Solving A Contradiction Between Rashi and the Midrash

Angels and the sefirot – revisited

Yesterday, as a first approximation we explained that the three angels, Micha’el, Gavri’el, and Repha’el correspond to the three sefirot of loving-kindness, might, and beauty (referred to by their Hebrew acronym chagat), respectively. However, today let us more accurately say that they represent the active aspect of these three sefirot, which are victory, acknowledgement, and foundation (referred to by their Hebrew acronym nehi). Together, all six sefirotchagat and nehi, are called the six extremes, or the six measures [of the heart]. However, the lower half, the nehi are considered to be the practical extensions of the upper half, the chagat. The beautiful gematria that goes with this understanding is that the initials of the three angels’ names are: מיכאל גבריאל רפאל , רמג = 243 = 35, but which is also the numerical value of the names of these three sefirot in Hebrew: נצח הוד יסוד = 243!

We saw that the sum of the numerical values of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Micha’el, Gavri’el, and Repha’el is equal to 1296 = 362 = 64. Thus, we have that in this model, the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob correspond to the chagat (loving-kindness, might, and beauty) and the three angels, Micha’el, Gavri’el, and Repha’el correspond to the nehi(victory, acknowledgment, and foundation). Incidentally, 36 is the numerical value of Leah (לאה ), who gave birth to six of Jacob’s children.

In every individual’s life the challenge is to realize his or her potential. In order to understand what one’s mission in life is, one has to go to one’s source, represented by the sefirah of crown. But, in order to realize one’s mission, to transform potential into action, the sefirot ofnehi, victory, acknowledgment, and foundation are necessary. In the first benediction of theAmidah, the main part of every prayer service we say: “The Most High God who grants great loving-kindness, owns everything, and remembers the goodness of the patriarchs….” The Arizal explains that the phrase “the Most High God,”1 refers to the sefirah of crown, while the three predicates, “grants great loving-kindness, owns everything, and remembers the goodness of the patriarchs,” correspond to the three sefirot of nehi. Indeed, excluding the initials, which equal the names of the three sefirot of nehi, the rest of the letters equal the Hebrew word for “action,” מעשה : יכאל בריאל פאל = 415 = מעשה , alluding to the sages saying that “action is the main thing.”2

Since we have looked at the nehi, let us now look at the upper half of the six measures, loving-kindness, might, and beauty. The numerical value of the sum of these three sefirot is:חסד גבורה תפארת = 1369 = 372. Beautifully, when we add the sum of the names of the bottom half of the six measures, the nehi, we get:
1369 ┴ 1296 = 372 ┴ 362 = 37 = 2665

Where, 37 reads the 37th inspirational number, and the nth inspirational number is defined as: n = n2 ┴ (n – 1)2.

2665 is also the product of יה י־הוה (41) and אדנ־י (65), which refers to Abraham’s words: “Please my Master (אדנ־י ), do not pass over your servant.”3 As explained in Rashi on this verse, there are two possible meanings to the word “my Master.” Either it refers to the Almighty, in which case Abraham was asking the Almighty to wait for him until he finishes hosting his three guests. Or, it is a mundane name, and thus refers to one of the three angels, specifically to Micha’el, the greatest between them. In fact, the numerical value of אדנ־י (65) is the exact difference between Gavri’el and Repha’el, teaching us that it was Micha’el that gave the angels the power to come together to Abraham.

Rashi’s idealism

Now, let us note two things about Rashi’s commentary quoted yesterday:

1) Rashi mentions all three angels in the order of the sefirot, loving-kindness (Micha’el), might (Gavri’el), and beauty (Repha’el):
One [man] to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah [Micha’el – loving-kindness], and one to destroy [Gavri’el – might] Sodom, and one to heal Abraham [Repha’el – beauty]…

2) Rashi does not mention saving Lot until later, and he sees the saving of Lot as an extension of healing Abraham.
But, in practice the order of the angel’s missions was different: first Repha’el healed Abraham (a mission that is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah); then, Micha’el gave news of Isaac’s impending birth to Sarah; finally, the destruction of Sodom was carried out by Gavri’el. Thus,Rashi elevates the three angels who themselves correspond to nehi, to their source inchagat.

Three that are four

We are left with a second question, introduced yesterday, regarding the dispute regarding the identity of the angel who saved Lot. Rashi, following the Midrash identifies him as Repha’el, who first healed Abraham and then saved Lot. The Talmud identifies him as Micha’el who first heralded Isaac’s birth and then continued on with Gavri’el to Sodom and there saved Lot. What is the dispute? How can we understand that both opinions are “the words of Living God,”4 a phrase commonly used to describe that Torah sages do not contradict, they complement?

Let us analyze both opinions using the language of Kabbalah. According to the Midrash and Rashi, saving Lot was carried out by Repha’el, and thus the action represents the sefirah of beauty. According to the Talmud, saving Lot was carried out by Micha’el and therefore is an act of loving-kindness. We now have four actions that actually correspond to only three archetypes. How shall we make correspond the actions with the archetypes and at the same type take into account the dispute we have just seen?

Let us first draw the correspondence and then explain it:

concealed knowledge
healing Abraham

expanding knowledge
saving Lot

destroying Sodom

heralding Isaac’s birth

The actual order of events was: 1) healing Abraham, 2) heralding Isaac’s birth, 3) saving Lot, 4) destroying Sodom. We now see that in reference to the sefirot this order corresponds to concealed knowledge, loving-kindness, expanding knowledge, and finally might.

Two stages of consciousness

We have in this model introduced a relatively new concept in our use of Kabbalistic teachings that of concealed knowledge (da’at hane’elam)5 vs. expanding knowledge (da’at hamitpashet). Normally when we speak of the sefirah of knowledge as manifesting as human consciousness, we are referring to the expanding aspect of knowledge. As such, knowledge is born—it expands, as it were—out of the union of wisdom and understanding and stands as the “firstborn son”6 followed then by the six other measures of the heart (from loving-kindness to foundation). In this capacity, the sefirah of knowledge is the key to the measures of the heart and without it, the psyche cannot function, as the person cannot connect or unite with anything outside of him or her self.

But, the concealed aspect of the sefirah of knowledge represents a pre-sentient state in which somehow connections are formed even though there is no true consciousness yet. The example cited in Chassidic teachings to help us get a sense of concealed knowledge or concealed consciousness in our lives is the powerful connection between a baby and his father specifically,7 a connection that is expressed in the baby’s cry “father, father,” once he has begun to taste wheat, representing the Tree of Knowledge. Unlike an adult, who experiences expanding knowledge as day to day consciousness, the baby does not really understand what it means that it has a father. The baby does not connect or bond with the father figure out of a full consciousness of the relationship between them. There is something strongly intuitive about this bond, and the baby is more prone to feel alone and miss its father, than the adult who understands the nature of the relationship better with his expanding consciousness.

The nature of expanding knowledge

Now, armed with this understanding of the complexity of the sefirah of knowledge we can explain the dispute between the Midrash and the Talmud. The Midrash follows the explanation that expanding knowledge, as its name indicates, expands or manifests concealed knowledge, corresponding to the angel Repha’el (whose first act, to heal Abraham, is indeed concealed in the Torah). Furthermore, expanding knowledge acts as the soul of the sefirahof beauty (which lies directly beneath knowledge on the middle axis of the sefirot), as the key to all the measures of the heart. That is why it identifies the angel who saved Lot with Repha’el who is the archetype of beauty and its inner power of mercy.

The Talmud on the other hand sees expanding knowledge more as the firstborn son of the union of wisdom and understanding. Normally, if asked which sefirah is born first out of this union, we would answer that it is loving-kindness. The first emotional product of mental prowess is love. Therefore as explained oftentimes in Kabbalah and Chassidut, expanding knowledge has the characteristics of loving-kindness. In Kabbalistic terminology, there are five measures of loving-kindness which comprise the essence of expanding knowledge. Thus, the Talmud identifies the angel who saved Lot and exemplifies expanding knowledge with Micha’el, the archetype of loving-kindness.

1. See Genesis 14:18-20.

2Avot 1:17.

3. Genesis 18:3.

4Eiruvin 13b; see also Yoma 35b.

5. Concealed knowledge can also be understood as theoretical or ideal consciousness, which does not necessarily follow the constraints of our practical and physical reality. Our concealed consciousness meets space and time in their idealized state. This is not a state of grasping nothingness, because there is consciousness here, and there are space and time. Nonetheless, there is something quite disruptive and non-realistic about the way that concealed consciousness sees the world, but it is the key to understanding the direction in which the world is headed, even though at times it may seem that reality is stronger than our beliefs and our intuitions.

6. See Zohar II, 136b.

7Berachot 40a and Sanhedrin 70b. The Talmud specifically mentions the father because concealed knowledge is considered to be an aspect of the father principle (in the Talmud the reading is “father and mother,” thus referring to the higher father and mother, the sefirot of wisdom and understanding as they are in the father principle). See Alter Rebbe’s Likutei Torah Bamidbar 13b.

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