As it is written, "I have not known G‑d [Havayah]." (Ex. 5:2)

The Egyptians reasoned that [the plagues] were nothing more than the finger of Elokim, and therefore were not worried, because [they felt that] their existence was not threatened.

Now, however, [at the sea], they saw that events were being conducted by the name Havayah, so therefore [Pharaoh] said, "I must flee [from the presence of Israel], for G‑d [Havayah] is fighting for them against Egypt."(Ex. 14:25) G‑d was fighting the Egyptians with His name Havayah. This is why the name Havayah is used here, and not the name Elokim.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Beshalach: Psalm 68 - Song from the Womb

shirat-hayam = Song of the Sea

The psalmist describes the outburst of joy and thanksgiving when God delivered Israel out of Egypt and led them across the wilderness:

“בְּמַקְהֵלוֹת בָּרְכוּ אֱ-לֹהִים; אֲדֹ-נָי, מִמְּקוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל.”

“In full assemblies, bless God; the Lord, from the source of Israel.” (Psalms 68:27)

What does this phrase - “from the source (makor) of Israel” - mean?

The Talmud offers a curious interpretation. Rabbi Meir explained that even the fetuses in their mothers’ wombs sang God’s praises at the Red Sea (Berachot 50a).

What is the significance of this puzzling statement? Did the Jewish fetuses really sing?

Innate Holiness

There are several factors that deepen our feelings of love and awe of God. Certainly, Torah study and the performance of mitzvot play their part. A good education cultivates the soul’s loftier sensibilities and emotions.

But beyond these didactic efforts, the soul has an innate source of holiness. This natural holiness does not need any specific actions or external influences for the soul to be uplifted in song and joy in God’s kindness. It is enough to appreciate the simple fact that we come from “the source of Israel,” that we belong to this remarkable nation that God watches over and protects.

When did the Jewish people first experience the privilege of God’s favor as a nation? At the Red Sea. Based on their deeds, the Jewish people at that time was no better than other nations. They had not yet received the Torah. The Midrash says that the angels were unable to distinguish between the Israelites and their Egyptian persecutors: “these are idolaters and these are idolaters.”

Nonetheless, the Israelites merited “seeing God’s great hand” deliver them. Physically, they were rescued from their enemies. And spiritually, their souls were uplifted to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving.

As soon as babies are born, they are influenced by what they see and experience. But a fetus in its mother’s womb has never experienced any form of education, formal or otherwise. A fetus only has awareness of its immediate surroundings - its origin.

chanoch adds: With all do respect to Rav Kook, in my opinion, this awareness of its source comes from the Torah taught to the fetus while in the womb. A fetus is taught in the womb all of the Torah it will potentially learn and reveal during this coming lifetime. This is taught by a midrash.

The Jews who witnessed the miraculous deliverance at the Sea gained this ‘fetal’ awareness of the source of their souls. Struck with the true significance of this unique gift, they broke out in jubilant song and thanksgiving.

“In full assemblies, bless God.” Individuals can deepen their feelings of love for God via external efforts, but the potential for this love exists equally in all. Scholars and simple folk, together “in full assemblies,” sang their feelings of gratitude and love. They were elated by this sudden awareness of the great privilege that their souls were rooted in “the source of Israel.”

Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 228

See also: Beshalach: This is My God