First Reading: The Space Between the Letters
In a Torah scroll, the letters are handwritten with black ink. The scroll itself is white. Therefore, the letters are described as “black on white.” There is a secret in Kabbalah regarding the white space in between the black letters. This space is known as “the air between the letters.” The meaning of this space and how to read it is one of the secrets that the Mashiach will reveal.
We are required to make sure that the black ink of every letter in the Torah scroll is surrounded by parchment on all four sides. No letter should touch its neighbors. A space that is at least a hair’s breadth must separate them. Therefore, if two letters are slightly touching in a Torah scroll or on a mezuzah or in tefillin, the entire scroll, mezuzah, or tefillin are rendered invalid. How should we understand the white space separating the letters in the Torah scroll?
The sages say that before the creation of the world—before there were physical parchment and ink—the Torah was written as “black fire on white fire” (אֵשׁ שְׁחוֹרָה עַל גַּבֵּי אֵשׁ לְבָנָה). Chasidic thought explains that the “black fire” represents God’s “light that fills all worlds” (אוֹר הַמְּמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין). This is the light that was revealed by the contraction of God’s infinite light and now serves as the primary mode of God’s revelation. The infinite light that was contracted is represented by the “white fire.” It is also known as God’s “light that surrounds all worlds” (אוֹר הַסּוֹבֵב כָּל עָלְמִין). When we think of the Torah as it existed (and continues to exist) prior to creation, clearly the infinite light, the white fire, contains infinite meaning.
The space separating the letters is known as the “air” (אֲוִיר) between the letters. It is the white fire that preceded creation and is referred to in Kabbalah as the “primordial air” (אֲוִיר קַדְמוֹן). A synonym for “air” is “spirit” (רוּחַ), which also means “side.” Indeed, the air surrounds each letter on all four sides. The same word, “spirit” (רוּחַ) can also be pronounced as “separation” (רֶוַח), as in the verse, “Place a space [or separation] between the flocks” (וְרֶוַח תָּשִׂימוּ בֵּין עֵדֶר וּבֵין עֵדֶר). The space separating Jacob’s flocks is like the air/whitespace between the Torah’s letters.
Let us apply the notion of “separation” between the Torah’s letters mathematically. As an example, we will consider the Torah’s first word, “In the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית). A little thought will convince us that to “read” the air between the letters, we will need to consider the ordinal values of the letters.
The ordinal value of the first letter, bet (ב) is 2. The ordinal value of the second letter, reish (ר), is 20. The white-space, separation, or difference between them is 18, which is the ordinal value of tzaddik (צ). Thus, between the Torah’s first and second letters, there is a hidden, airy tzaddik.
The next letter is an alef (א), whose ordinal value is 1. The difference between the reish, 20, and the alef, 1, is 19, which is the ordinal value of kuf (ק).
Thus, the first two hidden or primordial air letters in the Torah are tzaddik and kuf, which in reverse order spell the word for “end” (קֵץ), as in the “end of days” (קֵץ הַיָּמִין). The reverse order follows the very appropriate saying, “the end is enwedged into the beginning.”
So, the Torah begins and immediately conceals between its letters the secret of the “end of days,” the Messianic era, when God’s infinite light will again be revealed. It is appropriate that the first secret revealed by the air between the letters will be related to Mashiach. The first time the word for “air” or “spirit” appears in the Torah is a verse later, “And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” (וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם), which according to the sages alludes to the “spirit of Mashiach” (רוּחוֹ שֶׁל מָשִׁיחַ). The Mashiach has a special affinity to spirit, and thus to the air between the letters, as found in the verse, “And a shoot shall spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a twig from his roots shall bear fruit. And the spirit of God shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and fear of God. And he shall be inspired with fear of the Lord, and he shall not judge with the sight of his eyes nor reprove with the hearing of his ears.” As noted, this is the separation between the flocks—the air, or white fire, which serves as the background on which the black fire of the Torah’s letters is written.
Traditional Torah literature presents a few different answers to the question that asks why God created the world. In the midrash, we find the explanation, “The Holy, Blessed One, craved to make Himself a dwelling place below” (נִתְאַוָּה הקב"ה לִהְיוֹת לוֹ דִּירָה בְּתַחְתּוֹנִים). Of the different reasons given for creation, we have explained elsewhere, that this one is considered the deepest.
Considering the operative verbs in this phrase, “craved” (נִתְאַוָּה) and “to make” (לִהְיוֹת), we find that their numerical sum is 913, the value of the Torah’s first word, “In the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית). Amazingly, the value of the entire phrase is 3 times 913, 3 times the gematria of the Torah’s first word.
Second Reading: The Tree of Life and the Seven Species of the Land of Israel
The second reading of parashat Bereishit describes the Garden of Eden and particularly the two special trees in it—the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge.
Much later in the Pentateuch, we learn of the Seven Species plants with which the Land of Israel is blessed: “A land of wheat and barley, and vines, and figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees, and honey.” The sages identified the Tree of Knowledge—which brought death into the world—with a number of these blessed species. There is an opinion that the Tree of Knowledge was the vine, an opinion that it was the fig, and an opinion that it was wheat. This leaves us with something of a negative feeling regarding these species, which are otherwise blessed.
However, the true source of all Seven Species is to be found in the Tree of Life. The fruit of the Land of Israel, which is described as “the Land of life” all comes from the Tree of Life. In fact, there is a beautiful phenomenon in the Torah regarding the Seven Species: the words, “Tree of Life” (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) appears exactly 7 times in the Tanach thus corresponding to the 7 Species of the Land of Israel.
The first 3 instances are in parashat Bereishit. The other 4 appearances are all in the book of Proverbs where it appears as “Tree of Life” (עֵץ חַיִּים), without the additional declarative hei.
(excerpted from a class given on Tu BeShevat 5780)
Third Reading: Found in Translation
In the third reading of Bereishit, we hear that God placed a deep sleep upon Adam, during which he took part of his body and made it into Eve.
The Arizal revealed that the value of “deep sleep” (תַּרְדֵּמָה) is equivalent to that of “translation” (תַּרְגּוּם). The implications of this equivalence are many. Let us focus on the literal meaning of the word “translation.”
What this equivalence reveals is that the translated version of a text is actually a dormant version of its original that lies asleep within the original text. It is particularly this dormant, translated version that can reach those who themselves are asleep. In other words, sometimes, when an idea is translated into another language, or into another set of metaphors, individuals whom the original did not impress are suddenly woken up and can relate to it.
Eve emerged from Adam’s deep sleep. Since Adam was created alone, Eve represents not only the first woman, but also the first “other” that Adam encountered. When there are two, each individual must make an effort to explain himself for the benefit of the other. Said another way, the existence of other people necessitates communication and communication requires translation from our inner thoughts and feelings to those of our friend. Specifically, the communication between Adam and Eve is akin to the translation from the language of the mind (Adam) to the language of the heart (Eve).
(from HaNerot Halalu, p. 204, n. 106)
Fourth Reading: Leaving the Garden of Eden
In Chasidic thought, the Tree of Knowledge corresponds to the spiritual service known as clarifications (עֲבוֹדַת הַבֵּרוּרִים), by which we elevate the sparks of holiness (and discard the husks of impurity) from reality and return them to their source. The Tree of Life corresponds to the service known as unifications (עֲבוֹדַת הַיִּחוּדִים), by which we discover the Divine essence within reality.
A cursory reading of the description of the Garden of Eden leads to the conclusion that both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil were inside the Garden. However, a more careful reading can yield a different understanding. Let us see how.
There is an important principle of textual analysis used by the sages, “From a definitive positive statement, you can infer a negative statement” (מִכְּלָל הֵן אַתָּה שׁוֹמֵעַ לָאו). Applying this principle to the verse, “From the ground, God made to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad.” Initially all trees were referred to—“every tree that was pleasing to sight and good for food”—then only the Tree of Life is described as being in the Garden. It follows then that the Tree of Knowledge, which is then mentioned separately, was not in the Garden!
This analysis provides us with at least a hint that what the Tree of Knowledge represents is not located in the Garden of Eden but outside the Garden. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, because once again, the Tree of Knowledge represents that which does not belong in the Garden of Eden. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam was sent “to work the earth from whence he had been taken [i.e., formed]” (לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח מִשָּׁם). What is amazing is that the value of the two words “from… he had been taken” (אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח) is the same as the value of “Tree of Knowledge” (עֵץ הַדַּעַת).
What this means is that the service of Clarifications is not to be found in the Garden of Eden. To rectify reality using this method of elevating the sparks of holiness, one must exhibit self-sacrifice and be willing to go out of the Garden of Eden—the state of spiritual bliss. The service of Clarifications demands the self-sacrifice needed in knowing that “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Following this idea, we discover that Eve’s mistake was in assuming that the Tree of Knowledge could also be found inside the Garden of Eden alongside the Tree of Life.
Another point that we learn from this analysis is that the main function of the Tree of Knowledge, the main use for which we need to put our faculty of knowledge, is to rectify and clarify our portion in the world. The deep psychological translation of this point is that we should use our knowledge, our faculty of differentiating between good and evil, by figuring out to whom to attribute the good and to whom to attribute the evil. This is one of the most important elements of Chasidic psychology, realizing that we are not victims of some external evil forces that lurk outside of us. Rather, the negativity in our lives is feeding off ourselves. In contrast, we should not be crediting the good in our lives to ourselves. Rather, the source of all the good we enjoy is God. Being able to come to this realization requires a great deal of self-reflection and study but it is the key to completing the service of Clarifications and returning to the eternal life of the Garden of Eden.
(from Malchut Yisra’el vol. 1, pp. 307-308.)
Fifth Reading: The Reason for the Flood
The fifth reading of parashat Bereishit is devoted to the lineage of Cain. Lemech was the sixth generation from Cain, and he had two wives, Ada and Tzilah. Why does the Torah tell us about Lemech and his two wives? In effect, this story is a cautionary tale about what caused the flood. As Rashi explains, like the other men of his generation, Lemech had two wives because the one, Adah, was meant to bear children, while the other, Tzilah, was forced to drink a sterilizing elixir which would prevent her from conceiving, thus keeping her youthful beauty. By doing so, Lemech was catering to his egomania.
It was a generation where everything served the self-interest of the man. Even though the plain reason for the flood was the rampant lawlessness, we can certainly say that the flood was a punishment for the way in which they treated women.
(from a class given on the 20th of Marcheshvan 5778)
Sixth Reading: The Third Account of Creation
It is common knowledge that parashat Bereishit includes two different accounts of Creation that have differences between them, yet they complement each other. In the first chapter of Genesis, we find Creation divided into seven days. In the second chapter, we find the second account that highlights additional details about the creation of Adam and Eve, the temptation by the snake, the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, the punishment, and the repentance they took upon themselves. Finally, we learn of the birth of Cain and Abel and then the story of Cain murdering his brother Abel appears. These are all within the Torah’s second account of Creation.
However, there is a third account of Creation that begins in the fifth chapter of Genesis with the verse, “This is the book of the generations of Adam on the day that God created man, in the likeness of God, He made him.” The third account then proceeds to describe the first ten generations of humanity, from Adam to Noah, including the birth of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
The first account provides a very fact-based perspective telling us what God created on each day, and how God assessed that the work done on each day was “good” (until the end of all Creation, which is described as “very good.” This is a very objective (and positive—everything is good) perspective on the account of Creation.
The second account is described as a tragedy, maybe even a trauma. It tells of Adam’s sin, of the hatred between brothers, and of murder. Nothing can be more traumatic. The second account provides a very subjective perspective on Creation.
The third story returns to a more objective description. Most of it focuses on the 10 generations, how long each one lived, when he gave birth to his primary successor, and how he later had sons and daughters. Adam’s lineage continues through his third son, Seth. In practice, the third account includes the entire text of the Pentateuch that follows it. This is why Ben Azzai, one of the sages of the Mishnah, stated that the verse, “This is the book of the generations of Adam” is a “great inclusive principle of the Torah,” even greater than, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These three accounts with their perspectives on creation correspond to the three intellectual sefirot: wisdom (chochmah), understanding (binah), and knowledge (da’at). Let us see how.
The first word of the first account is, “In the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית), which the Jerusalem Translation of the Torah into Aramaic renders as “with wisdom” (בְּחוּכְמָא), based on the verse, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.” God created the world with wisdom, "In the beginning, God created", as it is also written "You made them all with wisdom". In Chasidut, wisdom is referred to as, “the beginning of [Divine] revelation” (רֵאשִׁית הַגִּלּוּי) and thus the first account describes creation as emerging from nothingness and being revealed step by step. Everything is good, everything is perfect, or as the sages say, “The world was created complete.”
The subjective and tragic second account is a psychological tale of people sinning and even murdering one another and corresponds to the sefirah of understanding (binah). Regarding understanding, it is written, “From it, judgments emerge.” Understanding (the root of the left axis of the sefirot) is the root of the psychological emotional attributes in general, and negative emotions in particular, both of which are manifest through sin and failure.
The third account presents us with a historical perspective. It describes generation after generation. According to this third account, the world is historically unfolding, from generation to generation. The historical perspective on reality is explained in Chasidut to originate from the verse, “He who calls upon the generations from the beginning.” This perspective is thus presenting God’s consciousness, as it were, from which first emerges Adam Kadmon, the source of all the generations that follow, and from there all of history unfolds (and descends). This perspective corresponds to the sefirah of knowledge (da’at), the most important among the intellectual sefirot, or as the verse states, “If you have acquired knowledge, what are you lacking? If you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?”
(from a class given on the 28th of Tishrei, 5778)
Seventh Reading: Do Angels Have Free-will?
Question: In the article “Unifying Our Post-Garden-Of-Eden Perspective,” it mentions Uzza and Aza’el fell from heaven and could not be rectified because angels have no free-will. If they have no free-will, what does it mean that they fell? Without free-will, how could they do something they were not supposed to?
Answer from HaRav Ginsburgh: There are two different approaches for answering your question. There are statements in the Talmud that reveal that even though angels do not have free-will, they do have the power to exercise discretion and therefore can make mistakes. Case in point is when the angel Metat erred by not standing when Elisha ben Avuyah’s soul ascended into the heavenly court. At the time, Metat was writing the merits of the Jewish people, allowing him to sit. However, Elisha, who did not know this, interpreted the fact that Metat was sitting as a sign that there were two authorities—Metat and God Almighty. Metat was punished for his error in judgement. Metat is the ministering angel of the World of Formation. The angels referred to at the end of parashat Bereishit (Uza and Aza’el) originate in the lower echelons of the World of Action, where there is a much stronger sense of self, and thus an error in their judgment was grave enough to have them punished by being cast out of heaven.
A different approach to answering this question is that God indeed gave Uza and Aza’el an evil inclination that would corrupt them and they ended up succumbing to it and thus sinned. However, clearly, this is not the case with other angels.
The rectifications of errors in judgment and of the evil inclination are different. In the future, the Mashiach will rectify the faculty of knowledge (da’at) and there will no longer be errors in judgment. This is described in the verse, “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of God, like waters cover the oceans.” However, to get rid of the evil inclination, God Himself will have to act, as it says, “And I will eradicate the spirit of impurity from the earth.”
. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 274.
. Shekalim 16b.
. Genesis 32:17.
. Daniel 12:13.
. Sefer Yetzirah 1:7.
. See also Tanya, ch. 36.
. Sod HaShem LiYerei’av, Ta’am HaBeri’ah.
. Deuteronomy 8:8.
. Berachot 40a.
. Ezekiel 26:20. See Rashi, Abravanel, and others.
. A full transcript of this class is available at: https://www.patreon.com/posts/tasting-from-of-34024141).
. See Sotah 17a and Nedarim 11a.
. Adam was formed from the dust of the earth (Genesis 1:7) and then taken and placed in the Garden of Eden (Ibid. v. 15).
. See “Understanding and Rectifying the Ego” on inner.org explained in depth and practically in our online course by the same name, which can be found here: https://inner.tiny.us/101ego.
. Genesis 6:13.
. Genesis 5:1.
. Likkutei Torah Pekudei, 3d and elsewhere.
. See Bereishit Rabbah 14:7.
. Zohar 3:10b.
. Isaiah 41:4.
. Proverbs 20:15.
. Wonders, issue 73, p. 9.
. Elisha ben Avuyah was one of the four original journeymen who entered with Rabbi Akiva into the Pardes (Chagigah 14b). The account with Metat appears in Ibid. 15a.
. Genesis 6:4.
. Kallah Rabbati ch. 3.
. Isaiah 11:9.
. Zachariah 13:2.