The Song of Torah

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

The Arizal illustrates the Written Torah in the light of the Kabbalah.

In this week's Torah reading, Moses says to the Jews: "And now, write for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites - put it in their mouths - in order that this song remains a witness for the Israelites."

(Deut. 31:19)

According to the basic meaning of this verse, the "song" it refers to is the poem "Give ear, O heavens" that constitutes the greater part of the following Torah portion. However, the Sages also understand it as referring to the Torah as a whole, and from this verse is derived the commandment incumbent upon each individual to write a Torah scroll.

Know that it is necessary to have in mind that the five Books of Moses correspond to the five partzufim:

The Book of Genesis corresponds to the [upper] thorn of the yud [of the name Havayah and the partzuf] Arich [Anpin].

The Book of Exodus corresponds to the yud [itself] and Abba.

The Book of Leviticus corresponds to the first hei and Imma. The sacrifices [,whose laws are detailed in this book, come] to rectify and sweeten the states of divine judgment that originate in [this partzuf].

The Book of Numbers corresponds to the vav, the number of Israelites above.

Presumably this refers to the fact that the numerical value of the letter vav is 6 and there are 600,000 archetypal souls of Israel. The Book of Numbers contains a number of censuses of the peoples as whole, the army, the Levites, etc.

The Book of Deuteronomy, known as the "repetition of the Torah", recapitulates and includes everything that was in the preceding books, and corresponds to the final hei and Nukva.

To summarize:

book - letter of the name Havayah – partzuf

Genesis - upper thorn of yud - Arich Anpin

Exodus – yud – Abba

Leviticus – hei – Imma

Numbers – vav - Zeir Anpin

Deuteronomy – hei – Nukva

Following is an alternate system of correspondences, encompassing the entire Bible as "distributed" over the two partzufim of Zeir Anpin and Nukva. It should be kept in mind that in the traditional reckoning, 1st and 2nd Samuel are considered one book, as are 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nonetheless, in one instance, as we shall see, the Arizal does consider 1st and 2nd Kings separately.

Tiferet [i.e. Zeir Anpin] includes the five Books of Moses, and its two arms comprise its five states of chesed and the five states of gevura, as follows:

Joshua, Judges, and Samuel [correspond to] chesed, gevura, and tiferet. First and Second Kings correspond to netzach and hod. Thus we have the five states of chesed.

The forms of the letters change to various representations of these spiritual configurations….

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel [correspond to] chesed, gevura, and tiferet. The twelve [Minor Prophets correspond to] netzach and hod, this being the mystical meaning of the verse, "His legs are pillars of marble [in Hebrew, 'sheish']." (Songs 5:15) Thus we have the five states of gevura.

The Hebrew for "marble" (sheish) also means "six". The legs correspond to netzach and hod. Each one being six, the two together are twelve, corresponding to the twelve Minor Prophets.

The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings manifest chesed because they describe the Jewish people more-or-less in their heyday, focusing on their development as a people and the conquests of their kings. The prophetic books, on the other hand, focus on the spiritual lapses and descent of the people, which resulted eventually in the destruction of the Temple and the exile.

Malchut [i.e. Nukva] includes the five Scrolls, and its two arms comprise the five states of chesed and the five states of gevura, as follows:

The five Scrolls are Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth.

The five states of chesed are the five books of Psalms, and the five states of gevura are Proverbs, Job, Daniel, corresponding [respectively] to chesed, gevura, and tiferet, Ezra [and Nehemiah corresponding to] netzach and Chronicles to hod.

The Book of Psalms is traditionally subdivided into five sub-books.

chanoch's Commentary

The above separations are designed to help us understand hoe the orah and nTanachn relate to the various Sephirot. They help us nto realize that the Torah and the Sefirot are not separated. This is the most important teaching of the Torah. When you perceive separation remember all forms of separation is illusion.

Regarding the forms of the letters, and to what extent there is a difference between the Ashkenazic and Sefardic ways of writing them, my master [the Arizal] used to say that they all allude to [spiritual configurations] above, for the forms of the letters change to various representations [of these spiritual configurations].

This is particularly true regarding the form of the letter alef. The upper yud of the alef is written [according to the Sefardim] like a zayin.

The alef is conceived of as being formed of a long, diagonal vav with a yud above and below it. If the stroke of the yud is extended to the center, beyond the stem connecting it to the vav, it appears like a zayin.

He said that all of this is alluded to in Tikunei Zohar.

Some people are reluctant to fulfill this commandment [to personally write a Torah scroll], for two reasons:

The first is that they don't know how to write [like a scribe], and they think that the commandment is to write with their own hand.

Where the name Havayah occurs…he wanted to write them himself, with his own hand, after fasting and immersing and while having certain meditations in mind….

Learning how to write Torah scrolls according to Jewish law is complicated, and requires knowledge of the laws, the conventions and traditions to be followed, and artistic skill. However, the commandment may be fulfilled by proxy, and is usually fulfilled nowadays by either commissioning a scribe to write a Torah scroll (for those who can afford this) or participating in the cost of writing one. Also, owning printed copies of the Torah and its commentaries for personal study is considered part of fulfilling this commandment.

The second is that there are no longer in our times people who are well-versed in which words are to be spelled fully and which defectively or which paragraphs are to be left "open" or "closed", as mentioned [already] in the Talmud (Kidushin 30).

Many words in Hebrew can be spelled either "fully", using all the letters required by the rules of grammar and precedent, or "defectively", leaving some or all of the "vowel-letters" out. ("Vowel-letters" are letters used to indicate vowels, such as vav or yud, and these vowels can instead be indicated by vowel-points.)

There are differing traditions regarding which paragraphs in the Torah are followed by a space extending to the end of the line the paragraph ends on (this is called an "open" paragraph) and which are followed by a space only equal to the width of nine letters (this is called a "closed" paragraph).

But my master told [the scribe] Rabbi M. Romi to write a Torah scroll similar to the other Torah scrolls in our country, following the instructions of Maimonides regarding which paragraphs are to be opened or closed, and he did not concern himself with the [other traditions regarding which are to be] closed and opened followed by others who are stringent about this and change things.

He also instructed him to leave blank all the places where the name Havayah occurs, for he wanted to write them himself, with his own hand, after fasting and immersing and while having certain meditations in mind (that will be explained in our discussion of the tefilin).

Certain letters in Torah scrolls, tefilin, and mezuzahs are adorned with "crowns", small lines in the form of the letter zayin attached to the top of the letters. These crowns are obligatory on the letters shin-ayin-tet-nun-zayin-gimel-tzadik (Menachot 29b), and according to some opinions their absence invalidates a Torah scroll from use. (Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 36:3) It is customary to make smaller crowns on the letters beit-dalet-kuf-chet-yud-hei.

Regarding the form of the crowns over the letters shin-ayin-tet-nun-zayin-gimel-tzadik and beit-dalet-kuf-chet-yud-hei, he was extremely stringent.

These crowns, as mentioned, must have the form of the letter zayin, and they must be centered on the top of the letter, not to the center or left.

The mystical significance of why there are crowns on specifically these letters is explained in the "Gate of Cantillation marks, Vowels, Crowns, and Letters" and in "the Gate of the Vowels".

This is the end of this passage; following is an excerpt from "the Gate of the Vowels," i.e. Etz Chaim 8:6.

… of the 22 letters of the [Hebrew alphabet used in the] Torah, seven of them indicate the vessels of the seven kings [of Edom] and 15 of them indicate the vessels of Abba and Imma.

The Zohar states that these seven kings were like sparks that were scattered….

Although we are at this point talking about the Breaking of the Vessels, which occurred in the world of Tohu, before the development of the partzufim of the world of Atzilut, the names of these partzufim are nonetheless used to refer to the aspects of the Tohu from which they will develop.

This is because Abba and Imma are greater than all of Zeir Anpin and Nukva.

Therefore, the former's vessels are alluded to by 15 letters while the latter's are alluded to by only 7.

The indication that Abba and Imma take 15 letters is the fact that they are alluded to by the letters yud-hei of the name Havayah, whose numerical value is 15.

The letters indicating the vessels of Zeir Anpin are shin-ayin-tet-nun-zayin-gimel-tzadik. Of the fifteen remaining letters [of the alphabet] that indicate the vessels of Abba and Imma, six of them indicate the back of these vessels, and they are beit-dalet-kuf-chet-yud-hei, as is mentioned in the Zohar. The remaining letters, alef-vav-kaf-lamed-mem-samech-pei-reish-tav, indicate the front or inner dimension of these vessels.

This is the reason why the letters shin-ayin-tet-nun-zayin-gimel-tzadik require three crowns each, while the letters beit-dalet-kuf-chet-yud-hei require one crown each, and also why these letters are different from the other letters, that require no crown at all.

The letters shin-ayin-tet-nun-zayin-gimel-tzadik allude to the seven kings [of Edom] that died, and from [these kings] the forces of evil were created and issued, as is known. These letters can be combined to form the words "satan az geitz", meaning: "The strength and mighty power [in Hebrew, "az"] of the insolent states of judgment, which descended and became Satan, i.e. the forces of evil..."; and it is known that the Zohar states that these seven kings were like sparks that were scattered "like a blacksmith who hits iron and sparks fly in all directions", an allusion in the word "geitz" [meaning "spark" in Hebrew], as in the words of the Talmud, "a spark ["geitz"] that flies out from under the hammer" (Shabbat 21b ).

We have explained previously that these seven kings took their light from the body of Adam Kadmon, under the tuft of the beard, but not higher [than this].

"Adam Kadmon" ("Primordial Man") is the first divine emanation after the initial tzimtzum, or constriction of G‑d's infinite light. The sefirot issue from his various "body" parts.

It follows that they lack the three highest lights, i.e. those of [Adam Kadmon's] ears, nose, and mouth. This is why both their frontal and back aspects broke. These [missing lights] are indicated by the three crowns affixed atop these letters. For [the crowns] allude to the withdrawal of the light and life-force from the vessels, which are alluded to by the letters themselves. The light remained above them instead of within them, as depicted by the placement of the crowns above the letters.

In contrast, the letters beit-dalet-kuf-chet-yud-hei allude to the backs of Abba and Imma, which descended [rather than broke].

Here, the point is that the vessels of the seven lower sefirot of Tohu broke because they lacked the stabilizing influence of the intellect, while the three upper sefirot of Tohu, its intellect, did not break (since intellect is inherently more stable than the volatile emotions); instead, only their backs, or external aspects, "fell".

We have explained previously that Abba and Imma are formed from the two lights of the nose and mouth [of Adam Kadmon], and thus lack only the light of the ear. Therefore, [when the vessels of Tohu broke,] only their backs fell. To allude to the one light they lack [i.e. that of the ear of Adam Kadmon] we affix a single crown on each of these letters.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot, Taamei HaMitzvot, and Etz Chaim, parashat VaYeilech; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard.