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The Book of Ruth and the Secrets Behind Mankind’s Creation

25th of Tammuz, 5776

Monthly Live Broadcast

Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh


1. “Let us make man” – To whom was God talking?

Today we are going to meditate on a very basic question that the sages present about creation. We know that Hashem created the world in six days and the pinnacle of creation is man. There's something unique and not so clear about the terminology used to describe the creation of man. The Torah writes that the Almighty said, “’Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’” (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ). Exactly what the two terms, image and likeness mean, that in itself a significant topic. But, the first problem that arises in the literal meaning of this verse describing man’s creation is the first word, “Let us make” (נַעֲשֶׂה). Every time God set out to create something during the six days, the creation started with the words, "And God said." But, here God is seemingly addressing someone, as indicated by the plural “Let us make.” Who is God addressing and consulting with before creating man? And of course, why would God need to have someone with whom to consult?

Four possibilities for whom God consulted with

The sages[1] offer a number of different possibilities for who God consulted before creating man. The first possibility is that God is addressing the rest of creation. What this means is that every part of creation contributed in some way to the creation of man, truly making the human being a microcosm of the entire Universe.[2] In our lectures on evolution, we have discussed how this particular interpretation sheds new light on the process of extinction in nature.

The second suggestion is that God took counsel in the days of creation. At first, this might sound similar to the first interpretation but is actually very different. According to this interpretation, God is taking counsel with time. By doing so, consciousness of the seven-day cycle was imbued in man. This is the reason why on the Sunday of every week, we experience (either unconsciously or consciously) the creation of light and the emotive quality of loving-kindness, which corresponds with the first day. Likewise, on the Monday of every week, we can experience the division of the water into higher and lower waters and the placing of the firmament between them, as well as the emotive faculty of might to which they correspond; and so on. In the first interpretation, He was taking counsel in more like "space"—all that exists until now. God turns to the first day on which He created light and takes counsel with it, and so on.

As we continue with the third interpretation, we see that they are progressively deeper. The third one is that God took counsel from His own heart (בְּלִבּוֹ נִמְלָךְ), as if to say that God has a heart and He consults with Himself. The point of this interpretation is that God contemplated deeply whether creating man in His likeness and His image was His true and deep desire.

The fourth explanation of these words is the one that is most well-known. It states that God consulted the souls of the tzaddikim, the righteous souls of those who will live until the generation of Mashiach. In essence, all Jews are righteous, as the verse states, “And your people are all righteous,” thus, what this is saying is that God consulted with the soul-root of the entire Jewish people. In chapter two of the Tanya it is explained that every child’s source is in the seminal point of his father’s super-rational mind. The Jewish people as a whole are also the children of the Almighty and thus their soul root is God’s super-rational mind. So for God to consult with the souls of the righteous is like consulting with the essence of His super-rational mind.

2. Corresponding the possibilities with the Tetragrammaton

To better understand the significance of these four possibilities in understanding God’s statement “Let us make man,” we turn to Jewish meditation. Every meditation starts with a certain text from the sages. In our case, we have a four-part text, describing four different ways of understanding this verse. Meditation begins by finding an archetypal model that has the same number of parts or elements. Obviously, in this case, we should use the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah, and correspond with each one of the four interpretations. The simplest approach (which many times turns out to be the best fit for such texts from the sages) is to correspond the four elements to the four letters of Havayah in order. In this case, the order, as we shall see is from last to first.

All of creation corresponding to the final hei

The first interpretation, that God took counsel with the entire Universe corresponds with the final letter of Havayah, the hei. The hei corresponds with the sefirah of kingdom. Kingdom alludes to “space,” just as every earthly king’s kingdom extends over a particular area of the world—every earthly kingdom has borders.

With each day corresponds to the vav

One step up, the six days of creation—the process, not just the final result of creation—correspond obviously with the letter vav (whose value is six), the second to last letter of Havayah. Once more, the relationship between the two final letters, vav and hei is very often described as the relationship between time and space. The vav is a male letter representing time and process, while the hei is a feminine letter relating to kingdom. The two letters hei and vav form a masculine-feminine pair, just as time and space go together as dimensions of the reality we all inhabit. In Kabbalah, the male time is seen as penetrating the female space.

With His heart corresponds to the first hei

At the next level, God takes counsel with His heart. About the heart it says in the introduction to the Tikunnei Zohar that “understanding is in the heart, and with it the heart understands.” The sefirah of understanding corresponds to the first hei.

There is a general point we need to make here. The final two letters of Havayah correspond to the "revealed dimensions" of creation. The top two letters of Havayah correspond to the concealed dimensions. The first of these is the heart and thus we learn that God’s “heart,” as it were, is above creation.

With the souls of the righteous corresponds to the yud

As we explained earlier, the origin of every child is in the innermost essence of his father’s mind. The father’s mind alludes specifically to the sefirah of wisdom, the father principle, which corresponds with the first letter of Havayah, the yud. Indeed, the Patach Eliyahu also states that wisdom is the mind (חכמה מוחא). These two letters are the concealed dimensions. Then the final two letters, as noted are the revealed dimensions of reality, time and space.

This is the first part of our meditation.

3. The Book of Chronicles as an Allegory

Now let's connect all that we’ve seen so far with another very deep source in the Bible. This source doesn't appear in Genesis, but rather in the final book of the entire Bible, in Chronicles. Chronicles begins with the genealogy of mankind and continues with that of the Jewish people. Many of the names recorded in Chronicles are familiar from the previous books of the Bible, but there are many verses in which we find new names, names with which we have no familiarity. For this reason, the sages say that the entire Book of Chronicles should be understood as a metaphor or allegory.[3] Thus, even though Chronicles repeats the stories already related in the Bible, these stories are retold often with a disparity in names. Only a true sage who has Ru’ach Hakodesh (רוח הקודש) can tell us the meaning of the different names and places mentioned.

Now, in 1 Chronicles, chapter 4, we find a list of the descendants of Judah, the son of Jacob. In this list, there are two specific verses that can be said to beg to be interpreted allegorically, because their literal meaning seems so mysterious. They read:

And Yokim, and the men of Cozeba and Yo’ash, and Saraph, who married into Moab and Yashuvi Lehem; these records are ancient. These were the formers who dwelt at Netaim and Gederah; they dwelt there with the king in his work.

The second verse begins with the words, “They are the formers” (הֵמָּה הַיּוֹצְרִים). We know that in Hebrew there are three verbs used to indicate creation: creation (בְּרִיאָה), formation (יְצִירָה), and action (עֲשִׂיָּה). The word “formers” thus alludes to creation as formation, which is the verb used in the second account of man’s creation. In the first account of creation, it says that God created man, but in the second account it says that, “God formed him from the dust of the Earth.” First God formed man’s body out of the earth and then He breathed a soul into it. Who then are these formers?

Looking at the second verse, the words “who dwelt at Neta’im and Gederah,” implies that the formers lived in places known for their fruit trees and hedges. The concluding words, “they dwelt there with the king in his work.” What work is being referred to? The work of creation, and the allusion here is that these formers sat together with the king. To sit also means to come to meditate upon something until you reach a certain conclusion (לְיַשֵּׁב דָּבָר). So this second verse is describing someone or something that was together with God when He created. Regarding who these were with the King, i.e., with God, the sages offer a number of possibilities, among them the fourth explanation we saw earlier regarding man’s creation, that these were the souls of the righteous. They sat there and as it were helped to make the final decision of what to do and how to create man. These souls are also the formers, or the creators.

In Hebrew, “the formers” can also be translated as potters. Indeed, man was created like pottery, from the dust of the earth. First God watered the earth and made it moist and from the clay He created man. So we can read the literal meanings as "they were the potters." They were also planters and hedgers. According to the interpretation that these were the tzadikim, the righteous souls, this verse also describes the presence of the souls of the righteous in the Garden of Eden before creation. The hedges mentioned in the verse are also related to hedges used to keep cattle and flocks in an enclosure. Indeed, the root of “hedge” (גָּדֵר) appears 5 times in the Pentateuch, 2 times as a hedge that marks a road and 3 times as a hedge used to enclose flocks. And thus, these potters are involved in working with clay, with plants, and with cattle; these three interpretations correspond to the inanimate, plant, and animal levels of creation, as explained by the Malbim on the verse.

It is important to note that hedges define boundaries. What is the origin of all real definitions and real boundaries? The Torah.[4] So according to another interpretation by the sages, these hedges refer to the boundaries of the Torah, the boundaries created by the Sanhedrin, the boundaries between good and evil, that are defined by halachah.

So now we have two separate sources for the tzadikim having been involved with man’s creation. The first is the midrash on the verse from the Torah (Genesis) and the other from the midrash on this verse in Chronicles and they certainly add to one another.

4. The Protagonists of Ruth in Chronicles

Now, if we open up the Talmud[5] and Midrash[6] to see how these verses in Chronicles are explained by the sages, we find that amazingly, they explain that they are not just referring to the souls of the tzadikim, but to a very particular soul, who in a certain sense is the most general soul of mankind when it comes to our creation. This is the soul that sat with the King (with God) when He was engaged in His work—the work of creating man. This soul is actually not a he, it's a she: It is Ruth. Ruth is not only an archetypal soul of a righteous individual, she is also a righteous convert. From her came the lineage of King David and the Mashiach. The entire world was created to bring us all to the Messianic era, a period of goodness and peace, and light. The soul that is the source, the one in whom God takes counsel, is Ruth according to the sages. She is the one who was sitting with God before creation, and God consulted with her. A beautiful mathematical allusion to this is that the two phrases that describe God sought counsel with Ruth’s soul are “Let us make man” (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם) and “with the king” (עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ) and the value of these two phrases together is exactly that of Ruth’s connotation as used by the sages,[7] “Ruth the Moabite” (רוּת הַמּוֹאָבִיָּה)!

The six protagonists of Ruth

Actually, in the verses as they appear in Chronicles chapter 4, all the protagonists of the Scroll of Ruth are alluded to. Once again, the names are such that we would never guess their connection to the scroll of Ruth. There are six figures. They are all part of the family of Elimelech, a great sage of the generation who had the spiritual power to pray for the Jewish people and alleviate the suffering from the famine. But, Elimelech, together with his family—his wife Naomi and their two sons, Machalon and Kilyon—chose to flee Judea and move to the fields of Moab. First Elimelech died and then his two sons ended up marrying non-Jewish women. When they too die, their mother, Naomi hears that the famine has ended and she sets out to return to her hometown of Bethlehem. Her two daughters-in-law accompany her. She tries to dissuade them from coming with her, telling them that they will have no future there. The one daughter-in-law named Orpah indeed returns, but the other, Ruth, clings strongly to Naomi and says that nothing will ever separate them. The story continues and they meet the potential redeemer of their family, Boaz, who eventually Ruth marries and then gives birth to a son, Oved, the father of Jesse (ישי), who is the father of King David.

So, in this story the six protagonists are the four initial family members—Elimelech, Naomi, Machalon, and Kilyon—and Boaz and Ruth. As we shall now see, these six individuals are the ones who according to the sages are alluded to in the verses in Chronicles. Again, these verses culminate with the description of certain souls that sat with God in counsel on how to create the world, and how to create man.

Starting with the first verse, the text begins, And Yokim, and the men of Cozeba and Yo’ash, and Saraph. A man by the name of Yokim and the people of Cozeba, and two individuals by the names of Yo’ash and Saraph. As noted earlier, these names and places are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. The text continues, who married into Moab (אֲשֶׁר בָּעֲלוּ לְמוֹאָב). these two people inter-married with Moab. This is already a clear clue to Machalon and Kilyon, the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi, who married non-Jewish women in Moab. Then we have another name, Yashuvi Lechem, which literally sounds like it means “she or he who returned to the bread.” Clearly, in the context of Ruth this sounds like an allusion to Naomi who returned to Bethlehem (“the house of bread”).

A story that precedes creation

The very end of the verse is perhaps the most peculiar part, these records are ancient. There is no other appearance of a similar phrase in the Bible. In Kabbalistic texts, when the author wants to discuss some very deep secret, the word “ancient” (עַתִּיק) is usually called upon. One of the connotations of God in Kabbalah is, “the ancient of days” (עַתִּיק יוֹמִין). In fact, this is the highest connotation for the Almighty used in Kabbalah.

Now, the sages explain that these words come to say that this peculiar ending to the verse means that it was the Ancient of Days who spoke these verses. The Ancient of Days is the connotation that refers to God’s planning creation before He actually carried it out. Thus, these verses pertain to God’s ultimate purpose behind creation. They reveal the deepest reasons behind creation. We can conclude that the story told by these two verses is actually returning to something that occurred in God’s infinite light, even before the first contraction of that light described by the Arizal. So on the one hand, the story being recounted mysteriously in these verses is the story of Ruth, but it is all an allegory for the deepest reasons behind creation and the creation of mankind.

Yokim – Elimelech

So in the first verse we have four figures; they are the formers or “potters.” The first Yokim is Elimelech. This name, say the sages from the word meaning “property,” or “possessions.” It also means to "get up." It was Elimelech who got up and took all his property with him to Moab when the famine struck.

The people of Cozeba – Machalon and Kilyon

The next two men are from a place called Cozeba. Cozeba is similar to the word that means "to deceive," or "to lie." In a slightly different way, it also means "to disappoint" (לְאַכְזֵב). The sages say that this refers to Elimelech's two sons, even before they are mentioned by name. They disappointed because they gave up on God redeeming His people and saving them from the famine. We see their despair, their lack of hope, hinted to in their names. The first son, Machalon, is here called Yo’ash which comes from the word for "despair" (יֵאוּשׁ). The second name, Saraph, means to be burnt out, and this name literally reminds us of the second brother, Kilayon, whose name literally means to be finished, or burnt out. Now, though we might think there is a one-to-one correspondence between the two brothers and their names in Chronicles, the sages explain that both are actually referred to in each of the Chronicles’ names. Why? Because both brothers experienced both states (like in quantum entanglement). Both brothers were in despair (from a possible salvation for the people of Judea) and both were burnt out. They burned themselves out by intermarrying, by leaving the Jewish people altogether. The sages add that by leaving the land of Israel, they deserved to be burnt.

Nonetheless, these are two very high souls. When Ruth later married Boaz and they had a son Oved, according to Kabbalah the entire lineage that came out of this marriage was a rectification for these two very high souls. This is a lesson that even high souls can sin and deserve to be burnt. In fact, the sin itself is for a high soul like the punishment of being burnt up.

Yashuvi Lechem – Naomi

The next name we encounter is Yashuvi Lechem, which as we said refers to Naomi who is returning to Bethlehem. In last month’s class, we saw that Naomi represents the Kabbalistic mother principle in this family. The mother principle is the first hei of Havayah and the location of teshuvah, of repentance in God's Name. To return is both to return to the land of Israel and to return to God. The returner here is Naomi. She becomes the source and cause of Boaz marrying Ruth and bearing Oved, Jesse and David.

The formers – Boaz and Ruth

The entire second verse, which reads, These were the formers who dwelt at Netaim and Gederah; they dwelt there with the king in his work is about Boaz and Ruth. with an emphasis on Boaz. The first half speaks of the formers (or potters) and the second of those that dwelt there with the king, i.e. with God. Though both halves of the verse are in the plural, the sages not that the first half refers specifically to Boaz and the second half more specifically to Ruth. Again there is some entanglement between them. But, it is Ruth’s image and likeness that goes into the formation of man.[8]

5. Our Generation’s Mission – Bringing the Converts to God

The world and mankind were created for converts

What do we learn from all that we have seen? The message is very clear: the world was not only created from the souls of the Jewish people, but for the souls of the righteous converts from the nations of the world. When a Jew does not receive a proper Jewish upbringing, we must do all that we can to help bring them closer God. This is true all the more so when it comes to a non-Jew who is so far removed from the truth of God's oneness. He or she also has to find their path to Torah and to God. Many sages taught us that the redemption cannot come until all the souls of potential converts find their way to Judaism and Torah. In fact, the Mashiach himself can only come from a righteous convert. The greatest phenomenon that made the world worth creating is the soul of a non-Jew that converts to Judaism and finds its way back to God. For this reason the Rambam writes that the Almighty loves righteous converts even more than he loves the souls of the Jewish people. Therefore, we are commanded to love the convert twice: once as a convert and once as a Jew. The archetypal soul of all converts is Ruth and the Mashiach has to come from her specifically.

Non-Jews married to Jews are potential converts

Now there’s another point that we learn from the story of Ruth. There were two sisters-in-law, as we said before. Orpah was dissuaded by Naomi from joining the Jewish people. Even though Naomi dissuaded her, all her ways were pleasant and she kissed and cried when she sent her away. How can this teach us a lesson about the modern world?

It might be that of all the non-Jewish women married to Jewish men, one out of two is a potential righteous convert. The sages are saying that these two great souls who inter-married, from that the Mashiach should come—that is the most ancient of all the stories of the Bible. It is only in the root of God's mind that such a thing can be.

Today, too, one of each two inter-married non-Jews can convert. Fifty percent of the non-Jewish women married to Jewish men are thus potential converts according to the Scroll of Ruth.

Encouraging converts

In previous generations it was very hard for us to promote or encourage potential converts to convert. But, in our generation, the message is that we should arouse as many Ruth's as we possibly can. In their merit, from them, the Mashiach will come. To know who to dissuade and who to bring close to Torah, we have to learn from Naomi, that all our words should be pleasant.

A final gematria

The sages teach us that making gematriot, numerical analyses regarding what we have learned, is important. Adding the value of the six names we saw, the six protagonists—Elimelech, Naomi, Machalon, Kilyon, Boaz, and Ruth (אֱלִימֶלֶךְ נָעֳמִי מַחְלוֹן כִּלְיוֹן רוּת בֹּעַז)—to the names that allude to them in Chronicles—Yokim, Yashuvi Lechem, Yo’ash, Saraph, they are the formers, and they dwelt there with the king in his work  (יוֹקִים יוֹאָשׁ שָׂרָף יָשֻׁבִי לֶחֶם הֵמָּה הַיּוֹצְרִים עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּמְלַאכְתּוֹ יָשְׁבוּ שָׁם)—we get 4 times 1118, where 1118 is the lowest common denominator of God's two most important Names, Havayah and Elokim (26 and 86). 1118 is indeed the value of the Shema (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הוי' אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ הוי' אֶחָד), the verse that unites these two Names, saying that they are one. Actually, we say the Shema four times every day (twice in the morning and twice in the evening), also corresponding to the four letters of Havayah.

What this is saying is that God's unity has to be recognized by all the souls of all the righteous converts of the nations of the world. This is indeed the literal meaning of the Shema, as Rashi explains. In our present reality, it is only the Jewish people that completely recognize God’s absolute oneness, but in the future, God will be recognized as one by all the nations of the world, beginning of course with the righteous converts from all nations.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay


[1]. Bereisheet Rabbah 8:3-7.

[2] Tanchuma Pekudei 3.

[3]. Ruth Rabbah 2:1.

[4]. In fact, the value of “hedge” (גָּדֵר) is 207, the same as “the infinite” (אֵין סוֹף). Being infinite (without boundaries) and having boundaries seem to be contradictory. But the Torah is indeed “light” (אוֹר), whose value is also 207, and thus contains both God’s infinite essence and the boundaries of His will, in the form of the mitzvoth, the commandments.

Furthermore, the verse that the sages bring in the midrash to show the connection between those who dwell among the trees, the planters as above, is “And God planted…” (וַיִּטַּע הוי' אֱ־לֹהִים). But, the value of these three words is once again 207. The value of the full phrase, “And God planted a garden in the east of Eden” (וַיִּטַּע הוי' אֱ־לֹהִים גַּן בְּעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם) is 570, or 6 times the value of the first word, “and… planted” (וַיִּטַּע), meaning that the first word is the average value of each of the six words in the complete phrase.

[5] Bava Batra 91b.

[6] Bereisheet Rabbah 8:7.

[7] See Shabbat 113b, Yevamot 63a, and elsewhere.

[8] In fact, when we add the value of Ruth (רוּת) to the value of the words, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ), the sum comes to 1820, the very special number of the Pentateuch as it is the number of instances that God’s essential Name Havayah appears in it. It also the product of “secret” (סוֹד) and Havayah (הוי')!

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