Vapors and Vows

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

Kabbalah describes the mystical source of the concept of vows.

This portion of the Torah opens with a description of the methods by which certain types of oaths and vows may be annulled.

Know that even though it is stated in the Zohar (II:91b) that oaths occur in Nukva of Zeir Anpin and vows in the supernal Imma, i.e. bina, in principle both occur in Nukva of Zeir Anpin. This is alluded to by the verse "…her husband will confirm it and her husband will annul it" (Num. 30:14) - whether "it" be a vow or an oath.

Her "husband" refers to Zeir Anpin, so the subject must be Nukva of Zeir Anpin. As we have mentioned previously, the feminine aspect of the psyche is the drive within us to actualize G‑d's purpose in Creation, making reality into His home. However, as we have also mentioned, this drive must be coupled with an equal drive to escape the mundane reality of this world in favor of the abstract reality of spirituality; this is the male drive within us. The coupling is necessary because left to itself, the drive to make separate reality into G‑d's home would have us penetrate further and further into the darkness of materiality, endangering us to becoming sucked into it as the memory of divine experience fades.

It behooves us all to set boundaries for ourselves….

Therefore, as the Sages say, "vows ensure asceticism" (Avot 3:13), meaning that it behooves us all to set boundaries for ourselves as we prepare to venture into the world of materiality in order to conquer it for G‑d's purposes. Thus, the Arizal explains this constructive force of vows and oaths with reference to their salutary effect on Nukva, the feminine archetype.

(The technical difference between a vow and an oath is that a vow is a promise a person makes with regard to a specific object, while an oath is a promise he makes with regard to his own behavior.)

The mystical explanation [of vows and oaths] is as follows:

Vapor issues from the mouth of Zeir Anpin and becomes light that encompasses the seven lower sub-sefirot of his Nukva. These are the seven "vanities" mentioned in the [opening of the] book of Ecclesiastes.

The Hebrew word for "vapor", "hevel", also means "vanity", i.e. "something of no substance". The Book of Ecclesiastes opens: "'Vanity of vanities', says Kohelet, 'vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'" The word "vanity" occurs in the singular three times in this verse, and twice in the plural (as the word "vanities"). If we take each plural to mean 2, the minimum plural, then we have seven vanities.

Here, though, the word is taken in its primary meaning of "vapor".

They issue from the mouth of Zeir Anpin. This is the mystical significance of a true oath. It is a positive commandment to make a true oath in the name of G‑d [when the Torah requires it], as it is written, "…and you will swear by His Name." (Deut. 10:20)

The seven vapors of her enveloping light issue from the mouth of Zeir Anpin….

The Hebrew word for "oath", "shavua", is related to the word for "seven", "sheva", and can be interpreted as the passive form of that word, i.e. as if it meant "seventhed", and "to take an oath" means "to seventh oneself". Mystically, this refers to enveloping the seven lower sefirot of Nukva with the vapor from the mouth of Zeir Anpin.

The seven vapors of her enveloping light issue from the mouth of Zeir Anpin, which is referred to as "truth". Thus, someone who makes a true oath elicits light-vapor from the mouth of Zeir Anpin, which manifests as seven vapors that envelop the seven lower sub-sefirot of Nukva, as a light that envelops her body. Her stature is from the chest of Zeir Anpin downward, as is known.

And therefore the light that issues from his mouth can envelop her completely as it descends.

In her immature stage, Nukva is only as "tall" as the midot of Zeir Anpin. She expresses only what he feels.

Thus, "oaths" occur in Nukva [of Zeir Anpin], but issue to her from her husband, Zeir Anpin. Therefore Scripture states, "her husband will confirm it and her husband will annul it."

[Such an oath] is also termed "a true oath" because it is an enveloping light, and, as is known, all enveloping lights are derived from the name Eh-yeh, and the numerical value of the name Eh-yeh squared is the numerical value of the word for "truth" ["emet"], as is known.

"Eh-yeh" is spelled: alef-hei-yud-hei = 1 + 5 + 10 + 5 = 21.

21squared = 441.

"Emet" is spelled: alef-mem-tav = 1 + 40 + 400 = 441.

What is written in the Zohar (Tikunei Zohar 74b) about the verse "And now, let the power of my L-rd be magnified" (Num.14:17), is also known, namely, that malchut is referred to as "the power of my L-rd" [i.e. the power of the name Ado-ni, which means "my L-rd"]. This is because [malchut] is also known as "Beth Sheba" [or "Bat Sheva", "the daughter of seven"], and in each of her seven lower sub-sefirot is manifest a name Havayah. Seven Names Havayah comprise 28 letters. Thus, [all seven collectively] are termed "the power of Havayah," and that is why she is called "Bath Sheba". Understand this.

The forehead of Arich Anpin is seen as one of the places from which the good will of Arich shines downward into the lower partzufim….

Malchut/Nukva is associated with the name Ado-nai, for "kingship" and "sovereignty" (the translation of malchut) is allied in meaning with "lordship". The numerical value of the word for "power" ("koach", spelled kaf-chet = 20 + 8) is 28. The 28 letters in the 7 names Havayah (each possessing 4 letters) thus allude to the "power" of this name. True, the verse refers to "the power of Ado-nai," not "the power of Havayah", but since the name Havayah is pronounced (everywhere outside the Holy Temple) as if it were the name Ado-nai, this substitution is legitimate.

"Bath Sheba" in Hebrew literally means "the daughter of seven", but the Hebrew "son of"/"daughter of" can idiomatically also mean "one who is relevant to" or "master of," as in bar/bat mitzvah meaning "one who is required to do mitzvot". In this context, malchut is called "bat-sheva" since it is the seventh of the midot and its seven sub-sefirot express "the power of Havayah".

Thus, mystically, an oath gives the seven midot of Nukva the enveloping power of the name Eh-yeh and the inner power of the name Havayah. Her emotions can thus remain pure and impervious to pollution by the material world.

chanoch adds: Now let us turn our focus to vows.

Now, the [mystical] meaning of a vow is different. Know that there are three different types of light that issue from Arich Anpin and reach the intellect of Zeir Anpin.

chanoch nadds: intellect of Zeir Anpin is the Head of Zeir Anpin known as Daat.

Arich Anpin is the partzuf of the will. It is instrumental in the construction of the subsequent partzufim for the will is the foundation of all intellectual and emotional development. Without will, the intellect and emotions dry up and wither.

The first is the radiance that issues from the supernal chesed of Atik and extends until the 13th rectification of the beard of Arich Anpin, which is called the "mazal", and from there a radiance is drawn down until the daat situated between Abba and Imma and serves to unite and couple them together.

Then with the power [of this radiance], netzach-hod-yesod of Imma become the intellect in the brain of Zeir Anpin when it matures, as is known.

The second [light that issues from Arich Anpin] is the radiance that issues from the inner dimension of mocha stimaa of Arich Anpin via the hairs of its head and of its beard. These extend until the head of Zeir Anpin, as is known, and shine into the intellect of Zeir Anpin.

"Mocha stimaa" means "the hidden brain," and refers to chochmah of Arich Anpin.

The third [light] is the radiance that issues from the inner light in the forehead of Arich Anpin, i.e. that originates in the brain of Arich Anpin and pierces its forehead and issues from it. It extends until the forehead of Zeir Anpin and shines into the intellect of Zeir Anpin itself - that exists within its forehead. It destroys all aspects of severe judgment present on [Zeir Anpin's] forehead, as is known.

The forehead of Arich Anpin is seen as one of the places from which the good will of Arich shines downward into the lower partzufim. In contrast, the forehead of Zeir Anpin is seen as the expression of his power to make resolutions, for good or for bad. Brazenness, for example, is resoluteness in doing bad, and the prophets chastise Israel for their "brazen foreheads" (Isaiah 48:4). The resoluteness of the forehead of Zeir Anpin therefore needs to be "sweetened" of all its negative potentials. This is accomplished by having the forehead of Arich Anpin - which is pure good will - onto the forehead of Zeir Anpin.

True, legitimate vows and oaths are positive acts, which contribute to the maturation of the soul….

Now we will explain the idea of a vow. Just as Arich Anpin looks out and shines forth from its forehead of goodwill toward the forehead of Zeir Anpin and its intellect, so does Zeir Anpin look out toward the forehead of its Nukva in order to shine his three intelligences to her.

To explain: after the "oath of truth", her body is completed, meaning her seven lower sub-sefirot. Then, after this, her three upper sub-sefirot are completed [by the "vow"]. She is then equal [in stature] to Zeir Anpin and stands face to face with him.

Then, a radiance issues from within his brain - which is situated behind his forehead - and issues forth from his forehead. From there, it "looks at" the forehead of Nukva, and this light then enters through her forehead, and shines into her three [levels of] intellect.

So we see here that true, legitimate vows and oaths are positive acts, which contribute to the maturation of the soul.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, parashat Matot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

A Share of the Spoils

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

It takes different kinds of strength to distribute recaptured holiness.

In the portion of the Torah read this week, G‑d tells the Jewish people to battle the Midianites in vengeance for their assault chronicled at the end of parashat Balak. The Jews slew all the males in battle, and Moses instructed them further to slay all the male children and the females who had reached sexual maturity. G‑d then told Moses:

…count the booty that was captured, man and beast, and divide the booty equally between those who took the war upon them and went out to do battle and the rest of the community. You shall then take a levy for G‑d: from the half-share of the soldiers who engaged in the campaign you shall take one item in five hundred - of persons, oxen, donkeys, and sheep - and give them to Elazar the priest as a contribution to G‑d. [In addition] from the half-share of the other Israelites you shall take one portion of every fifty persons, cattle, donkeys, and sheep - all the animals - and give them to the Levites, who attend to the duties of G‑d's Tabernacle. (Num. 31:25-30)

We must answer the following questions on this passage:

1.Since G‑d said: "divide the booty equally", why did He then say "from the half-share of the soldiers…you shall take…and give them to Eleazar" when it would have been clear enough just to say "from the warriors…you shall take…and give them to Eleazar" without mentioning again that their portion was a half-share?

2.In the first case [i.e. that of the half-share of the soldiers] it is written: "one item in five-hundred", while in the second [i.e. that of the civilians] it is written "one portion of every fifty". Why the difference in expression?

3.Why, in fact, did G‑d give Eleazar one in five hundred [i.e. two tenths of a percent] and the Levites one in fifty [i.e. two percent]?

4.Why, in describing the half-share of the civilians, is the expression "all the animals" added?

5.Why is the expression "levy" [in Hebrew, "meches"] used 1 only in describing the half-share of the soldiers?

The exoteric answer to these questions is those who counted the half-share of the soldiers were not required to do so precisely.

As we will see, the expression "precisely" here does not mean that an exact count was not taken of the soldiers' portion; it simply means that their contribution was taken from the overall total of their half-share rather than separated out as the counting was being done.

They simply rounded off how many thousands of cattle there were [after the counting had been done] and calculated the levy accordingly. This is why the expression "levy" is used only with regard to the soldiers' half.

The term "levy" [in Hebrew, "meches"] is appropriate for a portion taken from an overall sum. This was done, as we will see, only with the soldiers' half-share, and not with that of the civilians.

This is also why it is written: "from the half-share of the soldiers…": this expression implies that the levy is to be taken from the general sum of the half-share, rounded off.

In the case of the civilians' half-share, however, they had to count every item in detail, i.e. one by one. As they counted, every fiftieth item became the contribution to the Levites. [In other words] this was done similar to the way tithes in general were required to be given the Levites, as it is written, "As to the tithe of the herd or the flock: of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth will be holy unto G‑d" (Lev. 27:32). This is why the expression "one portion of every fifty" is used.

These two letters hei…are expressions of judgment and severity…

The Hebrew word for "portion", "achuz", literally means "that which is grabbed", evoking the image of the one counting via physically setting aside every fiftieth animal as they were passed in front of him to be counted. Thus, the contributions were taken from the respective half-shares of the soldiers and the civilians in totally different ways: the half-share of the soldiers was counted, the sum was rounded off to the nearest thousand, and then the proper number of girls or animals was separated accordingly. In contrast, every fiftieth girl or animal was separated from the half-share of the civilians as it was being counted.

This difference accounts for the difference of expressions used in the Mitzvot regarding the two half-shares. Still, we have only answered questions 1, 2, and 5 of the five above questions.

chanoch adds: Let me express my continuing amazement and awe at how HaShem uses difference in similar descriptions of the written Torah tro teach about spiritual laws. Big picture personalities like Sun sign Sagitarius people must make extra effort to see these differences when studying Torah.

The esoteric explanation of the above, however, is the same as the mystical explanation of our Sages' statement that "[walking with] wide steps diminishes a man's eyesight by one five-hundredth" (Berachot 43b; Shabbat 113b). This statement of our Sages can be understood based on what is written in the Zohar (III:203b) regarding how [malchut] extends her step outward. As we have explained on this passage (Shaar Maamarei Rashbi, ad loc) this refers to when Nukva of Zeir Anpin and Zeir Anpin were together in the womb of their mother.

Both Zeir Anpin and its Nukva are "children" of Abba and Imma, and here it is evident that they are in a sense "twins" in that Imma was pregnant with both of them at the same time. This phase in their development is alluded to in the first hei of the name Havayah, which as we know corresponds to the sefira of bina or its partzuf, Imma. The hei may be viewed as composed of a dalet (the top and right "leg") and a small vav (the left, detached "leg"). Since the numerical value of the letter vav is 6, this small vav may be taken as an allusion to the six sefirot from chesed to yesod - i.e. Zeir Anpin - as they exist in utero within Imma. However, the Zohar tells us, at a certain point this vav "grows" a projection at its lower extremity that extends outward. (The hei thus takes on the appearance somewhat of the letter tav, except that the left leg is of course still detached from the top and right leg.) This projection outward is the source of malchut - i.e. Nukva - within the womb of Imma. This projection at the "foot" of the vav is considered an outward "step."

There are, however, two instances of this phenomenon. The first is when [Nukva] is born and emerges out of [the womb of Imma, i.e.] the first hei [of the name Havayah]. The second is when [Nukva] goes out [of the world of Atzilut], i.e. at the lower extremity of the [small] vav within the second hei [of the name Havayah].

The name Havayah depicts, as we have explained previously, the entire array of partzufim in the world of Atzilut. But, as we know, malchut (or its partzuf, Nukva) descends out of the world of Atzilut in order to create and then rectify the lower worlds. This aspect of malchut is represented graphically as the projection out of the left leg (the small vav) of the second hei.

These two letters hei form one yud, inasmuch as they both originate from Abba, the yud [of the name Havayah].

The numerical value of hei is 5, so the hei of bina plus the hei of malchut equals 10, the numerical value of the letter yud. The two letters hei of the name Havayah may thus be seen as lower manifestations of the yud. Bina can be considered to be a by-product of chochma in that the subject matter of understanding is the initial insight of chochma. Malchut is considered a product of chochma in that expression is implicit in the insight. In contrast, the middot (out of which are formed the partzuf of Zeir Anpin, represented by the vav in the name Havayah) are more directly a result of bina rather than a manifestation of chochma; the emotional response is elicited only when the full intellectual development of the idea in bina has occurred.

chanoch adds: The above paragraph is an excellent commentary. I recommend you spend some time learning the commentary in depth.

Since they are both [expressions of] judgment and severity, they are called "the booty that is captured".

As we have explained previously, bina is primarily a process of evaluating, judging, accepting and rejecting. The person's previous way of thinking has to be evaluated in light of the new insight, and those aspects of his previous way of thinking that do not fit in with his new, higher perception of the truth have to be rejected, often painfully and ruthlessly.

Since they are divided into two letters hei, they were commanded to divide the booty in two….

Similarly, malchut is, as we have discussed previously, constructed out of the gevura-aspects of the sefirot that precede it. This is because in order to express an idea through thought, speech, or action, there must be first a large amount of censoring and selecting. This is true in both directions: the infinite idea and its infinite implications, applications, and ramifications cannot all be expressed since expression is finite. In addition, in order to express the idea properly, the proper words or actions (e.g., colors on a canvas or notes in a musical composition) must be carefully selected. The improper choice of words, etc. can vastly distort the meaning. Therefore, the person must be very selective at this point.

Thus, in the context both of bina and malchut, the mental structures and thought-, speech-, and action-patterns chosen are called the "booty" of the war in which all unworthy pretenders to the role of vehicles of intellection or expression are eliminated.

And since they are divided into two letters hei, they were commanded to divide the booty in two: half for the upper [i.e. first] hei and half for the lower [i.e. second] hei.

Now, it is known that the kings of Edom emerged from the upper hei, Imma, which is termed "the land of Edom", as is known. These kings, who are called the "soldiers", died because of the extreme amount of gevura and war in them, as is known.

The Arizal is here referring to the world of Tohu. As we have explained previously, this world collapsed because the sefirot that composed it were immature and could not properly interact; they were effectively at "war" with each other. This realm of Creation is called "Edom", and its sefirot are called "the kings of Edom since Edom is the kingdom of Esau, the perpetually immature, wild twin of the mature and holy Jacob.

Although we usually conceive of the four letters of the name Havayah as signifying the total array of partzufim of the world of Atzilut, in other contexts these letters are conceived of as depicting a much broader span of Creation. As we have mentioned on an earlier occasion, the four ways the name Havayah can be spelled out - yielding the four numerical values of 72, 63, 45 and 52 - may themselves be aligned with the four letters of this name:

chanoch adds: Below is a description of the Letters of HaShem's Name related to the Sefirot as well as the gematria of the spelled out Name.

letter - associated sefira - asociated value of spelling of the Name Havayah

yud – chochma – 72

hei – bina – 63

vav - the middot – 45

hei – malchut – 52

In this scheme, each spelling of the name Havayah produces a corresponding stage of Creation. The spelling whose numerical value is 72 produces the level that precedes the world of Tohu; that whose numerical value is 63 produces the world of Tohu; that whose numerical value is 45 produces the masculine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut; and that whose numerical value is 52 produces the feminine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut. It is to this scheme that the Arizal refers when he says here that the kings of Edom issued from the upper hei.

In contrast, the other aspects of judgment and severity, which issue from the lower hei, are called "the community". They inform the lower court, and they are more fragranced and sweetened. It is known that the lower court is called "the community," as it is written, "G‑d stands in the community of G‑d". (Psalms 82:1)

chanoch adds: To help clarify the translation is actually Elohim stands in the community of Elohim. Elohim is the Name of HaShem dealing with judgment. Elohim can also be a group of Angelic leaders. “the community” is a code word for Malchut.

The gevura of bina is much more severe than that of malchut. In simple terms, this is because it is much more crucial to be selective and critical at the conceptual stage of the creative process than it is at the expressive stage. An error at the conceptual stage will have severe repercussions all down the chain of development. In contrast, if the conceptual stage was passed properly, a lot more latitude can be given to the final means of expression. Since the conceptual integrity of the process has been so zealously guarded, the strength and intensity of the concept will be able to shine through a much wider range of expression.

Thus, the upper judicial "court" of bina must be much stricter than the lower "court" of malchut.

The verse quoted from Psalms refers to the rabbinical court; we are taught that G‑d's presence is found, guiding the judgment and giving His approval to the decisions of the judges. The name used for the first "G‑d" in this verse is "Elo-him", the attribute of divine justice. The "community of G‑d" refers to the court.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse "You shall divide the booty equally between those who took the war upon them and went out to do battle and the rest of the community."

The two letters hei of the name Havayah split between them the "booty" they snatch from the yud. The first hei is indicated in this verse by the soldiers and the second by the civilians.

Now, there are always only five states of gevura, i.e. from chesed to hod, as is known. These five states of gevura pour into yesod, which is therefore termed "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"]. Their numerical value is 50, since when they are there below [in yesod] each sub-divides into ten [sub-sub-sefirot].

The sub-sefirot of gevura of the five sefirot of chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, and hod descend into yesod and from there are passed to malchut, this being how the partzuf of Nukva is constructed. In the verses "To You, O G‑d, is the greatness, and the power [gevura], and the beauty [tiferet], and the eternity [netzach], and the glory [hod]. For all [in Hebrew, 'kol'] that is in heaven and on earth [is Yours]. Yours, O G‑d, is the kingship [in Hebrew, 'mamlacha', from the word ' malchut']…" (Chronicles I, 29:10-12), the word "all" ["kol"] signifies yesod. This is because, as we said, yesod binds the flow of the preceding five sefirot, in our case the sub-sefirot of gevura within them. The numerical value of this word [spelled kuf-lamed] is 50. This alludes to the sub-division of these 5 states of gevura each into a full array of 10 sefirot.

In contrast, when [these states of gevura] are above, in Imma, the upper hei, each sub-divides into one hundred [sub-sub-sub-sefirot], giving 500.

Their consciousness is nonetheless far more expansive than it will be when they are 'born'….

Although while in utero within Imma the partzufim of Zeir Anpin and Nukva are not fully developed, their consciousness is nonetheless far more expansive than it will be when they are "born" and emerge from the womb. This is because Imma is abstract intellect, while Zeir Anpin and Nukva are merely the emotional reactions and expression of this intellect. Thus, the sub-sefirot of the sefirot which will form Zeir Anpin (chesed to yesod) exist in the womb of Imma in a higher level of differentiation and complexity, indicating their superior intensity of intellect there. Each sub-sefira divides into ten sub-sub-sefirot, and then these ten further sub-divided into a hundred sub-sub-sub-sefirot.

This is why the portion taken from the soldiers is one five-hundredth and that taken from the civilians is one-fiftieth.

The soldiers personify the states of gevura within the womb of bina, while the civilians personify the states of gevura within yesod, on their way to malchut. We have now answered question #3 above.

Now, malchut is referred to "the wide step", as we mentioned.

Malchut is the projection at the lower end of the small vav (which indicates Zeir Anpin) of the hei. Since this projection extends outward, it is called the "wide step" outward from the hei.

This wide step "diminishes man's eyesight by one five-hundredth". "Man" refers to Zeir Anpin. He is considered the husband of malchut, for she receives her light and beneficence from the above-mentioned soldiers from him and through him. This occurs when they are both above, within [the womb of] Imma.

As we said, the five states of gevura in the sefirot of Zeir Anpin as it exists in utero within Imma each undergo two tenfold iterations, giving 5x10x10=500 sub-states. Thus, Zeir Anpin at this stage may be said to possess 500 parts of life-force, or "eyesight". Malchut at this stage receives one portion of these 500, and may thus be said to reduce Zeir Anpin's life-force or eyesight by one five-hundredth.

At this stage, malchut is called "Nefesh", based on what we have explained elsewhere, that while she is there she possesses only the name Havayah spelled out with the letter hei, which is called "Nefesh".

The numerical value of the name Havayah spelled out with the letter hei is 52 (yud-vav-dalet hei-hei vav-vav hei-hei, 10+6+4 + 5+5 + 6+6 + 5+5 = 52). As we saw above, this spelling-out corresponds to the sefira of malchut.

Now, the four letters of G‑d's name Havayah also correspond to the five levels of the soul:

letter – sefira - name Havayah – soul level

tip of yud – keter – Yechida

yud – chochma – 72 – Chaya

hei – bina – 63 – Neshama

vav – middot – 45 – Ruach

hei – malchut – 52 – Nefesh

Thus, the name Havayah whose numerical value is 52 is associated with the soul-level of Nefesh.

This is why it is written [with regard to the portion taken from the soldiers], "one item in five hundred".

The word used for "item" in this verse is "Nefesh". We have thus answered now question #2 above.

This is also why this portion is given to Eleazar the priest, as it is written, "give them to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to G‑d". The priest is the personification of chesed, which serves to develop this portion into a full-fledged "contribution to G‑d" in the sense of something separated. (See Zohar III:77b)

We have explained previously that the Priests express the divine attribute of loving-kindness (chesed) while the Levites express the attribute of severity (gevura). By giving this embryonic version of malchut to chesed, the love Zeir Anpin showers on it causes it to grow and develop until, at birth, it emerges as an independent partzuf and not just an appendage sticking out of the lower extremity of Zeir Anpin. (This process is obviously re-enacted in the way Eve is created out of Adam in the garden of Eden.)

The word used in this verse for "contribution" is "teruma", which literally means "a portion lifted up and out of the mass from which it is taken". Thus, giving the one-five-hundredth to Eleazar signifies the making of malchut into an independent entity of Zeir Anpin.

In contrast, [at the later stage of her development,] when [malchut] is depicted as the "wide step" protruding from the lower hei, she does not take anything from the soldiers [i.e. the states of gevura within the womb of Imma]. She takes only from her husband, Zeir Anpin, who is called "Israel", as in the mystical meaning of the verse: "before there reigned any king over the children of Israel". (Gen. 36:31)

Once malchut has emerged and is developing as partzuf in her own right, her development does not depend on any influx from her in utero origins within Imma. Both she and Zeir Anpin have severed themselves from the world of intellect and are now developing their own personalities as emotions and expression, respectively. At this stage, malchut (in the process of becoming the fully-developed Nukva of Zeir Anpin) is developed out of Zeir Anpin, the emotions.

The verse quoted here refers to the account of the primordial kings of Edom/Tohu. This world existed prior to the maturation stage of partzufim. The partzuf of Zeir Anpin is called "Israel".

She therefore takes only one fiftieth, since she receives her influx from yesod [of Zeir Anpin], which is alluded to by the word "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"], whose numerical value is 50.

It is therefore written here "one portion," for she clings to and depends upon at this point the lower extremity of the letter vav, i.e. yesod [of Zeir Anpin]. This is in contrast to the stage [in utero] described above, when malchut is receiving her life-force from the soldiers.

This is the continuation of the mystical answer to question #2. As above, the word for "portion" here ("achuz") literally means "that which is grabbed", evoking the image of malchut hanging on to the yesod of Zeir Anpin in order to receive all the influx necessary for her growth and development.

This is why the portion [taken from the civilians] is given to the Levites. They are the legions of malchut, the supernal choristers, as is known.

While the priests performed their duties in the Temple silently, the Levites composed the orchestra and choir. They thus expressed the emotions that accompanied the sacrificial service. As such, they were obviously instruments of malchut, the sefira of expression.

Let us now complete the explanation of the statement of our Sages regarding how walking with wide steps diminishes a person's eyesight by one five-hundredth. They go on to say that this lacking is restored when he makes Kiddush on Shabbat evening. The mystical explanation of this is as follows: On Friday, Zeir Anpin was producing demons, spirits and succubae, as is known, but when the day was sanctified and it became Shabbat evening, he ceased producing forces of evil and coupled with malchut. It was then that his eyesight returned to him.

We are taught that the forces of evil - the "demons," etc. - were created in the last moments on Friday just before Shabbat. In other words, they were created from the final, lowest and weakest energies of Creation, after G‑d's creative power had been "spent", so to speak, in creating the holiness of the world. It is for this reason we are instructed to begin Shabbat every week early, for in this way we cut off the source of the power of evil before it has a chance to propagate.

Adam did not copulate on Friday with Eve at all, but with Lilith, a precursor of his true wife….

Adam and Eve were created on Friday. The usual explanation of the primordial sin is that Adam and Eve engaged in sexual relations before they were intended to, that is, they copulated on Friday afternoon instead of waiting for the holy day of Shabbat. By engaging in marital relations outside of the context of holiness, they "profaned" them, i.e. approached them from the perspective of personal gratification, and thus actualized the world's latent potential of egocentricity and evil.

However, in certain sources, it is said that Adam did not copulate on Friday with Eve at all, but with Lilith, a precursor of his true wife. She was the personification of egocentricity, as exemplified by the fact that she insisted on being on top of Adam during their copulation. She thus introduced the element of self-awareness into the sublime experience of marital relations, and the offspring of their union was the various forces of evil that spread throughout Creation. On Shabbat, Adam engaged in marital relations with his true wife, Eve.

Adam is the earthly personification of Zeir Anpin and Eve the personification of the Nukva of Zeir Anpin, so this whole episode reflects the spiritual process of Creation. As we said, on Friday Zeir Anpin will produce forces of evil unless we begin Shabbat earlier than the moment it technically begins in order to cut off these forces. Shabbat itself, especially the holy union of husband and wife (reflecting the union of G‑d and Israel, Zeir Anpin and Nukva) also serves to cut off the source of life-force of the forces of evil. By coupling with his mate, Nukva, Zeir Anpin is in a sense reuniting with the one-five-hundredth of his life-force she took from him in order to emerge as an independent partzuf from the womb of Imma. Thus, by sanctifying Shabbat, his "eyesight" is restored.

It could also be that the Arizal is here alluding to the statement of our Sages that improper issue of semen (i.e. other than to one's wife, and then only when she is permitted to him) diminishes a person's eyesight. Focusing on women other than one's wife is a misuse of the power of sight, and misusing one's G‑d-given powers weakens them. By focusing one's love and sexuality intensely on one's spouse, which, as we said, is the essence of Shabbat - the reunion of the Divine and earthly couple - one rectifies his power of eyesight, and its power is restored.

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

Mattot: No Excuses for Remaining Outside the Land!


Moses’ rage was palpable. “You have risen in your fathers’ places as a band of sinners!” (Num. 32:14)


When the tribes of Gad and Reuben petitioned not to cross the Jordan River and enter Israel proper, Moses denounced the proposition and lashed out at them. “Why are you trying to discourage the Israelites from crossing over to the Land that God has given them?”

We can certainly understand Moses’ anger and frustration. But this incident took place not long after he was punished for berating the people at Mei Merivah. When he snapped at the people, “Listen now, you rebels!” (Num. 19:10), God informed Moses that he would not be leading the Jewish people into the Land of Israel.

We similarly find that the prophet Isaiah was punished for his harsh criticism when he lamented, “I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

Yet there is no indication that Moses was wrong in his scathing response to the tribes of Gad and Reuben. What was different?

Imitating the Mistake of the Spies

Rav Kook explained that, in this situation, Moses was justified in his outrage. Moses realized that their request could discourage the entire people from entering the Land, like the debacle of the Spies. His response needed to be stern.

We learn from here that anyone discouraging the Jewish people from ascending to the Land is following in the footsteps of the infamous Spies and repeating their disastrous folly.

The tribes of Gad and Reuben presented reasonable arguments - “we have much livestock.” But their request could erode the people’s commitment to settle the Land. There was no place for polite discussion; Moses needed to be forceful and resolute. And if that was true for the righteous tribes in the time of Moses, what can we say in our generation, even when people offer what appear to be reasonable objections to making Aliyah?

Rav Kook concluded: we are unable to fathom God’s ways, but nothing exempts one from Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. We must bolster our faith that, by ascending to the Land and settling it, we are fulfilling the Torah’s goals.

Rav Kook’s forceful words found a practical application in an unusual court case that he adjudicated in 5682 (1922).

Rav_Kook_and_Bnei_Brak_founders including Yitzchak Gershtenkorn

Warsaw, 1920

Yitzchak Gershtenkorn had a plan. A brilliant, magnificent plan. The 29-year-old Hassidic Jew from Warsaw approached two friends with his proposal: every week, they would deposit money into a joint bank account. The funds would be dedicated to a single goal - to purchase land to settle in Eretz Yisrael.

His friends enthusiastically agreed. Over the coming months, they deposited money each week, excited in the knowledge that each payment brought them a little closer to their goal.

Rabbi Yitzchak noted that his endeavor was already a remarkable success. His two friends, who had never dreamed of settling the Land, had changed. They acquired new aspirations; their views on Galut (exile) and the Land of Israel had shifted. They had become “Jews of Eretz Yisrael”!

He decided the time was right to take the next step. He began recruiting other religious Jews in Warsaw. Gershtenkorn spoke in synagogues about settling and working the Land, raising great interest. Within a short time, the group numbered 150 members. They formed a society called "Bayit VeNachalah" (“Home and Heritage”), dedicated to establishing an agricultural community for religious settlers in the Holy Land.

After the initial enthusiasm, however, the project began to waver. Some members were nervous because Polish law prohibited taking money out of the country. Others worried that the funds raised were so meager that, even after years of saving, they would not suffice to purchase suitable land in Eretz Yisrael. Several members threatened to resign.

That winter, the Gerrer Rebbe returned from a visit to Eretz Yisrael. The Rebbe granted an audience to Rabbi Yitzchak and told him the following:

“I will recommend anyone who asks me that they should join your group. I cannot provide you with any financial help because I am already committed to a similar undertaking in the Jaffa area. But never get discouraged! God will crown your venture with success.”

Encouraged, Rabbi Yitzchak called a general meeting of Bayit VeNachalah. When the members heard the Gerrer Rebbe’s words and blessing, their doubts and hesitations were dispelled.

Purchasing Bnei Brak

Two years later, Rabbi Yitzchak and two other delegates traveled to Eretz Yisrael to locate a suitable plot of land for their envisioned community. In his memoirs, Rabbi Yitzchak described his high emotions during the long train ride from Egypt to the Holy Land:

Rabbi Yitzchak Gershtenkorn

“On that night, as we traveled from Alexandria to Tel Aviv, I could not sleep. We passed through the desert, and the sand penetrated our railway carriage through the closed blinds. To me it was symbolic: a person does not enter the Land of Israel unless he is first covered in desert sand, like our ancestors long ago who sojourned through the Sinai desert.

Absorbed in my thoughts, the sights and visions of Biblical times passed before my eyes. In my mind, I saw the journeys of the ancient Israelites, traveling with their flags and tribal camps. I, too, was not traveling alone, but stood at the head of an entire camp of Warsaw Jews, who were waiting to hear the results of our expedition.

My heart began to beat fast. We are crossing the border! We are already traveling in our Land. I opened the window wide and breathed in the soul-reviving air of Eretz Yisrael.”

While the purpose of the journey was to locate a suitable plot of land, Rabbi Yitzchak took advantage of times between trips to meet the prominent scholars and rabbis of the holy city of Jerusalem. On the Shabbat before Passover, he visited Rav Kook in his home, where he was greeted with great warmth.

For three weeks, the delegates searched for suitable land, examining plots near Rehovot and Rishon LeTzion. But Gershtenkorn was most drawn to a hilly stretch of ground along the road from Tel Aviv to Petach Tikva. The land belonged to a few Arab families who lived in a nearby village.

The residents of the nearby settlements urged them to buy this particular piece of land so that all Arab holdings from northern Tel Aviv to Petach Tikva would be under Jewish ownership. It was a matter of security; the hills of Bnei Brak were used by Arabs to ambush Jewish travelers. A new Jewish settlement would dislodge the Arab raiders and secure the road from Tel Aviv to the Sharon region.

Rav Kook’s Ruling

There was, however, a serious issue which led to a vehement dispute among the delegates. Geulah, the organization responsible for redeeming land from Arab hands, requested 10,000 pounds sterling for the property they sought. But their society had only collected 900 pounds.

The other delegates were wary. How could they obligate themselves to an additional sum of 9,000 pounds - ten times more than they had succeeded in saving at that point! - without prior consensus of the entire group?

Gershtenkorn was confident that the money could be raised. After many arguments, the delegates agreed to bring the matter as a Din Torah for the Chief Rabbi, Rav Kook. According to his decision, they would proceed.

The evening after Passover, the delegates presented their dispute to Rav Kook. The society’s treasurer argued that he saw no basis at the current time for a reasonable livelihood for the members, who are not wealthy; it is the delegates’ obligation to be faithful agents and not conclude any transaction until returning to Warsaw and giving an accurate report to the society.

Yitzchak Gershtenkorn argued that he was the sole official representative, and the other delegates had no right to obstruct the purchase.

After much deliberation, Rav Kook ruled in favor of Gershtenkorn. He noted three points:

1. We must distinguish between an individual and a community. If an individual asks whether he should make Aliyah or not, one is permitted to give advice for a specific case. But a community is a different story. One who influences the views of an entire community and deters them from moving to the Land - he is “giving an evil report of the Land” and repeating the villainous act of the Spies.

2. Regarding the concerns that the group will be unable to complete the purchase of the land, we have a rule in Halachah that “The community is not poor.” Who said that only the current members will foot the bill? If they are unable to pay, other Jews of means will come and purchase a share, thus enabling the society to conclude the land acquisition.

3. Yitzchak Gershtenkorn was appointed as the sole representative with powers to purchase. The other delegates did not have the right to prevent him from executing the transaction.

Two weeks later, R. Yitzchak handed over the society’s money as down-payment for the land. Thus the agricultural settlement of Bnei Brak was founded - on the 5th of Iyyar.

(Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 405-407. Chaluztim LeTzion: the Founding of Bnei Brak with Rav Kook’s Support, by Moshe Nachman, pp. 32-33. Background details from The Jewish Observer, Sept. 1974)

Self-Contemplative Warriors

Kabbalah teaches that victory is guaranteed when one's soldiers are righteous.

From the Ohr HaChaim commentary by Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar

"Moses spoke to the people, saying, 'Separate [mobilize] from amongst you men…and they will be against Midian'." (Num. 31:3)

This expedition was based on the attackers' moral superiority over their adversaries, as evidenced by G‑d's instruction to "avenge". Moses had to mobilize the kind of soldiers whose fantasies had not run wild at the time of the debacle in Shittim. How was he to know which one of the Israelites had indulged in sinful thoughts at the time?

Moses therefore advised each man of military age to examine himself in this matter. This is the meaning of "separate from amongst you", i.e. examine your conscience if you are morally fit to take part in such a punitive expedition of the morally superior against the morally inferior. Only those who knew that they could qualify under this heading would be considered for the contingent of 1,000 per tribe.

The word saying refers to illicit sex….

The word "saying" [in Hebrew, "l'emor"] is a hint that these people should all "speak to their inner selves on this subject" Perhaps the very word "saying" was even an allusion to the sin of illicit sex, as we find in the Talmud "the word 'saying' refers to illicit sex" (Sanhedrin 56).

According to Midrash Tanchuma on our verse, these men were all righteous. Although we have explained elsewhere that one can only derive such a conclusion from the word "men" when this word is superfluous in the text, in our instance there is independent support for the theory that the "men" mentioned here had to be righteous men.

They had been confronted with a powerful temptation and had conquered it….

Seeing this was so, they had no reason to worry, although they would be far outnumbered by the Midianites. Moreover, they were not only righteous but they qualified for the appellation "chassidim" [meaning "pious"] because they had been confronted with a powerful temptation and had conquered it. (Zohar Chadash volume 3 page 195 states that this is the basis for someone being described as pious.) This then explains Moses' considerations as to whom to select and how many to select.

Sanctity is the mystical foundation of spiritual ascent….

The Kabbalists state that sanctity is the mystical foundation of spiritual ascent, whereas the kelipot are the mystical foundation of spiritual descent of a human being. Once a person commits a sin, part of the kelipot attach to him and become part of his nature causing him to become degraded. The words "against [in Hebrew, 'al' - literally 'above'] Midian" then mean that these pious soldiers should be able to be "above Midian", i.e. be spiritually superior. None of the forces of impurity which clings to the Midianites would cling to these soldiers.

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]

Resting in Peace

The soul of the murdered must be appeased.

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

In this portion the Torah discusses matters that help perfect one's body. The body viewed as the sheath of the soul, has also been created in the image of G‑d (Gen.1:27). This is why if someone kills another creature created in G‑d's image, he himself will be killed as an appropriate act of retribution. By his deed he has separated a soul from its body (i.e. sheath) hence his own soul will be separated from its sheath.

Avenging the murdered person is the only means to restore the harmony that existed…

The act of murder is viewed as if the murderer had also severed the life of the soul in the celestial regions from its "body" in those regions. Although such separation would have occurred sooner or later anyway [by the natural death of the victim, Ed.], the murderer is punished for having brought this about prematurely. Hence his own soul will not find its resting place until the murder has been avenged. This principle explains the strange story related in Kings I, chapter 21 of the judicial murder of Navot through Jezebel and king Ahab. We are told that the "spirit" of the slain Navot volunteered to seduce king Ahab into sinning by listening to his false prophets and that the Heavenly Tribunal concurred in this act of deviousness by the "spirit" of Navot. (Kings I 22:21)

As a result, Ahab was killed in a battle with Aram which served the ostensibly patriotic purpose of recapturing the city of Yavesh Gilead [which the Aramites had wrested from the Jewish state some considerable period earlier].

Clearly, the soul, i.e. Ruach, of Navot had not been able to come to rest due to the premature death of its body, and this may be why the Ruach was permitted to act in its own personal interest. Avenging the murdered person is the only means to restore the harmony that existed between body and soul prior to the murder.

We can now understand why, even if the family of the victim or the court were to agree to it, payment of a ransom would not restore the equilibrium which had been upset previously…As long as the victim of the murder has not been appeased, there can be no question of the deed having been atoned for.

When the death of the victim is due to an unintentional act however, the Torah does not consider him guilty of bloodshed. Clearly, the death of the victim was an act of G‑d, i.e. the attribute of Justice chose as its instrument someone who had committed some other undetected offense. The killer had unconsciously carried out G‑d's design in all those cases where he had not planned to kill the victim with a lethal instrument. The killer has to flee to the city of refuge, one of the cities of the Levites. Those cities are regarded as sites of judgment. The Levites themselves represent the sefira of gevura in the pattern chesed-gevura-tiferet, a pattern that corresponds to the respective levels of kohen-levi-israel.

A soul that is separated from its body…needs to…a place where souls hover until the death of the High Priest…

This unintentional killer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest (Numbers 35:25). This is because when the body of the victim was slain, also his soul was taken from him and had to remain in exile until a time when G‑d is in a favorable frame of mind.

At the time the High Priest dies, when his soul ascends to the Celestial Regions, the soul of the murder victim is then also allowed to proceed to those regions. We find that such is the case even when the souls in question had not been separated from their bodies through murder. A soul which is "exiled" may be released from such exile as a result of the death of a great person, i.e. a prominent tzadik. The Mekor Chayim on the Zohar finds an allusion to the statement of our sages that "the righteous may be granted children when they have died, though they had no children during their lifetime," in the words "he has to remain in his city of refuge until the death," [This means that as long as the soul of the righteous was held captive by its body it could not become a parent. Ed]

This demonstrates retroactively that all G‑d's actions are based on truth, and that He shows His mercy to all. A soul that is separated from its body and does not have any "clothing" to accompany it to the higher world [since it did not leave children behind in this world], and therefore lacks a go-el [redeemer] needs to remain for a while in the "city of refuge", i.e. a place where souls hover until the death of the High Priest who is the Torah scholar. He does not require a redeemer.

If the High Priest leaves a widow and no children, the levirate marriage rules do not apply to such a widow [in the sense that she need not enter into a marriage with a brother of her late husband in order to perpetuate his name on this earth]. If she does so nonetheless, it is for the benefit of other souls who are homeless in a region between This World and the World to Come. These souls wait for the time when they can be suitably "dressed", in order to proceed to their ultimate destination. The High Priest widow's late husband's "continuity", i.e. his name, has been maintained even though he did not leave behind physical issue.

So far the commentary of the Mekor Chayim. [Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.] From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Releasing the Captive Sparks

The sanctity and unity of the Jewish Nation affected rectification for lost holiness.

From the Ohr HaChaim commentary by Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar

"These are the journeys of the children of Israel..." (Num. 33:1)

Our verse may be understood when we consider what the Zohar (II:157) has to say about the purpose of the Israelites' trek through the desert: It was meant to enable the Israelites to seek out isolated sparks of sanctity and to release them from captivity. These "sparks" had been taken captive by the spiritually negative forces that have their home in the desert. G‑d made the Israelites travel through such places in order that their sanctity would act as a magnet and attract such "lost" sparks of sanctity.

The only way this could be accomplished was by means of total sanctity, [i.e.] a combination of the sanctity of Israel, the Shechinah and the holy Torah. It required the presence of 600,000 souls which originated in holy domains. Moses matched these 600,000 individually holy souls, as he is perceived of as the tree from which all these are branches compare (Isaiah 63:11). In a combined effort, these forces of sanctity were able to overcome the forces of impurity which kept many of these lost sparks of sanctity captive.

The Patriarchs…lacked this "completeness" which is predicated on the presence of 600,000 souls….

According to the Zohar, then these "sparks" could be captured while the Israelites were actively journeying and not while they were passively encamped; it is this the Torah had in mind when writing "these are the journeys". The word "these" [in Hebrew, "eleh"] is indeed in sharp contrast to any other journeys ever described anywhere, as never before had there been a journey which was accompanied by so many elements of sanctity.

While it is true that the Patriarchs have also been described as journeying, and they too rescued lost sparks of sanctity during their journeys, there is no comparison between what these individuals accomplished and what the Jewish nation as a whole accomplished in this regard. The Torah itself describes the superior nature of these journeys by stressing that they occurred as an aftermath of the Exodus from Egypt, i.e. after the Israelites had been refined in the Exodus from Egypt - after the Israelites had been refined in the iron crucible called Egypt. This enabled them to isolate sparks of sanctity wherever they would encounter them.

Not only that, but the Torah describes these journeys as haven taken place "letzivotam" (when they were a complete unit, the Shechinah resting on these 600,000 holy souls).

You find that the reason G‑d did not give the Torah to the Patriarchs was due to their being too few in number. They lacked this "completeness" which is predicated on the presence of 600,000 souls which originated in a holy domain (compare Mechilta Yitro) so that they could be described as "tzevaot", "G‑d's armies". Only once the Israelites were in the desert did they comprise all the necessary pre-conditions for fulfilling the task set for them by their journeys. The Torah also added the phrase "under the guidance of Moses and Aaron", who were the "go-betweens" between the Shechinah and all the other elements of sanctity needed to fuse the nation into a single whole of sanctity.

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]

From the Ohr HaChaim commentary by Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar