We are taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut that the four cardinal elements of fire, air, water and earth (dust) relate to thesefirot ("Divine Emanations") in the following manner: Fire to chochmah ("wisdom"); air to binah ("understanding"); water to the six sefirot of the emotions–chesed ("lovingkindness"), gevurah ("fortitude"), tiferet ("beauty"), netzach ("victory"),hod ("surrender" or "glory") and yesod ("foundation")–earth or dust to the last of the emotive sefirot—malchut ("kingship"). The connection of dust to malchut alludes to the rectification of the leader. Only when malchut, the lowest of the sefirot, has mastered the material aspect of "dust," will kingship merit to wear the crown of keter, the highest sefirah, symbolizing the spiritual realm.
We are further taught that the four primary elements have essential and secondary characteristics. Their correspondences are as follows:
|Element||Essential Characteristic||Secondary Characteristic|
Dry and cold being the characteristics of dust connote death; yet we know that plant, animal and human all derive their sustenance from the power of life and growth intrinsic in the earth. This seeming paradox is reconciled by man who bridges these two opposite yet essentially unified realities of life and death, spiritual and physical. This is clearly seen in the account of Creation: "now all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth and all the herb had as yet sprouted, for G-d had not caused it to rain on the earth and there was no man to work the soil." Rashi comments on the verse: "And for what reason had it not rained? Because there was no man to work the soil and none to recognize the goodness of rain and when man came and knew that the rains were needed for the world, he prayed for them and they fell and the trees and the grasses sprouted." The Hebrew words for "human being," adam, and "earth," adamah, are identical except for the final, femininehei of earth. This alludes to the concept of "mother earth" and the "male-female" attraction between humanity and the earth from which it is nourished.
According to tradition, when a body is buried in the earth it completely disintegrates except for a small bone connecting the neck with the spinal column, called the luz bone. This bone is considered indestructible and remains in the earth until the time of the resurrection of the dead, when the body will be reconstructed from it. This tradition symbolizes not only the life force present within the seemingly "dead" earth, but the eternal nature of man himself.
The essential and secondary characteristics of dust–dry and cold–equal together the numerical value of the word for "covenant" brit, 612. The first covenant G-d made with Abraham, even before the covenant of circumcision, was the covenant binding the Jewish People to the Land of Israel forever. History has shown that no power on earth can permanently separate the Jewish People from its Land. In the time of exile the connection was maintained by including on a daily basis prayers for return to Israel and by nurturing the great desire to at least be buried in the Land, which many over the generations in fact were able to do.
The idea of covenant is super-rational in nature and touches the deepest aspect of the inseverable connection between the Jewish soul and G-d. The resurrection of the nation of Israel in our time is intrinsically linked to our return to the land of Israel. One of the signs handed down by the sages for the coming of Mashiach is when the land will once again be transformed from barren desert to a fruitful "paradise," a phenomenon certainly visible today. In this sense the land mirrors the physical and spiritual state of the Jewish People. When in exile, the land lay virtually barren, yet when Jews began to return to Israel in mass it became fruitful again. This phenomenon parallels the general states of physical and spiritual. When physical reality is disconnected from the spiritual it is "barren" and empty of real meaning, but when transformed into a vessel for the Divine it becomes fruitful and full of life.
We are taught that until the final redemption, "the Shechinah [G-d's Divine Presence] is in the dust," and it is our mission to lift her up to her previous glory. In certain contexts the term Shechinah is used synonymously with the term Knesset Yisrael, the totality of all the souls of Israel. The redemption of the Shechinah in its fullest sense will occur in the land of Israel when the dust itself and all it symbolizes is infused with its full spiritual potential and G-d's Presence, ultimately yielding continual renewal and everlasting life.