First Reading: Walking and Seeing Godliness
“Abram then continued on his way moving steadily toward the south”
Two parashot in the Torah are dedicated to Abraham’s story, Lech Lecha (לֶךְ לְךָ) and Vayeira (וַיֵּרָא). Their names stem from the verbs that mean to walk and to see. Lech Lecha begins with God’s command to Abraham to walk—to the land that He will show him—to the Land of Canaan. Vayeira begins with God showing Himself to Abraham through the vision of the three angels that visited him. And so, we can say that because of Abraham’s walk, God showed Himself to Abraham.
The Tzemach Tzedek once cried about why God revealed himself to Abraham but does not reveal Himself to us. Though Vayeira begins with the revelation through the three angels, its highpoint is God revealing Himself to Abraham at Mt. Moriah. It is there that when the Temple stood, we performed the mitzvah of coming to be seen by God on the three festivals, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, Havayah” (שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶל פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הוי'). So once again, we walk in pilgrimage to Mt. Moriah and in return not only are we seen by God, but God shows Himself to us. Indeed, Mt. Moriah was named by Abraham, the Mountain Where God will be Seen (בְּהַר הוי' יֵרָאֶה).
The 12 Senses
Thus, in the two parashot dedicated to his life, the Torah focuses on Abraham’s two special “senses”: walking and sight. We call these senses because they are 2 of the 12 senses described in Sefer Yetzirah. The 12 senses correspond to the months of the year and later, were corresponded with the 12 Tribes. Walking is the third sense, corresponding to the month of Sivan and sight is the fourth, corresponding to Tammuz. Amazingly, in the Torah they appear in the exact same order: Lech Lecha, which corresponds to walking, is the 3rd parashah in the Torah, and Vayeira, corresponding to sight, is the 4th.
The most important verse that describes Abraham’s walking is in Lech Lecha and it reads, “Abram went forth steadily towards the south” (וַיִּסַּע אַבְרָם הָלוֹךְ וְנָסוֹעַ הַנֶּגְבָּה). After he arrives in the Land of Canaan, you might think that is the end of his journey. But Abraham understands that God’s command is for him to always be walking, always be in motion, so his travels continue as he goes further south.
The four cardinal directions correspond to the sefirot. Specifically, South represents loving-kindness (as well as wisdom). Abraham is thus constantly pursuing more and more loving-kindness through the act of traveling, and through his acts of loving-kindness, he is pushing to reach a level of seeing God. Both Abraham and his descendant Aharon the High Priest are referred to as men of loving-kindness. But Aharon’s name in Hebrew (אַהֲרֹן) permutes to spell the word “seen” (נִרְאֶה), alluding to the verse, “In Your [God’s] light, we shall see light” (בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה אוֹר). In Chasidic teachings it is explained that Abraham represents the lower level of love (the inner experience of loving-kindness, chessed) known as worldly love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and Aharon represents the higher level of love known as greater love (אַהֲבָה רַבָּה). It is through the greater love that God is seen and so Abraham is constantly striving to reach this level in his travels south.
Abraham the Man of Faith
Parashat Lech Lecha also states that Abraham was the first believer. Up to Abraham, there were righteous people, but no one had consummate faith in God. The entire Jewish people are Abraham’s descendants, and it is about him that we find the verse, “You shall see from the heights of faith” (תָּשׁוּרִי מֵרֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה). Thus, the walking leads to sight thanks to faith. To merit seeing Godliness, to see the redemption, depends on opening our eyes to see that Mashiach is coming, and we derive this ability from the power of faith we inherit from Abraham.
How did this connection between walking and faith manifest in Abraham’s life? Abraham was sterile, and God promised him that he would have children. The Torah says, “He had faith in Havayah, and He [God] considered it charity” (וְהֶאֱמִן בַּהוי' וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה). This is a tremendous message for every Jew: there are things that we want very much, like a woman who wants to get married, but it does not happen. Still, even if something takes time, in the end it will come. Why is it delayed? To encourage us to pray for it. Similarly, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were barren because God yearned for their prayer. God yearns for the prayers of tzaddikim.
As we’ll explain, first God wants us to have faith, and from faith we will have joy. After the barren woman gives birth, she is filled with joy, but to give birth in the first place, she needs to have joy. Joy is the key to redemption, to the good thing coming. The joy comes from believing that the good will come: “think good and it will be good.” The word, “with joy” (בְּשִׂמְחָה) are also the letters of “thought” (מַחְשָׁבָה) guiding us to fill our thoughts with joy. By entertaining only good, joyful thoughts, we merit to see how, “the mother of the children is joyous” (אֵם הַבָּנִים שְׂמֵחָה), since thought is always associated with the mother principle, in Kabbalah. Through joy-filled thought, the mother merits becoming pregnant and giving birth to what she hoped for. Likewise, every descendant of Abraham the Hebrew, once he fills his thoughts with joy, he become “pregnant,” as it were, with what he yearned for and then merits to see it fulfilled.
Let’s take an example. I want to get married, that is my goal and that is the mission I know God has entrusted me with. But I should know that if it has not yet happened then it is for a good reason, it is frustrating, but the nature of the believer is to have faith that there is a higher purpose. The sign of someone who is a true believer is that he is already joyful now, anticipating the future, knowing that God will fulfill all His promises.
Simple, Earnest Faith in God
One last connection we would like to make is between the south and faith. Upon entering the land, Abraham traveled steadily to the south. The south represents not only loving-kindness, the right axis of the sefirot, it also represents faith, because in Hebrew “right” (יָמִין) and “faith” (אֱמוּנָה) are cognate. Even before coming to Eretz Yisrael, Abraham was the sole believe in One God. So, he was already with great faith. What added faith was he now pursuing by travelling to the south?
One explanation is that Abraham wanted to connect to God, not because of reason, but because of simple, earnest faith. The root of reason can be found in the fourth level of the soul known as “the living one” (חַיָּה), and there is indeed a form of faith that is based on reason. However, Abraham was searching for the higher level of faith that does not depend on reason. This type of pure faith is situated in the fifth and highest level of the soul known as “the singular one” (יְחִידָה). Every day of his life, Abraham discovered a new and deeper understanding of God—faith based on reason and knowledge. But at the same time, he had to let transcend this new understanding to reach a higher level of faith. Thus, every day he had to travel further south, further on the path of faith.
(Excerpted from a lecture given on the 13th of Cheshvan, 5773)
Second Reading: The Guardian Angel
“God struck Pharaoh with severe plagues, and his household, at the word of Sarai, Abram’s wife.”
When God commands Abraham to journey to the land that He will show him, He promises him that he will be wealthy. But God does not tell him how he will become wealthy. After he arrives in the Land of Israel, Abraham is forced by a famine to leave for Egypt. The commentaries say that Abraham thought that perhaps the reason for this exile was that God was planning to fulfill His promise of wealth in Egypt.
The lesson from this is that whenever we are forced to move from one location to another, or from one circumstance to another, we should know that God is thinking good thought about us. There is a type of wealth that God wants to give us and it depends on our location. Indeed, that is what happened. By going to Egypt, Abraham became wealthy. When he left Egypt, he had indeed become very wealthy.
All a person’s wealth is dependent on his wife. There is a verse in Proverbs that states this, “Property and wealth are bequeathed by one’s fathers, but from God comes an intelligent wife” (בַּיִת וָהוֹן נַחֲלַת אָבוֹת וּמֵהוי' אִשָּׁה מַשְׂכָּלֶת). All the wealth that Abraham received from Egypt was in merit of his wife, Sarah. The Torah tells us that Abraham asked Sarah to say that she was his sister. He even explicitly tied it to his wellbeing: “If you say that you are my sister, so that it will go well with me for your sake; my soul will be enlivened thanks to you.” Is this a proper thing for Abraham to say to his wife?
The Zohar answers that Abraham saw that Sarah had an angel accompanying her and that nobody would be able to harm her. But what Abraham did not see is that he too had an angel accompanying him, so that he was not going to be in danger either. The first thing we learn from this Zohar is that the angel of the wife is not necessarily the same as the angel her husband has. What Abraham meant was that if he and Sarah were considered siblings—a brother and sister—because they are closer to being the same body, there is more of a chance that the wife’s angel (which Abraham was aware of) will protect both of them. Abraham was asking her to say that she was his sister so that her angel would protect them both. This also explains why the outcome he described is stated in the singular (לְמַעַן יִיטַב לִי)—i.e., that the angel will protect me—and not in the plural (לְמַעַן יֵיטִבוּ לִי)—i.e., that the Egyptians will benefit me.
In fact, not only one’s success in this present reality is dependent on one’s wife, but also his success in the World to Come. This is alluded to by Abraham describing a double outcome: “it will go well with me for your sake” refers to the benefit he will receive in this World and “my soul will be enlivened thanks to you” refers to the benefit he will receive in the World to Come.
Indeed, the Torah tells us that no harm came to Sarah, “God struck Pharaoh with severe plagues and his household at the word of Sarai, the wife of Abram” (וַיְנַגַּע י-הוה אֶת פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ עַל דְּבַר שָׂרַי אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם). Rashi on the verse adds that this was because of the angel that protected her. The Zohar adds another piece of information: Sarah had her angel strike the Egyptians ten times. These were the forerunners of the Ten Plagues that God would bring upon Egypt through Moses and Aharon. In fact, the word Rashi uses for “strike” (הַךְ), when calculated using complete numbering equals 505, the value of “Sarah” (שָׂרָה).
There is a question about the order of the words in the verse just quoted. Why do the words “with severe plagues” come before “and his household.” The verse would have been much simpler had it said, “God struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues at the word of Sarai, the wife of Abram.” The difference of course is in the severity of the plagues endured by the household. The way the verse is worded, clearly the severe plagues were only cast upon Pharaoh, while his household received a reduced version of these plagues.
The Mashiach’s Ten Wondrous Gematriot
We have talked in the past about the 10 wondrous gemtariot (numerical equivalencies) that the Mashiach will reveal. We have more than 10 candidates for these, so we will have to let the Mashiach decide which ones are wondrous enough to be included. In any case, in this verse we quoted, we have a potential candidate for the Mashiach’s consideration.
The value of the entire verse, “God struck Pharaoh with severe plagues and his household at the word of Sarai, the wife of Abram” (וַיְנַגַּע י-הוה אֶת פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ עַל דְּבַר שָׂרַי אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם) is 3766. Now let us consider the word “plague” (נֶגַע), which is also the three-root of any conjugation of “plague” as a verb. If we take each of its three letters (נ equals 50, ג equals 3, and ע equals 70) and calculate its triangular value, we find that they are: r50 equals 1275, r3 equals 6, and r70 equals 2485. The sum of all three triangular values is 3766, the exact value as the entire verse!
The Angel’s Identity
Even though the Zohar is full of names of angels, in this case it does not tell us the name of Sarah’s angel whom she commanded to plague Pharaoh and his household. But by analyzing the verse further, we can extract a conjecture on who he might have been.
Though we do not pronounce the names of angels and therefore we will not write them in full in English, we can write them out in Hebrew to calculate the values of their names. The three angels that inhabit each of the three lower worlds—Creation, Formation, and Action—are Mitat (מיטטרון), Metat (מטטרון), and Sandal (סנדלפון), respectively. Incredibly the sum of their three names exactly equals the value of “creation, formation, action” (בְּרִיאָה יְצִירָה עֲשִׂיָּה).
Of these three, we conjecture that the one that inhabits the World of Action, Sandal, was Sarah’s angel. How so? Let’s look at our verse and write down the middle letters of words that have an odd number of letters. We have: וַיְנַגַּע י-הוה אֶת פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ עַל דְּבַר שָׂרַי אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם and the middle letters are: נעל אברש, which permute to spell, “a shoe on the head” (נַעַל בָּרֹאשׁ) suggesting that every time Sarah told her angel to “strike,” it felt like a shoe was hitting Pharaoh’s head. The connection between a “shoe on the head” and Sandal (whose name actually derives from the word “sandal”) is clear.
(Excerpted from a lecture given on the 24th of Nissan 5772)
Third Reading: Abram, Lot, and Two Levels of Faith
“Lot had accompanied Abram… But the land could not support them living together…. Lot looked up and saw that the entire Jordan Plain was well irrigated before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah…. So Lot chose for himself the entire Jordan Plain.”
Initially, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, traveled with him. What is the secret of their companionship, even though their spiritual levels were so diametrically opposite to one another?
The sum of the values of “Abram” (אַבְרָם) and “Lot” (לוֹט) is 288—Abram’s value is 243 and Lot’s value is 45. 288 is also the number of sparks of holiness that fell from the shattered World of Chaos into our reality. It is also the value of “dew” (טַל) and “rain” (מָטָר), the two key things we are asking for now in the Amidah, “Grant dew and rain that will be for a blessing” (וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה). With these numerical equivalencies in mind, let’s focus on Lot himself.
Lot and the Husk of Nogah
As noted, the value of Lot (לוֹט) is 45, which is the value of the filling of God’s essential Name, Havayah, which is equal to 45 (יוד הא ואו הא) and is called the name of mah (מה), whose value is 45. The name of mah exists both in the realm of holiness and in the husk called nogah, referring to those things in this world which conceal Godliness but can still be useful for advancing God’s revelation. Thus, Lot is not entirely negative, rather, like nogah, he is a mixture of good and evil together.
The concept of the husk of nogah originates in Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot. On top of the Chariot, he sees the image of a form of a man, and he sees how the upper half of this form is enclothed in what is known as the chashmal (חַשְׁמַל), a particular type of light, or revelation of Godliness; this is the holy part of nogah. The negative part of the husk of nogah enclothes the bottom half of this form. Abraham was aware that Lot was the representative of nogah’s lower half, and his goal was to hold on to Lot long enough to rectify it and ensure that it not fall into the hands of evil, into the hands of the idolaters surrounding Abraham. To that end, as bad as Sodom and its inhabitants were, they too at the time, were only the negative and evil part of nogah.
However, the Four Kings from the East who came from Mesopotamia (led by Nimrod who had cast Abraham into the fiery furnace) to conquer the five towns (among which were Sodom and Gomorrah) of the Jordan Plain (which was not yet the Dead Sea, but rather a very fertile area), they represented the three completely impure and evil husks. Which is why, when they conquered the five towns, Abraham was forced to pursue them alone to save Lot—to salvage the entire husk of nogah.
The Soul’s Responsibility for the Body
Abraham also has a direct connection with the Name mah. Initially, his name was Abram, and when God added the letter hei to his name, he became known as Abraham (אַבְרָהָם), which permutes to spell “an organ of mah” (אֵבֶר מָה). What this implies Kabbalistically is that Abraham’s mah, represents the soul and Lot’s mah represents the body. Abraham’s mah—the soul—comes down into this world into a body to rectify Lot’s mah—the body, the mah of nogah.
We are all children of Abraham, the first Jew, so every Jew has a manifestation of Lot in him, which at times may look like it is completely disconnected from all that is holy. And yet, we should not give up on the body, we should never give up on our physical state. Instead, we are obligated to commit our entire soul to saving our body and bringing it back to holiness. Doing so is considered a major part of elevating the 288 sparks that we are all required to elevate.
But to fully understand why Abraham is fighting so hard for Lot, we need to go a bit deeper.
Lot’s Faith and Abraham’s Faith
The verse that describes Abraham’s faith in our parashah is, “He had faith in Havayah, and He [God] considered it charity” (וְהֶאֱמִן בַּהוי' וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה). The way the Torah writes the word “he had faith” (וְהֶאֱמִן), it is missing a letter yud (וְהֶאֱמִין).
There is an explanation offered by the disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov, based on the notion that there are two levels of faith. There is faith that is based on reason, on wisdom, represented by the letter yud. But, there is faith that is above reason. The missing yud from “he had faith” indicates that Abraham had gone above and beyond the regular faith that is based on reason. Abraham was a great thinker. He initially arrived at his faith in God through rational logic. In Kabbalah, Abraham is considered a manifestation of the wisdom of the crown, the highest form of wisdom. But the Torah is telling us that he transcended faith that is based on wisdom—he essentially pushed the letter yud out of “he had faith.”
Why then does the Torah say that God considered it a charity? Since God gave us our rational mind to use, coming to faith based on rational arguments is the right way to use the mind. Attaining faith based on the mind is akin to returning to God what he gave us for safe keeping in the first place. But, if I push my reasoning mind away and achieve faith that is beyond reason, then I am giving God, as it were, something new, something that He did not give me. Therefore, faith that is beyond reason is considered charity.
Faith in the Redemption
It is about faith beyond reason that the sages state, “Charity is great because it brings the Redemption closer” (גְּדוֹלָה צְדָקָה שֶׁמְּקָרֶבֶת אֶת הַגְאוּלָּה). The value of “Redemption” (גְאוּלָּה) is also 45, the value of the Name mah, we have been discussing. Now we can draw the analogy. Lot’s mah represents the lower level of faith in Redemption, which is based on reason—Redemption is something that benefits me and others. Abraham though has faith in Redemption in and of itself, above reason, and without need for any reasons.
Lot followed Abraham to the Land of Israel because it made sense to him. He was searching for the benefit and pleasure he would receive from the land. That is why he eventually split from Abraham and chose the most “pleasurable,” inherently rich part of the land, the fertile Jordan Plain that eventually became the Dead Sea. He split from Abraham because they were experiencing trouble with the local Canaanites. But Abraham was fulfilling God’s command because he knew it would bring Redemption. Even when it was difficult, even when there was no clear and immediate benefit.
Every Jew who comes to live in the Land of Israel is doing so because he or she believes in the Redemption and wants to push it forward. But what we now understand is that there are two different types of Redemption and Abraham has the responsibility to subsume Lot’s version of redemption into his own.
(Excerpted from a class given on the 7th of Cheshvan, 5773)
Fourth Reading: What Does it Mean to be a Hebrew?
“The survivor came and told Abram the Hebrew…”
“[He] came and told Abram the Hebrew”: Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Nechemiah, and the sages [disagree].
Rabbi Yehudah says: [he is called “the Hebrew” because] the entire world is on one side, and he is on the other side [the word for “on one side” is מֵעֵבֶר].
Rabbi Nechemiah says: [Abram is called “the Hebrew”] because he is of the descendants of Ever [the son of Shem, the son of Noah].
The sages say: he is from the other side of the river, and he speaks in the Hebrew tongue.
There are three opinions and four explanations in this Midrash. Let us look at them more closely and see how they correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah.
We will begin with the sages’ opinion, which really presents two different but related explanations. Both the sages’ explanations make use of a purely linguistic approach to understanding this word. The first explanation they offer is that “Hebrew” (עִבְרִי) alludes to Abraham having come from the other side of the river, the other side of the Euphrates. In Kabbalah, the sefirah of understanding is described as “the breadth of the river.” Thus, coming from the other side of the river is a metaphor for drawing down the light of the sefirah of understanding and this explanation corresponds to the first hei of Havayah. Furthermore, the very concept of space (Abraham’s place of birth, where he comes from) is associated with the sefirah of understanding.
The second explanation offered by the sages is that Abraham speaks the language of the Hebrews. Speech is always described as the manifestation of the sefirah of kingdom, which is many times called “the world of speech” in Kabbalah. Thus, this explanation corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom and to the final hei of Havayah. Thus, we have that both of sages’ explanations are related to language and to the two hei’s in Havayah, which in Kabbalah are also described as the mother and the daughter, as the prophet says: “Like the mother is the daughter.”
Rabbi Nechemiah’s explanation corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom. One numerical connection between Abraham and Ever and wisdom is that Ever, Abraham’s teacher was the 14th generation of mankind. Abraham was the 20th generation. Both 14 and 20 are values of fillings of the letter yud (יד and יוד, respectively), which represents wisdom. In addition, the sum of Abraham (אַבְרָהָם) and Ever (עֵבֶר) is 520, which is also the product of the filling of the letter yud (יוד) and 26, the value of God’s essential Name (י־הוה). Multiplying the filling of the letter yud (יוד), the first letter that corresponds to wisdom, by the entire Name stresses the wisdom aspect of God’s Name. Finally, the name Ever itself in Hebrew is cognate to the word for “past” (עַבַר). To be a descendant of Ever is to be a descendant of the (distant) past. So, there is an inherent time dimension in it. Just as space is related to the sefirah of understanding, time (especially, the distant past) corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom.
Rabbi Yehudah’s explanation, which states that Abraham was on one extreme (one side) and everyone else on the other extreme, corresponds to the six extremities that are the six dimensions of Ze’er Anpin (from loving-kindness to foundation). Rabbi Yehudah’s explanation pits Abraham’s steadfast faith in the Almighty with the rest of humanity’s superstitious beliefs in false gods. Faith is the innermost experience associated with the sefirah of crown, and the inherent link between the six extremities (Ze’er Anpin)—and faith is described by the Zohar as “Ze’er Anpin is unified and linked with Atika (the innermost aspect of the crown).” Thus, Abraham’s ability to stand with confidence in his faith is fueled by his insistence on remaining separate from all other people. Furthermore, Rabbi Yehudah’s explanation adds a dimension of consciousness to the etymology of Abram the Hebrew. According to him, what situated Abraham differently than all other men in his generation was his consciousness of God. In Kabbalah, consciousness is associated with the sefirah of knowledge, which is regarded as the key to the six extremities of Ze’er Anpin.
Before concluding, let us note that we now see that the 3 categories of explanation offered by Rabbi Nechemiah, Rabbi Yehudah, and the sages correspond to one of the central models of Sefer Yetzirah: world (space), year (time), and psyche (consciousness).
(Excerpted from Sha’ashu’im Yom Yom)
Fifth Reading: Belief in Astrology
“He [God] too him [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look towards the heaven and count the stars…’”
I have read that in ancient times, Jewish sages knew astrology and understood through Kabbalah the reasons for how and why certain stars and constellations have various effects. How can I find more about this? I heard that the “Book of Formation” contains this information. What is this book and is it a recognized work?
I understand that Jewish astrology is a complex discipline that can take years to master. I have a great love for this type of study. Please let me know if you feel I am doing something wrong, or if you can help me with this.
It is important to understand that the movements of the stars and constellations have no power over the Jewish people. Indeed, the Ba’al Shem Tov read the saying of the sages, “Israel have no mazal [constellation or fortune]” as “the [Divine] nothingness is the fortune of Israel.” Additionally, you should not use the term “astrology,” as this gives sustenance to the forces of illusion and darkness. God specifically commanded Abraham to “abandon your astrology.”
Instead, use the term, “the wisdom of Sefer Yetzirah” which contains this type of information. Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Formation”) is the oldest Kabbalistic work, attributed to Abraham and edited by Rabbi Akiva, the 1st century sage. It is considered a foundation of Kabbalah, as well as of the grammar of the holy language, Hebrew.
The wisdom of the stars and planets is true only if studied according to the authentic meanings of the stars. These meanings are dependent on the 12 permutations of the unique, four-letter Name of God, the Tetragrammaton. It is also essential to understand the secret of the correspondences between the months and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and how they relate to the above. Further, there is a particular mazal (“fortune” or “sign”) for each day and for each hour. More importantly, there is a Torah attached to each day (such as a holy day or the day of the passing of a holy person, etc.)
So, yes, it is possible to study this material, however it is most complex.
If you should undertake this study, begin with the most relavant information concerning the correspondences of the months to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the special sense of each month as explained by the Ari. We encourage you to try developing in your soul the sense of each month. For more information see our website, which has a lot of material on the sense of each month.
One important word of caution: The wisdom of Kabbalah should be studied only in Hebrew. A person who does not study Kabbalah in Hebrew cannot understand the depths of this wisdom. Our website attempts to explain the main points of this wisdom in English, but in no way covers the vast sea of knowledge of Kabbalah.
Sixth Reading: Dilemmas and Conflicts
“Sarai said to Abram, ‘Look, God has kept me from having children. Come to my handmaid, perhaps through her I will be built up.’”
The word “perhaps” (אוּלַי) appears 17 times in the Pentateuch Everything follows the inception, and the first instance is in the words, “perhaps through her I will be built up.” These words were said by Sarah to Abraham after sixteen years in the Holy Land. They had still not been blessed with children. She asked her husband to take her maidservant and "perhaps I will be built through her."
It is written afterward “And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai,” and Rashi says he heeded the voice of the Divine Spirit within her. Much later, when Sarah demands that Abraham, “Drive out this maidservant and her son,” God says to Abraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice.” It is from that episode that we learn that Sarah was greater than Abraham in prophecy. The first time we learn that Abram heeded the voice of Sarai, the voice of the Divine Spirit within her, and therefore he relied on her power of decision.
Sarah our Matriarch: The Mother of Dilemmas
We have recently talked about conflicts and we would like to add some about a related concept: a dilemma. Dilemma is the most important word today in Game Theory.
Sarah was in a dilemma. She was barren, had no child, and did not even have a womb. Ten years since they came to the land, they had no children. If she had asked Abraham what to do, this dilemma might have been too great for him. In fact, following the first “perhaps” (אוּלַי) in the Torah spoken by Sarah, there are six instances of “perhaps” said by Abraham in his argument with God about Sodom and Gomorrah.
But Sarah, with her use of the word “perhaps” also resolves the dilemma (unlike Abraham’s six “perhaps” which lead to no resolution). Sarah, with the extra understanding given to a woman over than a man, with the abundance of the Divine Spirit within her, decided what to do: give my maidservant to my husband. There are a few more times that women use this tactic in the Torah, but the precedent was set by Sarah. She has no precedent to learn from and her decision comes entirely from her Divine spirit.
“Perhaps” (אוּלַי) means, “maybe yes, maybe no.” There’s a real dilemma here, “perhaps through her I will be built up.” Even this “perhaps,” this possibility, is strong enough to decide to act in an exceptional way, one that is not standard, at least for us. For us who are reading this story, there is a is a wonderful novelty. The novelty of Sarah’s idea was so great that in needed to be written that “Abram heeded the voice of Sarai,” he heeded the Divine Spirit within her.
Now, what is the relationship between a conflict and a dilemma? Let us use a linguistic allusion. The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s first campaign was Tefillin. One of the allusions to tefillin in the context of a “campaign” is in the verse describing the tribe of Gad, “he will tear off the arm and the scalp.” This verse clearly alludes to tefillin which are put on the scalp and on the arm. Now the word for “scalp” (קָדְקֹד) is an acronym for “conflict-dilemma-conflict-dilemma” in Hebrew (קוֹנְפְלִיקְט דִּילֵמָה קוֹנְפְלִיקְט דִּילֵמָה).
Every pair of “conflict-dilemma” (קוֹנְפְלִיקְט דִּילֵמָה) has the same value as “knowledge” (דָּעַת). Since there are two pairs, they correspond with what is known as supernal and mundane knowledge (דַּעַת עֶלְיוֹן דַּעַת תַּחְתּוֹן) in Chasidut.
What is needed to solve dilemmas? From the first dilemma, which was posed and solved by Sarah, we can surmise that one needs “the extra measure of understanding that was given to women over that which was given to men.” If women are good at solving dilemmas, then we can surmise that inner conflicts are more masculine in nature. Apparently, inner conflict is more closely associated with emotions while dilemmas are more intellectual in nature. I would have thought that the man is more intellectual, and therefore better at dilemmas, and the woman is more emotional, and therefore better at conflicts. But, surprisingly, the opposite is true.
The Two Pairs of Conflict and Dilemma and the Four Worlds
The two pairs of conflict and dilemma that we just saw can be described and corresponded to the Four Worlds: Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action.
The conflict in the world of Emanation is whether “to be or not to be,” specifically with God. This is an existential conflict. The conflict in Formation is between the good inclination and the evil inclination.
The higher dilemma that corresponds to Creation is known in the Zohar as, “the mother is nested in the throne” meaning that these are intellectual or moral dilemmas. Finally, in the world of Action the dilemma is how to act with maximum efficiency. The world of Action is pragmatic world, but someone who is pragmatic all the time needs to solve problems related to how to act, since “action is the main principle.” Every such problem is a dilemma, not a conflict.
Again, the nature of dilemmas that correspond to the World of Creation is more abstract while those that correspond to the World of Action are more practical. Of course, Creation and Action are the more feminine Worlds, while Emanation and Formation are more masculine. The conflicts found in them are either existential or conflicts like wars.
A lot of knowledge is needed to understand why women are good at solving dilemmas and men are supposed to excel in dealing with conflicts. We might say that the sages point us in this difference between men and women regarding conflicts in their statement that, “it is a man’s nature to conquer, but it is not a woman’s nature to conquer.”
We can summarize all of this in a chart:
|Letter of Havayah||world||conflict/dilemma||type|
|hei||Creation||dilemma||intellectual or moral|
. Exodus 23:17.
. Genesis 12:9.
. Psalms 36:10.
. See Rashi on Genesis 7:7.
. Song of Songs 4:8.
. Psalms 113:9.
. Genesis 12:13.
. Genesis 12:17.
. Gematria where the final letters have values different from the plain letters: final kaf equals 500, final mem equals 600, final nun equals 700, final pei equals 800, and final tzaddik equals 900.
. The triangle of an integer n is defined as the sum of integers from 1 to n.
. See Genesis 13:10.
. Ibid. 15:6.
. Note that without the yud, the word “he had faith” (וְהֶאֱמִן) permutes to spell “faith” (אֱמוּנָה)!
. See Bnei Yissachar and others.
. For instance, the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah—yud, hei, vav, and hei—correspond to the sefirot: wisdom, understanding, beauty, and kingdom, respectively.
. Known as Mocha Stima’ah.
. Genesis 14:13.
. Bereisheet Rabbah 42:8.
. The river always associated with the Promised Land is the Euphrates, the last (but most important and essential) of the four primordial rivers of Genesis. In Hebrew, the root of “river” (נָהָר) is one of the 13 synonyms for “light.” It is also the root of the Aramaic translation of “light” in the beginning of creation (נְהוֹרָא). “And God saw the light to be good.” Numerically, both the word for “river” (נָהָר), which equals 255, and “Euphrates” (פְּרָת), which equals 680, are multiples of “good” (טוֹב), or 17.
. Zohar 3:142a.
. Based on the verse: “…And where is the place of understanding” (Job 28:12). Note also that of all four explanations Rashi quotes this one alone. Rashi himself is usually associated with the sefirah of understanding. There are four different methods for the order of the text placed in teffilin. The teffilin of Rashi, which is what most people use, corresponds to the Mother Principle—the sefirah of understanding.
. Ezekiel 16:44.
. See also http://www.inner.org/parshah/deuteronomy/E68-0105.pdf for more examples of how these two fillings work together.
. We have gone into these definitions in greater detail in our latest book: Lectures on Modern Physics: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory.
. Rashi on Genesis 15:5
. Genesis 16:2.
. Ibid. 21:10.
. Lecture given on 13 Shevat 5772, ch. 4.
. Deuteronomy 30:20.
. Rabbeinu Asher, Halachot Ketanot, Tefillin 15.
. Yevamot 65b.