Tag Archives: Adam Kadmon

Adam and the Mashiach Within

In this week’s parasha, Tazria, we learn about the various laws of tzara’at, loosely translated as “leprosy”. The verse that begins the discussion starts by saying Adam ki ihyeh, “When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discolouration, and it develops into a scaly affliction on the skin…” (Leviticus 13:2) The phrasing is unique in that the statement strangely begins with the word adam. Grammatically, it would have been more appropriate and common for the Torah to say Ki ihyeh b’adam. Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh cites an old tradition that there are three other such verses that use the word adam with strange grammar: Leviticus 1:2, Numbers 19:14, and Psalms 36:7. These four instances correspond to the four mystical olamot, dimensions or “universes” of Creation, called Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atzilut. In turn, they represent different stages in the development of every human being, literally an adam.

In addition to the four verses above, we can include the first verse in Chronicles, which is also unique in that it is made up of just three names, starting with “Adam”—here referring to the actual first civilized man Adam, and not adam generically. I believe this fifth instance alludes to the highest universe and ascension of man, that of Adam Kadmon. Recall that the five universes correspond to the five levels of soul, as well as to the five parts of God’s Ineffable Name (the four letters, plus the “crown” atop the letter yud), and the five books of the Torah.

If we carefully go through the five special “Adam” verses, we can derive the key stages in the development of every human being. Stage one comes from Leviticus 1:2, where God declares: “When any of you presents [adam ki yakriv mikem] an offering of cattle to God…” This verse has been classically interpreted as a person offering up him or herself as an offering, adam mikem. In other words, any kind of significant growth or personal development requires self-sacrifice and hard work. If a person is not willing to give anything up, nor abandon any of their old ways, habits, and preconceived notions, there is little chance for successful spiritual elevation. Thus, step one is sacrifice.

Next is the verse in this week’s parasha about an adam being afflicted with leprosy. The result, of course, is that they are ostracized and separated from the community until their leprosy heals. (Interestingly, the word “ostracism” comes from the Greek ostracon, a potsherd upon which were engraved the names of undesirable people voted to be expelled.) This is actually the natural next step in the growth journey, because once a person abandons their old norms and starts to enter new areas of thought and practice, they will undoubtedly be criticized, attacked for their new-found “radicalism”, possibly branded as some kind of “reformer” or “heretic”, and ultimately “cut off” from their old community. They will be cast off as a “leper” of sorts, and valuable relationships will be lost. This stage is often experienced both by baalei teshuva who leave behind their secular lives, as well as religious people disenchanted with their particular sect, or synagogue, or denomination and looking to find new meaning. The second stage is quite a difficult process, and leads to the next step:

The third adam verse is Numbers 19:14, stating “When a person dies in a tent [adam ki yamut b’ohel]…” This is symbolic of the death of the old self. The person transitions to a new reality, a new hashkafa, renewed meaning in life, a fresh vigour and spirituality, and perhaps a new (and better) community. Only then is the person ready for the fourth adam verse: “man and beast [adam u’behemah] you save Hashem!” One has finally attained personal salvation, and communion with God. Such a person is a truly God-conscious, whole, and righteous individual.

There is just one more, sublime level after this, reserved for those who want to go even further, transcending the very bounds of time and space. This is the highest level of Adam Kadmon, corresponding to the loftiest yechidah soul. Fittingly, it corresponds to the opening Chronicles verse that has just three words: “Adam, Shet, Enosh.” If you read these not simply as names, but as an actual sentence, it literally means “man rules over mortality”! In other words, this person is immortalized and attains true eternity.

We can now add a new column to our previous table:

We can see how neatly the rows line up in the table. Ostracism is a fitting link for Bamidbar, when the Israelites were cast “into the Wilderness”. This is where a lot of the fundamental work needs to be done, hence its parallel to Yetzirah (“formation”), and the Middot (character traits) of Zeir Anpin. Similarly, Shemot is a fitting link to the “Salvation” or “Elevation” stage, a spiritual “exodus” to a new and higher plane, a personal Redemption. And “Transcendence” ties to Beresheet, as it is described as becoming one with Creation. At this highest stage, one has accessed and revealed their own inner “Mashiach”, because every adam has a spark of the first Adam, who gave over a portion of his soul to David and then, in turn, to Mashiach. Recall that “Adam” (אדם) is said to stand for “Adam-David-Mashiach”, and spans the entire course of history, from the first person to the “last”. And, the Arizal taught (Sha’ar haGilgulim, Ch. 11) that just about every human being has a spark of Adam, and a spiritual “portion” of the first human—and therefore also of the last.

In fact, we find the same five stages in the way our Sages described the events of Mashiach. The “sacrifice” stage (from Leviticus 1:2) is self-evident in Mashiach’s self-sacrifice on behalf of his nation. [Rav Ginsburgh points out that the word korbano (קרבנו), “his sacrifice” in the subsequent verse (Leviticus 1:3) has the same numerical value (358) as “Mashiach” (משיח)!] That Mashiach is ostracized like a leper is described by our Sages all over the place, and the Talmud even refers to him as “the Leper Scholar” (Sanhedrin 98b). The “death” of Mashiach ben Yosef, corresponding to stage three, is well-known (and will be explored more fully in an upcoming class). Then comes ushering in the Redemption for all of mankind (stage four), and finally bringing the world to a new, transcendent state where Heaven and Earth are united—corresponding to Adam Kadmon. This is the Mashiach journey, and this is the same journey for each of us, to ultimately bring out our very own inner mashiach.

The Mystical Significance of Bones

In this week’s parashah, Beshalach, the Israelites finally leave Egypt. We read how Moses made sure to take with him ‘atzamot Yosef, the “bones of Joseph” (Exodus 13:19). It is interesting that a bone is called an ‘etzem (עצם), which literally means an “essence”. As an adjective, ‘atzum (עצום) means “strong”, as well as “shut” or “closed up”. This is fitting since bones are the strongest components of the body, and “closed up” within muscles and other tissues. (For those who like numbers, the gematria of עצום is 206, which is the total number of bones in the human body!) There is something especially significant about bones. God made Eve from Adam’s bone, and Adam later declared that Eve is “bone of my bone” (‘etzem mi’atzamai), implying that her essence is like his essence, and now he would finally be happy and no longer feel alone. What is so special about bones that they hold the very essence of a person?

One of the amazing wonders of biology is that each and every cell of our bodies contains our entire genome (except, of course, the reproductive cells). So, the DNA inside the nucleus of eye cells contains the genes that also program toenails, and the toes have the DNA of the retinal proteins in our eyes! It remains one of the great mysteries of biology how cells are able to control exactly which genes are turned “on” or “off” in every cell, and how they make sure that eyes don’t have nails, and nails don’t grow eyes. In our adult bodies, most cells have already been differentiated into something specific (like eyes or toes), but there is one place where cells remain undifferentiated, and could become anything. These are called stem cells, and they exist mainly within our bones. Here in the bone marrow, we do indeed find our ‘etzem, the core essence of who we are, still undifferentiated and full of potential to become anything.

This explains why God made Eve from Adam’s bone specifically, as if He took some of Adam’s undifferentiated stem cells to create Eve! This is precisely how a modern-day scientist experimenting with genetic engineering or organ printing would do it. Better yet, when scientists and surgeons need to extract bone marrow for stem cell transplants today, the rib bone is actually a great place to get them, since they are near the surface and easily accessible, with little meat around them. (I know that some people will quote a different opinion from our Sages, as in Berakhot 61a, that Eve was “split” from a two-faced Adam, or that she was made from his “tail”, but the rib opinion makes a great deal of sense from a scientific perspective.) In any case, when we remember that our bones contain our undifferentiated cells and our untampered DNA, we appreciate the beauty of divine Hebrew in calling a bone an “essence”.

Scientifically speaking, the human body has four main types of tissues: bones are a type of connective tissue, and then there is muscle tissue, nervous tissue, and epithelial tissue. The Torah, too, speaks of four types of tissues: bones, plus bassar (meat), gidim (nerves), and ‘or (skin), neatly paralleling the four biological categories. We know that all fours in the Torah—such as the four mystical universes, the four Pardes aspects of Torah study, and the four letters of God’s Ineffable Name—match up and correspond to each other. We can link these up yet again with the four tissue types, to see once more the divine anatomy with which we were created:

Skin represents the surface level of Torah study, pshat (פשט), corresponding to the lowest realm, the physical and superficial Asiyah (as well as the lowest level of soul, the nefesh). Interestingly, the word in Hebrew to undress, ie. to remove one’s surface garments and reveal the skin, is lehitpashet (להתפשט)!

Beneath the skin is muscle, the bulkiest and heaviest part of the body, representing the sub-surface level of Torah study, remez, and the angelic realm of Yetzirah, as well as the next level of soul, ruach. The ruach is typically associated with the heart, also a muscle. With this we can understand why bassar (בשר), “flesh” or “meat”, shares a root with revealing news, levasser (לבשר)—for what is levasser but to reveal something currently hidden and as yet unknown? Levasser is to give more information beyond the obvious surface pshat that is already known! Moreover, we can now better understand why the Torah specifically uses the term yetzirah to describe the creation of Adam’s body (Genesis 2:7), and the command later for him to specifically become one bassar with his wife (2:24).

Going onwards, the muscles are innervated and controlled by nerves, paralleling drash, the metaphorical and allegorical level of Torah study, and the higher realm of Beriah, along with the neshamah level of soul. The neshamah is seated in the brain, the largest bundle of nerves in our body.

Finally, the inner-most part of the body is the bone, representing sod, the deepest part of Torah and its very essence. This is the level of soul called chayah, fitting because our Sages taught that Eve (made from Adam’s bone) was originally called Chayah, and only after the consumption of the Fruit did she become Chavah (see Kli Yakar on Genesis 3:20). The bone-sod level corresponds to the highest realm of God’s pure emanation, Atzilut. (The pure white colour of bone symbolically adds to this, along with the alliteration between Atzilut and ‘atzamot!) Atzilut is the place of pure, unadulterated light. Light is אור, with a value of 206, again like the total number of bones in the human body. We see a beautiful phonetic relationship between the surface level of skin, ‘or, spelled עור, and the deepest-most level of bone, corresponding to secret light, or, אור. (A word for an even more profound secret is raz, רז, with a value of 207, going one step further.) Without bones, the body would fall apart into a shapeless mass, just as would Torah without sod. (The Chida, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai [1724-1806] pointed out that if you take the sod out of Pardes [פרדס], you are left with pered [פרד], a mule!)

And what of the hidden-most “fifth” part—the “crown” atop the Yud of God’s Name and the yechidah soul, paralleling the most mysterious and mystical Adam Kadmon? Perhaps it’s the DNA itself, the very code that gives rise to all four tissue types of our bodies.

To summarize:

A final thought: Damage to the skin often heals back to the way it was before. Muscle and nerve damage is much harder to reverse, and sometimes irreparable. Bones, however, tend to heal back even stronger than they were. There is a wonderful lesson here for each of us, both individually and collectively as a nation: If something hurts us deeply and damages our very essence, we should bounce right back and recover, growing even stronger than we were before, so that our inner essence shines brighter than ever.

Shavua Tov and Happy Tu b’Shevat!

For more on ‘The Divine Anatomy of the Human Body’, see here.

Lights of Adam Kadmon

‘Jacob Keeping Laban’s Flocks’ by Gustav Doré

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. Continue reading