Developing Fetal Consciousness

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

Kabbalah explains that the maturation of the soul transpires in three stages.

In the beginning of this portion of the Torah, Moses tells the Jewish people that G‑d got angry at him for praying so much to be allowed into the land of Israel. "And G‑d became angry with me because of you, and did not listen to me." Deut. 3:26 The Hebrew word used here for "became angry", "yitaber", is unusual, and is etymologically derived from the word for "pregnancy", "ibur". This is the basis for the Arizal's mystical interpretation of this verse.

As you know, Zeir Anpin develops through three states of consciousness: fetal [ibur], suckling [yenika], and mature [gadlut]. Similarly, every soul develops through these states of consciousness.

Physically, a person develops through three stages of deriving nourishment: When he exists as an embryo inside his mother's womb, he is nourished directly through her; when he is a suckling infant, he still receives his nourishment from his mother but does so through his own active involvement; after he is weaned, he eats on his own. Similarly, the mentality of the soul undergoes the same three-stage development process. This process initially occurs in tandem with the physical development, that is, in the embryonic stage, the soul functions at the level of fetal consciousness; in the nursing stage, the soul functions at the level of suckling consciousness; and after weaning, the soul achieves mature consciousness. But relatively, an individual can experience and pass through these three stages on different levels during the course of his life.

As he matures, the child's…emotional response reflects a much deeper and broader understanding….

Both the physical phenomenon of these three stages and the mental/spiritual phenomenon experienced by the soul derive from the parallel process that occurs in the development of the partzuf of Zeir Anpin. Let us remember that Zeir Anpin is the partzuf of the midot, the emotions. Thus, the mental development of the individual is measured by the nature of the relationship between his intellect and his emotions.

In other words, when an idea is first conceived in the mind (as an insight of chochma) and then developed (in bina), the emotional reaction that will result from this idea is not yet evident; it is only there in potentia within the idea. We may therefore consider the idea to be "pregnant" with the emotion it will give rise to. The fetal position of the child in the womb is such that the lower limbs are crouched under the rest of the body, indicating that his potential, full stature cannot yet manifest itself. "Fetal consciousness" is thus purely intellectual - emotions exist only in potential.

Once an idea is fully developed, it can give birth to its inherent emotional reaction. When a child is still young, his understanding of life is immature and the emotions produced by his intellect are directly tied to their source. As long as he is aware that something is desirable, he wants it, and nothing can mitigate the intensity of his desire. As long as he is aware that something else is harmful, he is afraid of it, and nothing can mitigate his fear or loathing of that thing. "Suckling consciousness" is thus a more mature stage than "fetal consciousness" in that the intellect is expressing itself through the emotions, but this occurs still in a relatively immature way.

G‑d blesses the leader of every generation with wisdom concomitant with the collective refinement of the generation….

As he matures, the child's intellect expands and he can view the desirability or undesirability of a thing in a much broader Does nthe context, e.g. long-term consequences, immediate effects on those around him, and so on. Thus, at this stage, his emotional response reflects a much deeper and broader understanding of the issues at hand. This is full, "mature", consciousness.

chanoch's Commentary

Soul structure and development is simple and confusing which makes things seem complicated. The above commentary ignores the idea of levels of souls like Nefesh Ruach Neshama Chayah Yechidah. Do the three stages of development apply to the five levels stated? Do the 613 parts of the soul relate to the three stages of development? It is my opinion that the answer to these questions is a resounding yes.

Now, G‑d blesses the leader of every generation with wisdom concomitant with the collective refinement of the generation. Arachin 17a Therefore, when Israel sinned in the incident of the Golden Calf, they caused their leader, Moses, to regress to fetal consciousness and lose whatever "lights" he had achieved until then. He was thus bereft of his suckling and mature consciousness, and was left only with fetal consciousness.

When Israel sinned, they revealed a deep-seated fault in the way they conceived of reality. Their consciousness had to therefore regress back to its "prenatal" stage in order to be refreshed from the source. In their wake, Moses also suffered a similar regression.

The Torah alludes to this when G‑d tells Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf, "Go down, for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves." (Ex. 32:7). Our sages say this means: "Descend from your greatness, for I have given you greatness only on their account" Berachot 32a. "At that moment, Moses was expelled from the heavenly court" Midrash Tanchuma, ad loc.

At this point in the version of the text as it appears in Shaar HaPesukim, the following sentence appears: "He [i.e. Moses] then forgot all those laws that he had previously known, as is known." On this, Rabbi Wolf Ashkenazi Haga'ot veChidushim, ad loc. notes that there is no tradition of our sages that has reached us to the effect that Moses forgot any laws as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. (There are a few incidents recorded in the Torah in which Moses forgot certain laws, but, as Rashi points out, this always was a result of his becoming angry, not because of the sin of the Golden Calf.) However, it is recorded in the Zohar (II:58a) that as a result of this sin G‑d denuded Moses of a thousand "lights". The Arizal himself makes reference to this passage in other places. Shaar HaPesukim on Lev. 1:1 and Ex. 34:33

Now, Zeir Anpin spends its fetal period in the womb of Imma, which is also known as the "Jubilee". Therefore, the initials of [the four Hebrew words that make up] the verse, "And G‑d became angry with me because of you" ["vayitaber y-h-v-h bi lemaanchem - may be permuted to] spell the word for "jubilee" ["yovel", spelled yud, vav, vet, lamed].

The sins of the generation cause the partzuf of Zeir Anpin to return to the womb of Imma….

Imma is, of course, the partzuf of bina, and we are taught that there are fifty "gates" of bina. These fifty gates are seen to comprise the seven emotions inter-included of each other (7x7=49) plus one additional, transcendent level. This division into 49+1 is reflected in the fifty-year agricultural cycle, which is composed of seven 7-year sabbatical cycles (7x7=49) followed by a fiftieth super-sabbatical, the jubilee year. Thus, just as the fiftieth level of understanding, that of pure bina is above and transcends the other 49, so is the jubilee year - the transcendent year that stands apart from the seven sabbatical cycles - an appellate for the level of pure bina.

As we said, the verse "And G‑d became angry with me because of you" may be understood to mean "And G‑d made me regress into the fetal state because of you". If onto this meaning we superimpose the allusion hidden in the initials of the four words that compose this verse, we have: "And G‑d made me regress into the fetal state, i.e. return into the womb of Imma, which is called 'jubilee', because of you".

Thus, Moses regressed and re-entered, i.e. re-impregnated in, Imma, which is termed "Jubilee". The name Havayah in this verse signifies the partzuf of Imma. This is the mystical meaning of the phrase, "And G‑d became angry with me".

This phrase may thus be read, "The partzuf of Imma - signified by the name Havayah, G‑d - became pregnant [again] with me."

This happened "because of you", for, as we said, just as the sins of the generation cause the partzuf of Zeir Anpin to return to the womb of Imma, so do they cause this to happen to the leaders of the generation.

We may also explain [this passage] based on how we have explained the verse "My beloved went down to his garden, to the bed of spices, to browse in the gardens and pick lilies" (Songs 6:2). The initials of the words for "to browse in the gardens and pick lilies" [in Hebrew, "lir'ot baganim velilkot shoshanim", lamed-beit-vav-shin] spell the word for "garment" ["levush"]. When G‑d becomes angry with Israel and takes the righteous from this world, the latter are transformed into a garment for Him, and He becomes, so to speak, impregnated within them and enclothed within them.

When the righteous pass away, they serve as channels of divine influence and beneficence….

When the righteous pass away, they serve as channels of divine influence and beneficence to the followers they had when they were alive. In the case of a leader of the generation, his afterlife influence extends to the whole generation. In this sense, G‑d acts through (or is "enclothed in") these righteous individuals, and His Divine beneficence is channeled through their souls. This allows the divinity to flow into the world in a manner tailored to the needs of the generation.

The mystical meaning of the verse "And G‑d became angry with me because of you" is [now, in this context]: "And G‑d became impregnated within me on your account - for on account of your sins I was gathered up from this world before my time."

chanoch adds: As it applies to the Tzadikim.

Rabbi Shalom Sharabi notes that even though Moses was still alive when he said this, he was referring to what would happen when he would die. (The whole book of Deuteronomy is Moses' farewell address to the Jewish people and was said during the 37 days before he passed away.) Alternatively, it may refer to the expanded consciousness (the "thousand lights" mentioned above) that he lost on account of the sin of the Golden Calf. This loss of consciousness was a sort of "death".

Now, there are twelve months in a year; this number is the numerical value of the letter vav when it is spelled out with another vav. In a leap year, there are thirteen months, this number being the numerical value of the letter vav when it is spelled out vav-alef-vav.

Moses passed away specifically in the month associated with the leap year….

The vav is spelled vav-vav in the spelling of the name Havayah whose numerical value is 52, while it is spelled vav-alef-vav in the spelling of the name Havayah whose numerical value is 45. As we have mentioned previously, the 52-value name is associated with the sefira of malchut (or the partzuf of Nukva), while the 45-value name is associated with the midot (or the partzuf of Zeir Anpin).

Moses is associated with the letter vav spelled vav-alef-vav, which relates to the sefira of tiferet.

Moses, as we saw above, is, in the present context, the earthly personification of Zeir Anpin, the pivot sefira of which is tiferet.

chanoch adds: Tiferet is the pivot point in all 3 dimensions – up and down, left to right, and the third dimension of length which I all the diagonal

The month added in a leap year is always Adar. This explains why Moses passed away in the month of Adar: his death alluded to this phenomenon.

Moses passed away specifically in the month associated with the leap year, to indicate that he is associated with the spelling of the letter vav whose numerical value is 13, the number of months in such years. Furthermore, the Hebrew term for "leap year", "shana me'uberet", literally means "impregnated year", i.e. the year is "impregnated" with an additional month. Thus, Moses' passing away in the "impregnated" month alludes to the fact that when the righteous die, G‑d becomes "impregnated" within them in order to channel His holiness into the world most effectively, as explained.

It is perhaps significant that the Arizal himself passed away on the 5th of the Hebrew month of Av, during the week when this portion of the Torah is read.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah, parashat Vaetchanan; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."