In this week’s parasha, Vayetze, we read about the intrigues of Jacob and Laban’s business dealings. Jacob asked for his wages to be all the sheep and goats that had strange skin patterns. He then used his knowledge of epigenetics (as explored in the past here) to produce flocks that were ‘akudim, nekudim, and telu’im, “ringed”, “spotted”, and “striped”. Years later, when he relates his struggles with Laban to his wives (Genesis 31:10), he describes the flocks as ‘akudim, nekudim, and vrudim, using a different term for “striped”. While this might seem trivial on the surface, Jewish mystical texts derive a tremendous amount of meaning from these descriptions. In fact, here in these verses the Torah is revealing to us some of the deepest secrets of Creation.
The Torah tells us that the first thing God created was light. The Zohar explains that everything began with a single point of immensely concentrated light, which then expanded and condensed to form all matter. As discussed before, this is precisely what modern science has uncovered. The Zohar (I, 2a, 15a) refers to that initial point of light as the nikkuda hada or nikkuda d’zohar, the “singular point of radiance”. The Arizal would then come to explain the process of Creation in more specific detail. These steps are outlined in the monumental Etz Chaim, written by the Arizal’s disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620).
Initially, there was only infinite pure light. This is alluded to by Laban (לבן) himself, since the initial light was just pure supernal “whiteness”, loven ha’elyon (לובן העליון). Out of this came or ha’akudim, the “Ringed” or “Bound Light”. (The word ‘akudim literally means “bound”, but also means “ringed” because we bind or bundle things by tightly tying “rings” around them!) The Arizal explains that the or ha’akudim is “bound” because everything was bound up within it (Gate 6, Ch. 1).
This Bound Light was then channeled into one point of great intensity, the “singularity” from which all things began to emerge. That point is the nikkuda hada of the Zohar. The Arizal called it or hanekudim, the “Spotted” or “Dotted Light”. The singular point of light gave rise to ten points of light, which became the Ten Sefirot. At this point, shevirat hakelim, the famous “Shattering of the Vessels”, took place. All of this parallels the phase of tohu, the “chaos” mentioned in Genesis. Finally, as order began to be reformed from the chaos, the lights were channelled as or havrudim, “Striped Light”, giving rise to matter as we know it.
Recall that mystical texts speak of four olamot, “worlds”, or more precisely, “dimensions” to our universe. The lowest is our material realm of Asiyah. Above it are the dimensions of Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atzilut. Beyond these, the highest and most sublime level is referred to as Adam Kadmon, the “Primordial Man”. This is not a literal man, of course, but refers to the initial state of the cosmos. From Adam Kadmon came the realm of Atzilut, pure divine emanation, and then Beriah, Yetzirah, and finally Asiyah. As often repeated in mystical texts, man is an olam katan, a “microcosm” of the universe, while the cosmos itself is an adam gadol, a “great being”, or an Adam Kadmon.
The Arizal describes, metaphorically, that or ha’akudim, the “Bound Light”, emerged when Adam Kadmon “opened his mouth”. That light would later emanate from the nose and ears as well. Meanwhile, the or hanekudim, the “Dotted Light”, shone forth from the navel. However, since the navel is tied up and sealed, the light migrates upwards and actually ends up emerging from the eyes. (Some of it also glows forth from the forehead.) Lastly, the or havrudim, the “Striped Light”, emerged from the lowest-most orifice of the body, the reproductive organ. Just as the or havrudim gave rise to all physical matter and life, so too the reproductive organ is that part of man that can generate matter and life!
All of the above solves another mystery: At the start of Etz Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Vital asks how it is that different texts describe the Sefirot as either being arranged in concentric spheres, or in a sequential ladder, or in three columns? He says that, truly, all are correct. With the above in mind, we can easily understand how. Initially, the Ten Sefirot were all “bound up” within a singular point of light. At that point they were arranged like an onion. Then, each of the Sefirot emerged on its own, forming a sequential ladder from Keter down to Malkhut. Finally, they were rearranged into the configuration we are all familiar with, in three columns. This is the vision that Jacob saw, that he described in Genesis 31, where initially the Sefirot appeared as ‘akudim, bound together and “ringed” like concentric spheres. Then he saw them as nekudim, like a sequence of dots, and ultimately as vrudim, “striped” in three columns.