main postsNoach

Parashat Noach: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Transforming Calamity into Opportunity

“Make the Ark an opening”


Prayer Sweetens Judgment

The Ba’al Shem Tov presented a question[1]: “How can it be that through prayer a decree is transformed from negative to positive? How can there possibly be a change of will Above? Even more so when one is praying on behalf of another.”[2] The answer given is that prayer sweetens the judgments from Above at their source.

Actually, if we read carefully, we will find that there are three different methods for sweetening judgments.

The first explanation is brought by the Ba’al Shem Tov in the name of his teacher (Achiyah of Shiloh). It states that “prayer sweetens the judgment at its source by connecting the judgment as it appears in the sefirah of kingdom with its source in the sefirah of understanding, and there [in understanding], he is a different person, etc.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov provided a second explanation, elucidating that “the judgment is composed of letters. The messenger can take the letters and permute their order, creating a different word.” The example he cites is from the verse, “you shall make an opening for the ark.” The letters of the word for “calamity” (צָרָה) can be permuted to spell “opening” (צֹהַר) or “will” (רָצָה), indicating that the problem can be transformed into an opportunity or into a new Divine will. This explanation, utilizing the notion of permuting the letters is the most famous and well known of the three answers given by the Ba’al Shem Tov. It also serves as a background for the other two, which also involve permutations.

A third answer provided by the Ba’al Shem Tov is that “one should find the root of loving-kindness within the judgment/accusation; then the judgment is sweetened at its root and is truly transformed into loving-kindness.”

Let us explain what this means. The world is based on the six emotive sefirot—from loving-kindness through foundation—that correspond with the Six Days of Creation. Everything in Creation is a mixture of these sefirot as they are measured and cut by the seventh sefirah of kingdom. Everything that is decreed regarding the way the world is governed is also a cut and measure from the six emotive sefirot. Prayer allows us to rise above the Divine emotive sefirot and enter their source in the three intellectual sefirot and to extend a new mixture into the world. It is appropriate therefore to explain the Ba’al Shem Tov’s three answers as they correspond to the three intellectual sefirot: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Elevating Kingdom to Understanding

Clearly, sweetening the judgments in their source, in the sefirah of understanding, corresponds to that sefirah. Connecting kingdom with understanding during prayer is one of the cornerstones of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s method.[3] He associated it with the verse, “Who is it that rises from the wilderness”[4] (מִי זֹאת עֹלָה מִן הַמִּדְבָּר). The word for “wilderness” (מִדְבָּר) can be alternately pronounced as “speaker” (מְדַבֵּר), meaning that while speaking in prayer, one should unify kingdom—represented by the word “is it” (זֹאת)[5]—with understanding—represented by “who” (מִי),[6] or in much simpler terms, one should unite one’s intent and thought (understanding) with one’s speech (kingdom).

In the context of sweetening harsh judgments, this represents a unification between the reality we are experiencing (kingdom), which at the moment seems to be harsh and negative, with the Divine intent (understanding) that certainly all is good.[7] Focusing on the Divine intent behind all that we experience helps us to accept things joyfully,[8] including the harsh aspects of reality. These negative aspects are treated as concealed Divine goodness which can eventually be transformed through the aforementioned type of permutation. The joy that catalyzes this type of transformation is what brings out the sweetness in reality.

The sefirah of understanding is always associated with teshuvah[9] and thus, elevating kingdom and uniting it with understanding is a form of teshuvah, specifically the higher type of teshuvah that comes about due to joy; this is the type of teshuvah that is above the feelings of bitterness and anxiety associated with lower teshuvah. Turning to God through prayer while still experiencing a calamity is itself teshuvah, especially when it is accompanied by the contemplation that the calamity is not arbitrary but serves a Divine purpose of directing us to improve ourselves.

Higher teshuvah of this type is able to transform sins performed on purpose into merits.[10] It reveals that just as the harsh judgments instigated by God and affecting our reality there is a hidden intent, so too in our iniquities there was a misguided intent to seek God or to turn to Him, even if it was out of anger. There was a true attempt to connect with Him. When rising from kingdom to understanding we discover that at that level “one is a different person.” Just as the individual can do this by praying for himself, so too a friend can pray for us and reveal the same principle: that despite our external behavior, our inner intent was good. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was famous for doing this for others.

The act of permuting the letters in a word can be likened to shifting from the state in which we are locked in our transgressions and God is committed to harshly judging us with what sounds like superficially harsh sounding speech lacking empathy, to a conversation that is full of goodwill, with a softer and sweeter tone. It is as if the letters in the words spoken initially permute and all of reality seems sweeter.

The explanation of the Baal Shem Tov himself, that one should find loving-kindness (chessed) in judgment, is related to the sefirah of knowledge (da’at) which includes both loving-kindnesses (chassadim) and aspects of might (gevurot), inter-included with one another.[11] When contemplating this, judgment becomes a force that creates an infinite number of vessels needed in order to receive and hold the infinite light. This is the secret of the words, “He sustains life with loving-kindness” (מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶסֶד) included in the second blessing of the Amidah, which is a blessing about judgment (i.e., the formation of vessels to hold the loving-kindness).

Unlike understanding which hovers above reality, the role of knowledge (the posterior brain) is to penetrate reality itself and to find in it the point of loving-kindness included in the judgment. One example of this is the famous sage, Nachum Ish Gamzu, who knew how to see even within a reality of judgment a point of light that reveals that “this too is for the best” (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), thereby transforming all of reality into revealed goodness.[12]

When the inner point of loving-kindness is revealed, it spreads, like sweet water, to sweeten the entire judgment. The spread of the point of loving-kindness within the judgment reminds us of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s famous teaching that when we find even a single point of goodness in another person, if we deeply contemplate that point of good, it expands and transforms the individual’s entire reality.[13] Moreover, when we pray for another, finding the good point in them allows for a full transformation of the judgment into compassion.

Let us say a word about how changing the permutation of a word (or reality) changes it itself. Every permutation includes both dimensions of judgment and compassion. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains[14] that the first letter in the permutation is dominant. When we identify a seemingly negligible element of loving-kindness or compassion within the reality of judgment and focus on it, we bring it to the foreground and place it first, thus changing the order of the permutation and its meaning.

One could say that the very act of turning in prayer to God constitutes a revelation of compassion within the judgment: Even though I find myself in distress, I turn from there to God, and a window of compassion is already opened within my harsh reality. Prayer switches the tone of our interaction with God. Simply by speaking with the Almighty and being certain that He is present and listening in His mercy, brings us to discover points of light and goodness within reality, and once more, when we focus on these, they come to dominate the permutation, changing it, and the entire reality it signifies becomes sweeter.

At times the order may be reversed: for a person to be able to pray and arouse compassion upon himself, he needs to first focus on reality on identify within it a “crack” or “glimmer” of God’s revealed compassion. Feeling God’s compassionate Presence in reality then opens a path for prayer, which in turn expands the crack even further. This order is related to us in many stories of tzaddikim who before seeking salvation through prayer first made an effort to show that the situation is not as desperate as it initially seemed and that there was hope even in reality as it was. Then the tzaddik would proceed to pray and give his blessing for a complete salvation.

The power to alter the permutation relates to the sefirah of wisdom (chochmah), following the beautiful Torah idiom, “a crucible for wisdom.” The experience of wisdom is one of self-nullification, and when one nullifies oneself to the Divine nothingness that animates everything—“wisdom emerges out of nothingness”[15] which is equivalent to “wisdom enlivens its possessor”[16]—then all the definitions of reality dissolve, allowing the permutation to be changed. This self-nullification is what fueled the stories of miracles related in the Talmud.[17] A prayer, whose essence is attachment to the Divine nothingness, with complete self-nullification, reveals the Divine vitality and willpower found in everything, allowing it to be changed. Regarding this it is said, “It is a time of calamity for Jacob, but he will be saved from it”[18] (עֵת צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקֹב וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ) from within the calamity (צָרָה) itself, through the wisdom of the permutations and reaching a state of nullification, one merits finding an illuminated opening (צֹהַר).

Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin whose yahrzeit, the 3rd of Cheshvan, is always close to the reading of Parashat Noach, emphasized that this was the Ba’al Shem Tov’s unique ability. This is how he explained the words of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk,

The word of HaShem was in the hands of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He would decree and it would come to pass. There was none like him before and none like him will rise after him.[19]

Apparently, there were disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov who also performed miracles, in heaven and on earth. So, what was so special about the Ba’al Shem Tov? The Ruzhiner further explained that all tzaddikim knew how to annul decrees that were a punishment for a sin or another matter, but only the Ba’al Shem Tov knew how to permute the letters sustaining misfortunes that were due to a person’s poor mazal (destiny) that he was born with. In such cases, the letters sustaining the mazal and the person’s very existence could not be annulled. They had to be permuted. Indeed, it was the Ba’al Shem Tov who taught that “Nothingness is the mazal of Israel”[20] (אַיִן מַזָּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל). This nothingness is the Ba’al Shem Tov’s ability to return to the Divine nothingness within the essence of the mazal of every person and change it.[21]

The calamity is associated with Jacob, who represents a state of constricted consciousness. His name Jacob was given to him when “his hand was holding the heel of Esau,”[22] figuratively representing states in which the individual is immersed in confrontation and struggle. On the other hand, the power to transform the struggle and calamity is associated with Jacob’s higher name, Israel—also the Ba’al Shem Tov’s given name—which indicates a state of mind of expanded consciousness that turn the calamity into victory and salvation.

To summarize, we have seen three methods of transforming the calamity (צָרָה) into an illuminated opening (צֹהַר):


Understanding (binah)

elevating kingdom to understanding

Wisdom (chochmah)

changing the permutation

Knowledge (da’at)

finding loving-kindness in the judgment


(Excerpted from a lecture given on the 30th of Tishrei, 5781)


Second Reading: Transforming Society

“Noach was in his six hundredth year when the Flood occurred and water covered the earth”


Noach was born in the year 1056 (2704 BCE) and passed in the year 2006 (1754 BCE). Thus, Noach’s life spans the entire second millennium of history. The main event of the second millennium is the deluge. It is in its description of this global flood, documented throughout ancient Mesopotamia,[23] that we find the Torah’s description[24] that, “All the wellsprings of the abyss erupted and the windows of the heavens opened,” words that the Zohar interpreted as alluding to the eventual joining of Divine and mundane waters and wisdom in the sixth millennium.[25] In this verse, the lower waters appear first (as the wellsprings of the abyss) suggesting that in the flood-millennium mundane wisdom was developed before Divine wisdom (described as the waters coming from the windows of the heaven).

Indeed, we find that the life of Noach, the most important person living in the second millennium, is replete with the discovery of natural, mundane wisdom is Noach. His life straddled both the antediluvian and the postdiluvian worlds.

Noach is considered one of the most gifted inventors of all time. The Torah explains that he was named Noach, which means “relief” (נֶחָמָה) or “solace” because his father hoped that, “This one will bring us relief from our work and from the anguish of our toil over the soil God has cursed.”[26] Noach’s unique abilities as an inventor and as a master of the natural world were gifted to him by God. Apparently at an early age, he invented the plow,[27] perhaps the most important instrument of the Agricultural Revolution, which shifted mankind from surviving as foragers to living as farmers. Relatively speaking, the plow has had more impact on bettering humanity’s physical condition than even the computer.

Later, God entrusted Noach with the monumental task of building an ark[28] suitable for surviving the flood and carrying a sampling of Earth’s living organisms to safety. While in the ark, Noah exhibited unsurpassed insight into all living organisms and their habits ensuring that all had their myriad needs met, on time.[29]

After the flood, and still within his lifetime,[30] Noach’s descendants (possibly using his engineering skills) constructed the Tower of Babel. This was another magnificent engineering project, requiring a very high degree of cooperation between those involved, except that its purpose was not to serve God—a noble purpose which would have unified scientific and Divine knowledge—but to rebel against Him.[31]

What most people know about Noah is that God forged a universal covenant with mankind through him. Named after Noach (even though most of the universal commandments were already given to Adam), the Noachide covenant between God and humanity serves as a contract whose purpose is to both ensure that the world never again sink to its antediluvian level and to provide a new starting point for humanity’s pursuit of its goals as masters of the mundane realm. The Noahide covenant affords every single human being a chance to grow both spiritually and materially in the shadow of God, as Noach had done prior to the flood. With this covenant with humanity made through him, Noach was the individual who was meant to serve as a conduit to the great revelation of Divinity in the second millennium. But Noach failed to live an exemplary life, dedicated to Godliness, after the flood. Instead, it was his descendant, Abram (later renamed Abraham) who succeeded him as the greatest recipient of Divine knowledge in the second millennium.


(Excerpted from Wisdom: Integrating Torah and Science, chapter 4, “Six Millennia, Six Integrations”)


Third Reading: The Dove, the Crow, and Jonah the Prophet

“He sent out the raven… Then he sent out the dove”


There is a book of Kabbalah that includes a lengthy discussion on the prophet Jonah. It is called Dan Yadin by Rebbe Shimshon of Ostropoli (d. 1648) on the earlier work Dan Yadin.[32]

Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, asks how is it that Jonah had so much influence that he could get an entire empire to do teshuvah? His answer is that Jonah is an exemplar of Mashiach son of Joseph.

From Jonah we learn that the major task entrusted with Mashiach son of Joseph is to go to the nations of the world. We know this because all that Jonah prophecized to the Jewish people is summed up in a single verse in the Book of Kings.[33] Yet, the entire eponymously named book in the Bible, Jonah, describes his prophecy to the non-Jewish nations.

We read his book towards the end of Yom Kippur to impress upon us that even if a negative decree has been made and has been declared by a true prophet, it is possible to annul it through teshuvah—a return to God. This is true regarding non-Jews, and all the more so regarding Jews who have a commandment to do teshuvah.

Jonah’s main mission was to non-Jews and thus he can rightly be considered the universal prophet. He fled from his main mission because he was concerned that it would end up hurting his own people. If the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria would repent and return to God, then they would eventually conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel, kill many of its inhabitants and exile others. Jonah further thought that if the Assyrians would repent it would place Israel in a poor light because of their conduct. However, the Almighty thought differently. He sent Jonah to Nineveh to teach the Jews a lesson about the power of teshuvah.

Normally, we argue that Mashiach son of Joseph comes before Mashiach son of David, but from a certain perspective, the highest point of Mashiach son of David’s task is similar to that of Mashiach son of Joseph—to bring all of humanity to serve God, “shoulder to shoulder.”[34]

To clarify the relationship between the two instances of Mashiach, Mashiach son of Joseph who comes before Mashiach son of David employs teshuvah from fear to bring the non-Jews back to God. But the Mashiach son of Joseph that appears as the highpoint of Mashiach son of David’s work employs the principle of the “right hand pulls near” to fulfill the prophecy, “For then I will transform the nations to a clear language, so that they may call upon God’s Name, serving Him together.”

The prophet Jonah (Yonah, in Hebrew) is linked with Noach’s dove, which in Hebrew is a Yonah. Based on the Arizal’s analysis, Rebbe Shimshon identifies the dove with the Mashiach son of Joseph, and he identifies the raven that Noach sent with the Mashiach son of David (even though the raven is known to be cruel). The dove is of course known as a universal symbol of peace (with an olive leaf in its mouth).

So, what do we have? Initially, Noach sent the raven, the Mashiach son of David; then he sent the dove, the Mashiach son of Joseph. This parallels the notion that the Mashiach son of Joseph’s task appears at the height of the mission given to Mashiach son of David.

The sum of the values of “raven” (עֹרֵב) and “dove” (יוֹנָה) is 343, which is 7 to the 3rd power. Since between them the two words possess 7 letters, the average value of each letter is 49, or 7 squared.

What is the difference between the dove and the raven? The dove is described as “gullible” (יוֹנָה פּוֹתָה). But the raven is said to be “wise” (חָכָם). How is this reflected numerically? The value of “raven” (עֹרֵב) is 4 times the value of “wise” (חָכָם). Since the word “raven” in Hebrew has 3 letters, it means that the “front and back” of “raven” (ע ער ערב ערב רב ב) equals 4 times “wise” (חָכָם).


(Excerpted from a class given on 12 Tishrei, 5778)


Fourth Reading: Rebuilding Genesis

God spoke to Noach, saying: ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you


The words translated as “God spoke” appear countless times in the Pentateuch. In most of these appearances the Name of God that appears is His essential four-letter Name, Havayah. However, there are three instances in the entire Pentateuch when the Name is Elokim.

One of the three is the first verse of our reading. The second time is at the beginning of parashat Va’eira, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Havayah’”[35] (וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי הוי'). The third time is in the verse introducing the Ten Commandments: “God spoke all these words, saying”[36] (וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר).

The difference between the two Names is that Havayah denotes compassion, while Elokim reveals God’s harsh judgment. The first two verses in our reading are, “God spoke to Noach, saying: ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you” (וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֶל נֹחַ לֵאמֹר. צֵא מִן הַתֵּבָה אַתָּה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ וּבָנֶיךָ וּנְשֵׁי בָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ). Rashi does not elucidate what the judgment in these verses is. On the contrary, since these words are addressed to Noach at the end of the flood and permit him and his family to exit the ark, which had been their “prison” for a complete year, that they were words of compassion and comfort.

However, with respect to the other two instances mentioned, Rashi does explain the nature of the judgment. Regarding the verse introducing the Ten Commandments, he writes:

Elokim means judge, as it says, “You shall not curse the judge”[37] (אֱ-לֹהִים לֹא תְקַלֵּל). There are issues discussed in the Torah that if a person performs them, he receives a reward, and if not, he does not receive punishment for them. One might think the Ten Commandments are the same, but the mention of “Elokim” teaches us that He is a judge who exacts punishment on these commandments.

Regarding the Name Elokim that appears in the opening of parashat Va’eira, Rashi writes,

He spoke to him with judgment because he [Moses] had spoken harshly, saying “Why have You harmed this people?” Thus, God replied, “I am God.” I am trustworthy to reward those who walk before Me. And trustworthy to exact punishment.

Three Levels of Judgment

The three times “Elokim spoke,” are explained in the writings of the Arizal, as corresponding to three aspects of Elokim: One corresponding to the sefirah of kingdom (malchut), one to might (gevurah), and one to understanding (binah).

The name Elokim in kingdom is the secret of the value of Elokim (אֱ-לֹהִים), 86, which also equals “nature” (הַטֶּבַע). The sefirah of kingdom is the root of nature; it descends from the World of Emanation (Atzilut) to create, enliven, and sustain the nature of the three lower worlds, Creation, Formation, and Action.

Regarding Noach, it is said that “Noach walked with God”[38] (אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ), which means that Noach flowed with the Divine nature, and thus merited grace (חֵן), the synonym for beauty that corresponds with kingdom.[39] Noach himself is the tenth generation of humanity, corresponding to the sefirah of kingdom.

Thus, the opening verse of our reading, “Elokim spoke Noach, saying,” means that God returned Noach and his family back to the natural life, with seasons in their proper time and order. He permitted them to once again lead fruitful lives, as is the way of the entire world. In addition, where marital relations were forbidden while the world was being destroyed, now “you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you,” every man and his wife, were once again permitted to engage in marital relations.”

There is no room to interpret this instance of Elokim as revealing harsh judgment (the aspect Elokim corresponding to the sefirah of might). Rather, here Elokim is mild judgment, which is mixed with compassion.

Indeed, when Noach was on the Ark, he prayed to God and his prayer transformed the attribute of judgment into the attribute of compassion.[40]

The Elokim that corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom, nature, reveals the beautiful numerical equivalency that “Elokim” (אֱ-לֹהִים) has the same value as “the vessel of Havayah” (כְּלִי י-הוה). The Name Elokim both contains God’s mercy but also cloaks it in what seem to be natural events.

The Hebrew word for “nature” (whose value as noted is the same as Elokim) also means “ring” (טַבַּעַת) which is circular, always revolving, implying that nature is constantly shifting, changing according to the piety of the tzaddikim and the depth of their prayer[41] or the wickedness of the wicked. This is known in the Zohar as the secret of the Tikla (the root of kelipat Nogah, the intermediary shell of impurity).

Rabbi Elazar said: “He keeps overturning circumstances by His machinations”[42] (וְהוּא מְסִבּוֹת מִתְהַפֵּךְ בְּתַחְבּוּלֹתָיו). The Holy, Blessed One, rotates cycles bringing events into existence. And after the people of the world have accepted that these events have happened, the Holy, Blessed One reverses them from what they were initially… like the potter who forms clay vessels on the potter’s wheel. all according to the actions of the people.[43]



Fifth Reading: The Mathematics Behind the Covenant

“God spoke to Noach and his sons, saying: ‘I am establishing My covenant with you and with your offspring after you.’”


The Torah relates a number of covenants made between the Almighty and human beings. The first of these covenants was made with Noach and his sons. With Abraham, God made two covenants, one regarding the Land of Israel and the second regarding circumcision. The fourth covenant was made with the Jewish people over the Torah.

Regarding the covenant of circumcision, the Mishnah states, “Great is circumcision, for 13 covenants were made on it.”[44] The meaning of these seemingly cryptic statement is that in the Torah’s account of the covenant of circumcision, the word “covenant” (בְּרִית) appears 13 times (in various forms). Regarding the covenant made with the Jewish people over the Torah, the Talmud states that, “It was made with 3 covenants, while the other [circumcision] was given with 13 covenants.”[45]

What about the covenant made with Abraham over the Land of Israel? The verse in question is, “On that day God made a covenant with Abraham saying: ‘To your offspring I have given this Land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’”[46] The word “covenant” appears only 1 time.

Following the lead made by the sages, we are prompted to count the number of times the word “covenant” appears in the account of the covenant made with Noach, the Rainbow Covenant:

And God said to Noach and to his sons with him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.

That,” God said to Noach, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”[47]

There are 7 instances of the word “covenant” in these verses. The first thing we note is that 7 is also the number of colors associated with the rainbow; more deeply, these seven covenants correspond to the 7 Noachide laws.

To summarize our findings until now, the number of “covenants” relating to each of the covenants made between God and man are:

  • Covenant of the Land of Israel: 1
  • Covenant on Torah: 3
  • Covenant with Noach: 7
  • Covenant of Circumcision: 13

Let us call these 4 numbers “covenant numbers” and explore a bit their mathematical characteristics.

Using the method known as Finite Differences, we can write:

1 3 7 13
  2 4 6  
    2 2  

The base of the series made by these 4 numbers is 2, alluding to the fact that a covenant is made between 2 parties. We will see in a moment how this idea is illustrated graphically in the figurate form of the numbers in this series.

Now that we have found the base of the series, we can extend the series of covenant numbers forwards (and backwards) like so:

1 3 7 13 21 31 43 57`
  2 4 6 8 10 12 14  
    2 2 2 2 2 2    

If we continue to extend the series forward, we will find that the first 13 covenant numbers are: 1, 3, 7, 13, 21, 31, 43, 57, 73, 91, 111, 133, and 157

Using a method developed by Isaac Newton, we can extract the function that generates this series of numbers:

f[n] = n2 ┴ n ┴ 1

Covenant numbers can be pictured graphically. They have the form of two triangular numbers, one over the other, with a single point (alluding to the sign of the covenant) in between. Here are the first few covenant numbers in graphic form:

Let us note that the verse describing the special relationship Noach had with God, which formed the basis for the covenant God made with him is, “And Noach found favor in God’s eyes” (וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי י-הוה). The gematria of this verse is 421, which is also a covenant number, specifically, it is the covenant number of 21, or: 212 ┴ 21 ┴ 1 = 421

Now, let us look at the location of the 7 covenants in the verses quoted earlier. We find that they are the 13th, the 38th, the 57th, the 77th, the 91st, the 114th, and 133rd words in the paragraph. We might notice that every other location number is a covenants number:

  • 13 is the covenant number of 3
  • 57 is the covenant number of 7
  • 91 is the covenant number of 9
  • 133 is the covenant number of 11

It is easy to see that these are the covenant numbers of the odd numbers, with 1 and 5 missing. We might say that the covenant of 1 and of 5 need to be completed in some other way.

The covenant of 1 is 3 (note the graphic form depicted earlier). The covenant of 5 is 31. Now, if we look at the words in the 3rd and 31st locations in the paragraph, we find that they are: “to [Noach]” (אֶל) and “that have come out” (יֹצְאֵי). Amazingly the numerical values of these two words (located in covenant number locations) are themselves covenant numbers, 31 and 111.

What a beautifully complete finding!

(Einayich Berechot BeCheshbon, pp. 67ff.)




Sixth Reading: Shem and Japheth

“Shem and Japheth took a garment and placed it on both their shoulders…”

The positive aspect of the relationship between Judaism and Greek/Hellenic wisdom can be found in the account of their respective forefathers, the two brothers Shem and Japheth. Noach’s three sons are normally regarded as inspiring three foundational human cultures, represented by their most important offspring:

  • Shem is the father of Eiver, who begat Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and thus corresponds to Judaism.
  • Japheth is the father of Greece and thus corresponds to Greek/Hellenic culture.
  • Ham was the father of Kush, Egypt, and Canaan—centers of ancient idolatry and sorcery—and thus corresponds to ancient pagan

The most important story the Torah relates regarding Noach’s three sons identifies Shem and Japheth as relatively moral compared to Ham is portrayed as steeped in crude materiality. After the flood,

Noah, the man of the earth, began by planting a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan saw his father’s nakedness and described it to his two brothers outside. Shem and Japheth took a garment and placed it on both their shoulders. They then walked backwards and covered their father’s nakedness while facing away from him, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.[48]

What does Shem and Japheth’s sensitivity to their father’s modesty symbolize—a sensitivity that Ham did not share? In general, acting and dressing modestly stems from a feeling that a person has that the essence of his self lies inwardly, causing him to cover his external self—his body.

By covering the body, we signal others that to know us they need to divert their gaze towards our soul, our self that dwells within and not focus on our body. Modesty shifts the eyes of those around us from the body to the soul.

Shem and Japheth’s shared sensitivity to their father’s modesty serves as a testament to their awareness of an inner, concealed reality that cannot be directly perceived by the eyes (and the other physical senses). In this case, they were sensitive to their father’s soul, to the image of God that lay within him.

Shem and Japheth’s sensitivity stands in contradistinction to Ham’s offensive violation of Noach’s modesty. As such, it beautifully reflects the difference between the three cultures they represent. Judaism and Greek wisdom recognized Creation’s Divine origin. According to both, Creation is the Creator’s handiwork. But because pagan culture lacked a sensitivity to the soul within the body, it also lacked the realization of the Creator’s role. By recognizing the “image of God” imbued in their father, Shem and Japheth were able to recognize the original supernal Father of all Creation: God.

The connection between the two goes deeper. The description of Shem and Japheth taking the garment in the Hebrew text is written in the singular, stressing as it were that they were acting in perfect unison, like a single individual. Before the wars with the Greeks, prior to the conquest of Judea by the Greeks, there was peace and understanding between the forefathers of the two nations.

Indeed, this sense of cooperation is captured in the way the sages understood Noach’s blessing to Japheth, “May God decorate Japheth, but may He [God] dwell in the tents of Shem.”[49] According to the sages, it means that Japheth’s appreciation of beauty should dwell in the tents of Shem. Or, in other words, that the parts of Greek wisdom that are good and beautiful should be brought under the wings of Judaism and be made part of it. We find that the sages put their understanding into practice by adopting many point of Greek wisdom into Judaism in a process known as the conversion of wisdom.


(Olamot, pp. 230-232)



Seventh Reading: The Generation of the Tower of Babel Today

“They said, ‘Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top shall reach the sky. Let us make ourselves a name, so that we will not scatter all over the face of the earth.’”


The generation that built the Tower of Babel made themselves a name. Not every generation “merits” to have a unique name. They are one of only three generations described in the Bible’s 64 generations that is known by a unique name: The generation of the Dispersion (דּוֹר הַפְּלַגָּה). Since they have a name, it is a sure sign that like a soul that has a name, they will be a recurring phenomenon. Especially since the Arizal says that they are destined to be reincarnated. Even today, as we will explain, there is a phenomenon of the generation of the Dispersion.

There are two other generations that have a unique name. One is the generation of the Flood (דּוֹר הַמַּבּוּל), and so two of the three generations that were named appear in parashat Noach. The third such generation is the generation that came out of Egypt; they are known as the generation of the Wilderness (דּוֹר הַמִּדְבָּר). Their story starts at the beginning of the Book of Exodus and continues all the way to the Torah’s end.

These three generations reappear throughout history. They are also linked to one another and there is some form of reincarnation between them. Apart from these three, there is no other generation in the Bible that has a unique name describing the people. All other generations are known as the generation of “so and so,” the great sage or leader of the generation.

But since these are the three archetypal generations: the Flood, the Dispersion, and the Wilderness, we could analyze all of history through them. Every generation in history corresponds to one of them and the order is usually the same: from the Generation of the Flood to the Generation of the Dispersion, to the Generation of the Wilderness.

The Three Generations and the Intellectual Faculties

The Generation of the Wilderness is also known as “the Generation of Knowledge,” (דּוֹר דֵּעָה) so obviously they reflect the sefirah of knowledge (da’at), as the Arizal notes. They were a generation that received the Torah, that constructed the Tabernacle, but also the generation that tested God 10 times. They were the generation of Moses who is known as the “knowledge” or “consciousness” of all of Israel.

It follows then that if the third generation in the Torah’s account corresponds to the sefirah of knowledge, then the first two—the generation of the Flood and the Generation of the Dispersion—correspond to the other two intellectual faculties: wisdom and understanding, respectively. The connection between the Flood and wisdom is straightforward because water is a symbol for wisdom.

But we would like to concentrate on the connection between the Generation of the Dispersion and the sefirah of understanding. To typify the character of this generation, we can ask, If we were to start a program of study in the Dispersal in an academic setting, in which department would we put it? The answer is clearly in the linguistics department. That is how the story begins, “The whole world was one language and one common cause.”[50] God identifies the issue with their having had a single language. For this reason, their punishment was to be dispersed by being divided into 70 different languages.

Today we know with some certainty that language is in the left lobe of our brains, and it is the lobe associated with the sefirah of understanding. This is the main faculty happening in the left lobe. In contradistinction, some scientists argue that animals, because they lack developed language, are almost entirely right-lobe creatures. They have two lobes, but they center on the right lobe. Language and particularly speech is man’s special trait. It is what sets us apart from all other creatures, and the “breath of life” that God breathed into us is our ability to speak.[51]

Thus, the Generation of the Dispersion blemished their faculty of speech and language, i.e., their sefirah of understanding. Because it was blemished, their understanding split into myriad languages, just as the Zohar says that understanding is the source of judgments, meaning it has an inclination to divide and split. As an intellectual faculty, understanding is tasked with conceiving of details and particulars. Still, the unity their understanding had, which allowed them to cooperate, broke apart, “so that one person could no longer hear [or understand] the other’s language.”[52]

Left and Right Brain Lobes

Since the sin of the Generation of the Dispersion was in the brain’s left lobe, then we need to understand what the sin of the Generation of the Flood did to the brain’s right lobe. The right brain is associated with intuition. One of the differences between the lobes discussed by scientists is that the left brain is responsible for habits and establishing daily routine actions. But if there is a sudden event that requires our attention, some novel occurrence, something that might threaten our wellbeing, it is the right brain that deals with it.

To use the words of Kabbalah and Chasidut, the right brain is responsible for renewal and the left brain for reinforcement. Renewal and reinforcement are topics we speak of often. Every day we are called upon to reinforce our commitment to our recurring tasks—to keep up with our daily learning regimen, to pray on time, etc. To remain steadfast in our ways is done through the left lobe. If our routine is compromised, it is because the left lobe has been marred.

Normally, new stimuli or events that enter our sphere of consciousness present a threat to us because they force us to renew. The explanation is that animals are mostly right-lobe oriented because they need to constantly cope with new threats. To survive by fighting a threat or to survive by fleeing it, requires the right lobe. These are a few important principles regarding the right and left lobe of our brains.

The Rectified Generation of the Flood

Another point: The generations mentioned in the Torah are not perfect; they sinned and blemished their mission in life. However, these same generations appear again in the days of the Mashiach. Earlier we asked whether our own generation is the Generation of the Flood, the Generation of the Dispersion, or the Generation of the Wilderness, however, it seems we are all three and we will witness the rectification of all three.

The future, positive iteration of the Generation of the Flood is described in the Zohar as the generation about which it says, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God, just as the waters cover the ocean.”[53] This will be a generation with a figurative flood of supernal Divine wisdom and a surge of lower mundane wisdom; the wisdom of the Torah and the wisdom of science will converge together. The Zohar predicted that this flood of wisdom will begin in the year 1840, when all the fountains of the great abyss will burst forth, specifically the lower mundane wisdoms that fuel science and technology. Even earlier, the windows of heaven also opened, and the supernal wisdom of the Torah’s inner dimension has been revealed, especially since the Ba’al Shem Tov, the pinnacle of the study of the soul of the soul of the Torah, all the wisdom of the secret and Kabbalah. To this day, we are still in the midst of the Generation of the flood.

The Positive Generation of the Dispersion

What can be the positive iteration of the Generation of the Dispersion? What will they endeavor to do? The original souls of that generation wanted to build a city and a tower that reaches the heavens. The sages say they wanted to reach the heavens to wage war with God.

What does building a city and a tower mean today? There's a famous talk, one of the early talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which explains the Generation of the Flood not as the positive generation of the flood of wisdom, but as the generation that perished in the Holocaust, the flood of the last generation.

In that talk, the Rebbe laid the foundation for what we are discussing now, namely that immediately after the generation of the flood came the positive Generation of the Dispersion that needs to focus on building.

We need to build the Jewish people anew and to build the Land of Israel (not only spiritually, but also physically, building cities, roads, and settlements). The Rebbe focused on the construction of many yeshivot—holy construction. The Rebbe said that if one engages in positive construction, that itself rectifies the Generation of the Dispersion.



(Excerpted from a class given on Tishrei 27, 5772)



[1]. Keter Shem Tov, 87.

[2]. Many suggested that there is no change in will Above, but rather that the person praying is undergoing a change and therefore has become worthy of effluence from Above that was blocked because of his poor condition. But when one is praying on behalf of another, that answer does not seem relevant. See Rasag’s Emunot VeDe’ot 2:4-5. Or HaShem Ma’amar 3, Chelek 2, Klal 1, Perek 1. Ikarim 4:16 and 4:18.

[3]. Keter Shem Tov (Kehot edition), §67a and §405.

[4]. Song of Songs 3:6 and 8:5.

[5]. Zohar 2:158b.

[6]. Since there are 50 Gates of Understanding, where 50 is the value of “who” (מִי).

[7]. “No evil descends from Above,” Bereishit Rabbah 51:3.

[8]. Berachot 60b.

[9]. See Isaiah 6:10 for example.

[10]. Yoma 86b.

[11]. The value of “might” (גְּבוּרָה) is 3 times the value of “loving-kindness” (חֶסֶד). All is loving-kindness.

[12]. See Ta’anit 21b.

[13]. Likutei Moharan 1:282.

[14]. Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VeHa’emunah c. 12.

[15]. Job 28:12.

[16]. Ecclesiastes 7:12.

[17]. For instance, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa who prayed, “He who commanded the oil [which itself corresponds with wisdom] to burn can command vinegar, and it too will burn” (Ta’anit 25a).

[18]. Jeremiah 30:7.

[19]. Pri HaAretz, letter 19.

[20]. Ba’al Shem Tov al HaTorah, Lech Lecha 26; based on Shabbat 156a.

[21]. See Ta’anit 25a for how wondrous such a change is.

[22]. Genesis 25:26.

[23]. For instance, in the Chronicles of Gilgamesh.

[24]. Genesis 7:11.

[25]. See also the foreword to this volume.

[26]. Genesis 5:29.

[27]. Rashi to Genesis 5:29.

[28]. Rashi to Genesis 6:14. See also Likutei Sichot v. 15, pp. 34ff.

[29]. In a forthcoming monograph on the multiple types of human intelligence, a theory developed by Howard Gardner of Harvard University, we identify Noach as the archetype for natural intelligence, i.e., the type of intelligence used in direct interaction with nature and its myriad creatures. This is the type of intelligence found in many animal trainers, zookeepers, ecologists, etc., all disciplines that require an intuitive understanding of animals and their habitats.

[30]. The construction of the Tower of Babel came to an end in the year 1996, 10 years before Noah’s death in 2006 (see Rashi to Genesis 10:25).

[31]. Genesis 11:1-9. See Rashi to Ibid. 11:1.


[32]. Often quoted in Yalkut Re’uveni.

[33]. 2 Kings 14:25. See also Yevamot 98a.

[34]. Zephaniah 3:9.

[35]. Exodus 6:2.

[36]. Ibid. 20:1.

[37]. Exodus 22:27.

[38]. Exodus 6:9.

[39]. See HaNerot Halalu.

[40]. See Rashi on Genesis 8:1.

[41]. Since kingdom itself is likened to prayer, as in the verse, “And I am prayer” (Psalms 69:14) said by King David.

[42]. Job 37:12.

[43]. Zohar 1:109b.

[44]. Mishnah Nedarim 3:11.



[47]. Genesis 9:9-17.

[48]. Genesis 9:20-23.

[49]. Ibid. v. 27.

[50]. Genesis 11:1.

[51]. Rashi on Genesis 2:7.

[52]. Ibid. 11:7.

[53]. Isaiah 11:9.

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