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The Torah Academy: The Meanings of “Blood”

 

The Torah Academy

The pamphlet you have before you is titled The Torah Academy. It contains a dream of several decades, and just recently we brought it back to mind, that maybe it can be implemented and made real. The Torah Academy describes a Kabbalistic model of all the major fields of human thought from music through mathematics, the sciences, and the humanities, corresponding each to one of the sefirot. On many of these disciplines, we have already published full-length texts that discuss the topic in view of the Torah.

Recently, we have begun thinking about creating an academic program or an educational track for becoming basically fluent with all the disciplines included in this model. The overall idea, which is still a dream, is that after 4 years of undergraduate studies, one becomes familiar with each of these disciplines according to Kabbalah and Chassidut and understands what they mean spiritually. Such a program could also be accredited in some way (in the past we have not been so keen on seeking accreditation)

But the thought now is that if someone were fluent in all these disciplines at an introductory level, they could receive a basic, general degree in general studies. It is still a dream, but sometimes dreams come true.

Medicine and Beauty (Tiferet)

The field that I would like to emphasize today is medicine, which in the Torah Academy model, corresponds to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet).

There are three different angels, Michael is loving-kindness and Gavriel is might and Rephael is tiferet, or beauty, which corresponds to the body. The three-letter root of beauty (tiferet), פאר permutes to spell the root of healing (refuah), רפא.

Medicine pertains to the body and above it is the sefirah of da’at, which corresponds to psychology and is the soul of the body. We already have a school for Torah-based psychology both here in Israel, which teaches in Hebrew and online, where courses are given in English (www.thenefesh.org). This is psychology according to the Ba’al Shem Tov.

Focus on the Blood

In this class, I would like to focus on medicine. I thought we might talk about the kidneys because of my own problem with them, but then I thought we should focus on blood.

The Tanya defines that good health depends on the circulation of the blood. If there are no obstructions, then the person is healthy. But the obstructions cause illness. The Alter Rebbe compares the Shechinah that resides with the Jewish people to the blood that circulates in the body.

Why start with the blood, rather than the brain or kidneys, etc.? A verse in parashat Re’eh reads, “For the blood is the soul”[1] (כִּי הַדָּם הוּא הַנָּפֶשׁ). In other variations, we find the same idea expressed in other places in the Torah. This is a very big novelty, because blood is physical, yet the Torah is telling us that it is also somehow the soul. One possible interpretation is that the soul enclothes in the blood more than in any other component of the body.

We’ll begin by looking at the Ibn Ezra, the most literal (p’shat) commentary on the Torah. He is even more a literalist than Rashi who—though he strives to explain the literal meaning—bases his commentary mostly on the homiletic teachings of the sages (selecting of course the aspects of their teachings that align with the literal meaning of the Torah text). Again, the statement that the blood is the soul repeats many times in different wordings. Another one of these can be found in parasahat Acharei, “For the life of all flesh—its blood is in its soul”[2] (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא). Here the Torah is not telling us that the soul is in the blood, but rather that the blood in the soul. This is of course very difficult to accept.

What does the Ibn Ezra say about this? Of all the appearances when blood and soul go together, this is the one time he provides a commentary. He writes,

The blood is coupled with the soul.

In other words, the Torah does not mean that the blood is in the soul, because the opposite is the case. Rather, sometimes the prefix letter bet (in the word בְנַפְשׁוֹ) which usually designates “in” also means “with.” So, the meaning of this phrase (דָּמוֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ), says the Ibn Ezra is that “the blood is with the soul.” The phenomena are simultaneous. You cannot have blood without the soul, and you cannot have soul without the blood. The blood is coupled together with the soul.

Even though the Ibn Ezra is the epitome of the literal meaning of the Torah text, sometimes it is hard to understand him. Thus, commentaries were written on the Ibn Ezra’s commentary. The Yahel Or writes,

From the moment that the blood is formed [in the fetus], simultaneously the soul of the flesh is formed with it, and there can be no blood without soul nor soul without blood.[3]

The moment that blood is formed, the soul connects with it.

The Ibn Ezra continues with something that is even more amazing,

For it is known that the vessels that go out from the left side of the heart are divided, half for blood and half for the spirit. This is analogous to olive oil and the light it gives off.

One component is the blood itself and the other component is the spirit, which we today call oxygen—the spirit of life, which for him is the soul. Now he gives a parable, a likeness (indeed, we will see shortly that one of the meanings of the word “blood” is “likeness”): Just like olive oil, which is the fuel of a candle, is one with the light that emanates from it, so the soul is one with the blood. This is a very beautiful comparison. Here the commentary (Yahel Or) says, that just as the light stands over the oil, so does the spirit, the soul, stand over or around the blood. “And the blood is what gives birth to the life force and sustains it” (וְהַדָּם מוֹלִידוֹ וּמְקַיְּמוֹ). This is a very nice introduction to our study of blood.

We saw that the Torah couples together the blood and the soul. The word we have been translating as “soul” is actually nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ). But in the Ibn Ezra’s he uses the word ru’ach (רוּחַ) to designate the soul or life-force that is carried by the blood. Indeed, ru’ach for his purposes is better since it means spirit.[4] Today we would say that the blood carries oxygen, which is the life-force.

Nefesh is the lowest of the five levels of the soul, the lowest of the three lower levels that dwell within the body. When a person is born, he only has 2 levels, nefesh and ru’ach, that go together.[5] Sometimes it is written that the person is only born with the nefesh, however usually it is written that the nefesh and ru’ach are already present in the womb. As he matures, he receives the soul (neshamah) and after that if he merits, he receives the two encompassing levels of the soul, the superconscious chayah and yechidah, which give the power of self-sacrifice for the sake of God and the power to cling to God. But everything begins with the nefesh and it comes together with ru’ach. The initials levels of the first two levels nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ) and ru’ach (רוּחַ) spell “candle” (נֵר).

Sometimes the nefesh is described as the power of movement in the body[6] because that which is alive is animated.[7] So, to move you need to have a nefesh. The blood as it flows is the circulation in the body itself, but life is movement. These two levels, which are the innate movement of the body and its limbs, may be the beginning of the consciousness of life.

The Different Meanings of “Blood”

What we’re going to do now is create a model in the form of the ten sefirot of the different meanings of the word “blood” in Hebrew and from that try to derive insights. A person who studies this model and knows more about the blood than I and other laymen do, may be able to glean additional insights from these correspondences. The ability to use the power of imagination to find correct correspondences is itself as we will see one of the most basic meanings of the word “blood.”

Crown: Silence

The first sefirah is the crown, which is the super-consciousness. It can also be described as the soul’s experience of silence—silence because it is aware of God’s Infinite nature that cannot be expressed or praised by speech. The first meaning of blood (דָם), pronounced dum, is related to this essential experience of silence in the soul. Silence in Hebrew is dumiyah (דֻמִיָּה), as in the phrase, “Your [God’s] praise is silence”[8] (לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה). The silence of the soul stems from the understanding that it is impossible to understand God and therefore any praise that I give you will be demeaning to God’s true being, and so the soul stands silent.

The fact that blood is so essential to life and especially to life in general and to the human being in particular is because blood is the root of the word for “man” (אָדָם), in Hebrew, Adam. We will return to this meaning later when we get to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet). However, many times it says that the word for “man,” Adam, stems from silence. Incidentally, the first woman’s name, Eve (חַוָּה), means speech.[9] So, the first union of male and female in the Torah represents the union between silence and speech.

Wisdom: Life-force

Now the next meaning of blood (דָם). As we saw, according to the Ibn Ezra “the blood is the soul” means that the lifeforce is carried by blood. The lifeforce of the body is wisdom, following the verse, “wisdom gives life to one who possesses it”[10] (הַחָכְמָה תְּחַיֶּה בְעָלֶיהָ) and the verse, “they will perish, but not in wisdom”[11] (יָמוּתוּ וְלֹא בְחָכְמָה), meaning that where there is wisdom there is life.

Let’s expand a bit about the life-force in the blood. In our volume on medicine, we wrote that wisdom corresponds to the bone marrow.[12] The bone marrow forms blood, which has four different components: white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets (which clot), and plasma. These four components themselves correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah. The white and the red cell correspond to the first two letters, yud and hei—the father and the mother—as the sages say that the white parts come from the father and the red parts from the mother.[13] Let’s expand upon this identity using colors for a moment. The bone marrow is inside the bones, which are white, relating them to wisdom. Wisdom itself originates in the crown, known as the “nothingness,” following the verse, “Wisdom emerges from nothingness”[14] (וְהַחָכְמָה מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא). From there it transforms through the bone marrow (which is white) into blood (which is red) and corresponds to the sefirah of understanding (binah)—the mother principle. In that sense, the “nothingness” of the crown becomes the reality of blood. In fact, the Hebrew word for “red” (אָדֹם) is one of the meanings of “blood” (דָם). I would think that maybe this is the same case in other languages, but it is not so in English for instance. Apparently, there are no other languages where this is true. The plasma, which carries many different minerals necessary for life corresponds to the vav of God’s Name, Havayah. Finally, the platelets correspond to the second hei of Havayah, which symbolizes the sefirah of kingdom. By clotting and stopping the bleeding, the platelets act like a king, one of whose synonyms in Hebrew is “the stopper”[15] (עוֹצֵר).

There is another phenomenon regarding blood that relates it to the number 4. These are the four blood types (according to antigens it carries[16]): A, B, AB, or O (which is really the absence of A and B). This was discovered at the beginning of the previous century, when the first blood transfusions were performed. We can correspond them to the four letters of Havayah too. Type A would correspond to wisdom and B to understanding (the yud and hei). Type AB would then correspond to the vav, which represents the summation of wisdom and understanding (we can think of it as their common child). Finally, type O, which we said means that both antigens are lacking corresponds to the final hei, kingdom, which is described as “It has nothing of its own.” Blood that is type O is also “lowly” like the sefirah of kingdom, and is therefore the universal donor.

Understanding: Power of Imagination

As mentioned, in our model of physiology according to Kabbalah, we associated blood with the sefirah of understanding. What meaning of “blood” in Hebrew could relate to understanding?

When Mordechai tells Esther that she needs to plea before Achashverosh for her people, she responds that it is dangerous for her to do so, for any individual who comes uncalled to see the king is invariably put to death.” Mordechai then says to her, “Do not imagine [think] in your soul that you can escape to the king’s palace, from all the Jews”[17] (אַל תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל הַיְּהוּדִים). The opposite: this is not the time to remain silent, and if you stay silent now, then salvation will come from somewhere else, not from you, and it will not end well for you and your house. The word Mordechai uses to counter Esther’s thought is “imagine” (תְּדַמִּי). This word is cognate with “blood” (דָם).

If you look at the English translations for this word, you will see that they render the word as, “think.” So, there is something about blood that relates it to thought—the power to think something that you already harbor in your mind. Here it is specifically the thought of escaping the decree. Again, I could say this means, “Don’t imagine that you will escape,” because imagination and thought go together. This is related to binah, understanding. Eather has a well-developed ability to imagine and flesh-out a scenario that she is thinking about, and Mordechai is telling her not to do that. A beautiful gematria that we enjoy mentioning is in the next phrase, which reads, “Relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter” (רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר) whose numerical value is the same as “personal Divine Providence” (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית).

The ability to imagine or create some scenario in one’s mind is the understanding of the power of blood. Meaning that the blood itself is carrying this spiritual power with it. Also then, if the blood is pure and clean, then your imagination will also be pure, and vice versa.

When the imagination degenerates, it becomes very negative in the soul, to the extent that Rebbe Nachman said[18] that a synonym for the evil inclination is the power of imagination, because it’s like building false illusions and living by them. That’s called the backside of the lowest levels of binah, of the mother principle.[19] We have spoken many times about the topic of guided imagery. There can be very positive things to imagine. Even the Ba’al Shem Tov said that one should imagine himself elevating from world to world—from Action to Formation, etc. But this is beneficial only to the individual who knows what he is doing, and his experience is true. A simple guided imagery exercise noted in Chasidic teachings is, “Think good and it will be good.” Using the imagination in this way is not only good after the fact but is a direction to be pursued. However, other types of guided imagery are used for instance to reconstruct past lives, that attempt to heal traumas from the past—these we do not particularly condone because they represent the workings of an unrectified imagination. As Rebbe Nachman says, when the power of imagination is unrectified, it is the evil inclination itself.

Here in Israel, I don’t get much of this positive outlook when I visit doctors. But I tell them: “Think good, be optimistic.”

Knowledge: Unification

The next sefirah is knowledge, or da’at, in Hebrew. The inner experience of knowledge is unification (יִחוּד), like that between husband and wife. The first such unification in the Torah, between Adam and Eve, is described with the words, “Adam knew his wife, Eve.”[20] In Kabbalah, unification is one of the most basic concepts. All the intentions in prayer are about creating unifications.

In the revealed dimension of the Torah, a unification is like a gezeirah shavah (גְּזֵרָה שָׁוָה), which is a rabbinical logical principle allowing us to ascribe similar laws to verses that have similar words or phrases. But one cannot innovate an original gezeirah shavah; one must have received it as a tradition from his teacher that extends back to Moses.[21] Only then can the similarity between the words be considered real. Otherwise, it is an unrectified imagination.

Why Moses? Moses is considered the sefirah of knowledge of the entire Jewish people. He is tasked with rectifying our imagination and with ensuring that we draw connections that are real. A gezeirah shavah is thus the power of true comparison. It is also known as, “comparing one word to another word” (מְדַמֶּה מִלְּתָא לְמִלְּתָא).

Even though we saw the connection between blood and understanding above as linked to the imagination, earlier it referred to the ability to picture a scenario. Here we are focusing on the ability to find a true common denominator between two things; to make true comparisons based on what two things have in common. And, to do this properly, one must be connected to Moses.[22] In the Tanya, it says that every Jew has a spark of Moses in him. So, to be connected to Moses means to reveal his spark in yourself—the spark that makes it possible to make correct comparisons.

Loving-kindness, Might, and Beauty: Emulation, Red, and Man

We said that blood appears red, but it also has white in it—white blood cells. The plasma, which has a transparent yellowish tint, should probably be associated more with white than with red. Blood is thus a composite of colors. The white component in the blood reflects its aspect of loving-kindness. Its red component reflects its might (gevurah). The value of the sefirah of “might” (גְּבוּרָה) is equal to 3 times the value of “loving-kindness” (חֶסֶד). Their sum is 288, the total number of sparks that we need to elevate from the world and bring back to their Divine source. It is interesting to note that it is blood’s white component that is entrusted with battling disease. There is a well-known Chasidic aphorism on the Torah’s first verse, “First of all, be healthy.”[23] This aphorism reflects loving-kindness, as the verse says, “The world is built with loving-kindness.”[24]

As noted, in Hebrew red (אָדֹם) and blood (דָם) are from the same root. Naturally then “red” is the word associated with blood’s sefirah of might. According to Torah, whenever we speak of “color,” we are referring to red. Parashat Chukat is about the Red Heifer, so obviously there is something mysterious about red because it can purify the defilement of death—usually symbolized by the color white. When you say that your countenance has color, the color refers to “red.” So countenance is either red or white. There is another form of white associated with the crown which is deemed transparent. Scientifically, even though red is only one extreme of visible light, actually all the colors in the spectrum contain red.[25]

The Hebrew word for red is Esau’s name, Edom (אֱדוֹם).[26] He was referred to by this name because he was born red. He is a very colorful figure, the most colorful. But there is another person described as red, King David, “Reddish with beautiful eyes”[27] (אַדְמוֹנִי עִם יְפֵה עֵינַיִם). David is the rectification of Esau. Red is also used as a synonym for “murder” (spilling blood). Isaac blessed Esau that he will live by the sword. So “red” and “Edom” are the words the reflect the sefirah of might in blood.[28]

Let us turn to the word associated with blood, which corresponds to loving-kindness. There is kindness in the blood, not just the power to be mighty. [What is the word for the white of the blood?] There is a mitzvah to emulate God.[29] The word “to emulate” (הִתְדַּמּוּת) is also cognate with blood. How do we emulate God? The sages say that, “As He is compassionate, you shall be compassionate; as He is forgiving, you shall be forgiving.”[30] Loving-kindness in the blood is being “like” God. The word “like” in English also means to “love” someone.

The next sefirah is beauty (tiferet). There is a famous verse that says, “As the beauty of man is to sit in his home”[31] (כְּתִפְאֶרֶת אָדָם לָשֶׁבֶת בָּיִת). So, “man” (אָדָם) is associated with beauty—we are specifically referring to man’s form, or image (דְּמוּת). Because the human being’s life-force is blood, when Adam was created it says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.”[32] Man’s form—that he has two arms that represent the Divine sefirot of might and loving-kindness, etc.—and his character are what make man “like” God (recall that earlier we used the word “like” in the sense of affection when analyzing the loving-kindness aspect of blood).

Victory: Eternity

Now we come to victory and acknowledgment, which are related to bringing emotions into action. We have not yet mentioned the word blood itself. There’s a verse in Isaiah that refers to blood as “eternity,” one of the possible synonyms of victory (נֶצַח): “Their life-blood [eternity] bespattered my garments”[33] (וְיֵז נִצְחָם עַל בְּגָדַי). In this verse, blood is referred to as the eternity of the soul. It is a singular example of this usage of the word “eternity.”

Recall that blood’s life-force was associated with the sefirah of wisdom, which is the first sefirah on the right axis. Victory/eternity is the final sefirah on the right axis.

Acknowledgment: Money

Thus far, all the words used originated in Scripture. There is one meaning that originates with the rabbis: damim (דָּמִים), which his blood in the plural, like saying “bloods,” but the sages use it in the sense of “money.” Why is this so? Because just as blood circulates in the body, money circulates in the economy—it is the life-blood of the economy. In the Torah Academy model (mentioned in the beginning of this class), economics corresponds to the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod) and since the flow of the economy is blood, we place this word, damim, in acknowledgment.

Foundation: Emulation and Cut Off

With regard to loving-kindness, we placed emulating God. But there are two modes of emulation. The former reflects the act of willfully emulating God. It requires a concerted effort, and the individual is going against his innate nature to act with compassion and forgiveness. Now we are looking at a mode of emulation that is natural.

The former emulation was the path available to every individual. But following God naturally in what we describe as “natural consciousness” is possible only for a tzaddik. Foundation is the sefirah associated with the tzaddik, the pious individual whose observance of the commandments and emulation of God is as natural as walking. This is the epitome of “Follow in His ways.” This is the positive meaning of the root “to emulate,”[34] in Hebrew.

There is a negative connotation to the same verb, which means “to cut off” (דמה). We find this usage in certain verses, such as: “I had thought I would depart life in the middle of my days” (אֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי בִּדְמִי יָמַי אֵלֵכָה), meaning that life would be “cut off.”

Kingdom: Earth and Dust

The final word that relates to kingdom comes from the Torah’s description that, “God created man, dust from the earth”[35] (וַיִּיצֶר הוי' אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה). The word for “Earth,” adamah (אֲדָמָה), is cognate with blood. The Torah is explicitly saying that man is both red and comes from the earth. The union of man with the earth from which he was created (everything comes from the dust and returns to the dust), that is kingdom. In fact, the word for the “dust” (דֹּמֶן), domen,[36] that is left over and returns to the earth also stems from the word for earth and hence from “blood.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

* Based on a class given on the 10th of Tammuz, 5783.

[1]. In parashat Re’eh, Deuteronomy 12:23.

[2]. Leviticus 17:14.

[3]. The final words, “there can be no blood without soul nor soul without blood,” are apparently from the Ramban’s commentary on the verse.

[4]. This was called pneuma in ancient Greek philosophy.

[5]. See Rabbi David Majar, Chasdei David §76, explained in depth in our Hebrew series, Chasdei David HaNe’emanim.

[6]. Rabbeinu Bachyai on Genesis 1:20. Likkutei Moharan 1:31.

[7]. Rabbi Avraham Abulafya, Mafte’ach HaRaayon, s.v. Tav.

[8]. Psalms 65:2.

[9]. As in the verse (Psalms 19:3), “night to night speaks out” (וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת).

[10]. Ecclesiastes 7:12.

[11]. Job 4:21.

[12]. Body, Mind, and Soul: Kabbalah on Human Physiology, Disease, and Healing, p. 74.

[13]. Nidah 31a. In addition, 99% of the cells in the blood are red blood cells and less than 1% are white blood cells. This reflects the relationship between father and mother (or wisdom and understanding), where wisdom is described as “contraction” and understanding as “extension.”

[14]. Job 28:12.

[15]. See 1 Samuel 9:17, “As soon as Samuel saw Saul, God declared to him, ‘This is the man that I told you would stop [i.e., be king over] my people’” (וּשְׁמוּאֵל רָאָה אֶת שָׁאוּל וַהוי' עָנָהוּ הִנֵּה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ זֶה יַעְצֹר בְּעַמִּי).

[16]. Blood type refers to the antigens on red blood cells, the major component of the blood. The plasma displays a “negative” picture of the red blood cells, so that the plasma of blood type A has B antigens, etc.

[17]. Esther 4:8.

[18]. Likkutei Moharan 1, end of §25.

[19]. In more detail, binah divides into two partzufim known as binah and tevunah (Zohar 3:290b-291a and Eitz Chaim Sha’ar HaKelalim ch. 11). They correspond to the figures of Sarah (the supernal mother) and Rivkah (see Arizal’s Likkutei Torah, Toldot). In the psyche they are experienced as the power of “capturing” (תְּפִיסָה) and the power of “integration” (קְלִיטָה) as explained in the Mittler Rebbe’s Sha’ar HaYichud (ch. 2). Within tevunah, the lower partzuf of binah, the malchut is the partzuf of Leah, which in the psyche is experienced as thought (Eitz Chaim 38:4) and from Leah evolves the partzuf of Zilpah (Ibid. 49:9), which is experienced in the psyche as the power of imagination (כֹּחַ הַמְדַמֶּה), whose value is actually the same as “Zilpah” (זִלְפָּה).

[20]. Genesis 4:1.

[21]. Rashi on Sukkah 11b (see Pesachim 66a).

[22]. See Or HaChaim’s commentary on the Introduction to the Tikkunei Zohar.

[23]. The words for “healthy” (בָּרִיא) and “created” (בָּרָא) are cognate. See Or LaShamayim, Naso.

[24]. Psalms 89:3.

[25]. See our seminar on Light and Color (transcribed in Mivchar Shi’urei Hitbonenut vol. 27.

[26]. Genesis 36:1.

[27]. 1 Samuel 16:12.

[28]. In passing, there is another word in the Bible that corresponds with might: נִדְהַם, usually translated as either “angry” or “surprised,” as in the verse (Jeremiah 14:9), “Why would you be like an angry man, like a mighty warrior unable to provide salvation.”

[29]. Based on the phrase (Deuteronomy 28:9), “Follow His ways” (וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו).

[30]. Mechilta, Parashat HaShirah, 3.

[31]. Isaiah 44:13.

[32]. Genesis 1:26.

[33]. Isaiah 63:3.

[34]. Ibid. 38:10. See also Rashi on the verse. Rashi cites Hosea (10:15), “Israel’s king has ben cut off” (נִדְמֹה נִדְמָה מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל).

[35]. Genesis 2:7.

[36]. See 2 Kings 9:37, Jeremiah 9:21.

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