Tag Archives: Behar (Parasha)

How the Patriarchs Rectified Adam

‘Garden of Eden’, by Thomas Cole

This week we read a double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai. In its commentary on the first of the two, the Zohar states that the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—each rectified one part of Adam (Zohar III, 221b, Ra’aya Mehemna). Through the consumption of the Forbidden Fruit and the aftermath of that event, the Zohar states that Adam was, in effect, guilty of three cardinal sins.

In Jewish law, one is supposed to violate any mitzvah if they are threatened with death—except for three: idolatry, forbidden sexual relations (giluy ‘arayot), and murder (see Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 5:2). When Adam and Eve consumed the Fruit, the sin was akin to idolatry: ignoring God’s command and taking the advice of the Serpent instead. Moreover, idol worship itself began in the generation of Enosh, Adam’s grandson (Genesis 4:26). Adam was alive and well at the time, and should have prevented this development. For these reasons, it is considered that Adam transgressed the sin of idolatry.

Similarly, he was held accountable for sexual transgression. We read in the Torah (Genesis 5:3) that Adam was 130 years old when he and Eve had their third son, Shet (or Seth). Why did the couple wait 130 years to have another child? The Sages explain that after the Forbidden Fruit, Adam and Eve were so dejected that they separated for 130 years. Unfortunately, during this time Adam was unable to control his urges and “wasted seed”. (We have addressed this issue and the 130-year period before in depth here.) This is where he was guilty of giluy ‘arayot, sexual sin.

Finally, the consumption of the Forbidden Fruit brought death to the world, as God had warned Adam and Eve. Without that, there would have been no murder. Adam and Eve experienced this firsthand when their eldest son slew his brother. Again, Adam failed to prevent history’s first murder. For these reasons, Adam was also guilty of bloodshed. The soul of Adam needed rectification, and this is where the Patriarchs stepped in.

Repairing Adam

The Zohar tells us that each of the Patriarchs contained a part of Adam’s soul. Abraham came first, and purified the part of Adam that was stained with idolatry. This happened when King Nimrod arrested Abraham for preaching monotheism and for making fools of the idolaters (see Beresheet Rabbah 38:13). Nimrod gave Abraham an ultimatum: bow down to the idols, or be thrown into a fiery furnace. Abraham refused in an incredible display of faith, so Nimrod threw him in. At this point, God miraculously saved Abraham from the flames. (Amazingly, this was actually the very first time God revealed Himself to Abraham.) This act rectified the sin of idolatry within the soul of Adam.

Next came Isaac. At the Akedah, he laid down his neck and was willing to die for a mitzvah. This was a rectification for bloodshed. (For more on this rectification, see ‘Secrets of the Akedah’ in Garments of Light.) Finally, it was Jacob who purified sexual sin. When Jacob blessed his eldest son Reuben (Genesis 49:3), he said that Reuben was the first of his “strength”, which can also be read “my first emission”. The Sages derive from this that Reuben’s conception was literally the very first time that Jacob had an emission—he was 84 years old at the time! Through his purity, Jacob rectified Adam’s sin of wasted seed.

In these ways, the Patriarchs repaired the soul of the first man, and merited to have their faces adorn the corners of the Merkavah, God’s Divine Chariot. Of course, a chariot has a fourth wheel. The fourth was reserved for the one who could complete the entire rectification—not just for Adam, but for all of mankind.

A Gift of 70 Years

The Torah tells us that Adam lived 930 years. This is a peculiar number. Could he not have lived a round 1000? After all, God had told Adam that if he eats from the Forbidden Fruit, he would die that “same day” (Genesis 2:17), and a day for God is equal to 1000 years (Psalm 90:4)! Indeed, Adam should have lived 1000 years. However, when God gave Adam a preview of all the future generations, Adam saw that David was destined to be stillborn. Adam decided to give up 70 years of his own life to David, which is why Adam lived 930 years, and David lived exactly 70 years. The Zohar relates this narrative (see I, 55a), yet later on it also says that David received his 70 years from each of the Patriarchs! (I, 168a-b) How can this be?

When factoring in the above, we can easily find the solution: Each of the Patriarchs received a part of Adam’s soul first, and after being rectified within the Patriarchs, those parts then moved on to David. The Zohar explains that Abraham gave 5 years of his life to David, since Abraham should have lived a complete 180 years, but we see in the Torah that he lived 175 years. Jacob gave up 28 years to David, since he should have lived at least as long as his grandfather Abraham (175 years), but we read that he only lived 147 years. Finally, Joseph gave up 37 of his own years to David, since Joseph should have lived at least as long as his father Jacob (147 years), but we read that he only lived 110 years. In total, David received 70 years (5+28+37).

You might be wondering why David got 37 years from Joseph, and not Isaac. Isaac did live a full 180 years, and gave up nothing to David. The Zohar states the reason for this, but it is beyond the scope of our present discussion. It suffices to say that instead of Isaac, David received a piece from Joseph. Through this, Joseph and David became forever linked. This is another reason why the messiah has two elements: Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. In fact, David was the first potential messiah. He had the opportunity to rectify the cardinal sins for all of mankind. Unfortunately, he hit a bit of a snag.

Rectifying the World

Although our Sages warn that one shouldn’t conclude that David sinned in any way (Shabbat 56a), in another place they affirm that David did sin on some level (Yoma 22b). Not surprisingly, the Sages list three sins of David, and it isn’t difficult to see how they neatly parallel the three cardinal sins. First on the list is arranging the death of Uriah the Hittite, then taking a census of Israel, and finally the incident with Batsheva. The first is, of course, bloodshed. The second came as a result of heeding Satan, as we read “And Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to number Israel.” (I Chronicles 21:1) Like with Adam and Eve, this was under the category of idolatry. Finally, the incident with Batsheva was a case of a forbidden sexual union (although our Sages explain how it wasn’t technically forbidden for a number of reasons).

While David did sin, he undoubtedly repented for these sins. He also suffered tremendously for them, as recounted in detail in the Tanakh, and ultimately repented to such a great extent that our Sages say he completely eliminated his yetzer hara, the “evil inclination”. We read that “David succeeded in all his ways; and God was with him.” (I Samuel 18:14) The Sages point out that if God “was with him”, David must surely have been entirely free of sin (Shabbat 56a). Meanwhile, other verses show us how dearly God loved David (his name literally means “beloved”). David reached such a high level that he merited to became the fourth face of the Chariot (Zohar I, 60b).

Having said that, David was still unable to fulfil the role of Mashiach in his generation. This is why the soul of David will return in Mashiach. As we’ve explained in the past, the Arizal points out that “Adam” stands for Adam, David, Mashiach—the first, middle, and “last” being of history. This is why Mashiach himself has to go through a set of rectifications for the three cardinal sins.

Once those tikkunim are affected, the cardinal sins will be defeated for good and expunged from the world. There will be no more bloodshed, as Isaiah famously prophesied: “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares…” (Isaiah 2:4) There will be no more sexual sins, as prophesied by Daniel: “They shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be entirely refined…” (Daniel 12:10) And there will be no more idolatry, as Zechariah prophesied: “…in that day God will be one, and His name one.” (Zechariah 14:9)

Shabbat Shalom!


Shavuot is just two weeks away! Make your all-night learning meaningful and do it right with Tikkun Leil Shavuot – the Arizal’s Torah Study Guide.

Is Mount Sinai Really a Mountain?

This week we read another double portion, Behar and Bechukotai, which begins by telling us that God “spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 25:1). Why does the Torah constantly reiterate that God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai? Why does Mount Sinai matter so much?

Pirkei Avot opens by stating that Moses received the Torah not “at Sinai” (b’Sinai), but “from Sinai” (miSinai), as if the mountain itself revealed the Torah. More perplexing still, it is said that Sinai was so unique it descended down into this world just for the Torah’s revelation—and can no longer be found today! What do we really know about this enigmatic “mountain”?

A Mountain of Many Names

The Talmud (Megillah 29a, Shabbat 89a) records that Mount Sinai had multiple names, including Horev, Tzin, Kadesh, Kedomot, Paran, Har HaElohim, Har Bashan, and Har Gavnunim. The latter name comes from the root meaning “hunched” (giben) or short. Mount Sinai was a lowly and humble mountain, which is why God picked it in the first place. This name is also a reason why it is customary to eat dairy foods on the holiday of Shavuot—which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai—since gavnunim is related to gevinah, cheese.

The term gavnunim comes from Psalms 68:17, where we read how other mountains were jealous of Sinai. The same verse is cited by Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 19) in stating that God created seven special mountains, and chose Sinai for the greatest of His revelations. We are told that the name Sinai comes from s’neh, the burning bush that appeared to Moses on this mountain. Delving deeper, however, we see that Moses didn’t just stumble upon the place and, in fact, Sinai was far more than just a mountain.

Mountain, or Vehicle?

In commenting on the first chapters of Exodus, Yalkut Reuveni tells us that Mount Sinai actually uprooted itself and flew towards Moses while he was shepherding his flocks. Meanwhile, the Talmud (Shabbat 88a) famously states that the Israelites stood not at the foot of Sinai, but underneath Sinai, with the mountain hovering over their heads. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 41) gives us even more fascinating details:

On the sixth of Sivan, the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed to Israel on Sinai, and from His place was He revealed on Mount Sinai and the Heavens were opened, and the summit of the mountain entered into the Heavens. Thick darkness covered the mountain, and the Holy One, blessed be He, sat upon His throne, and His feet stood on the thick darkness, as it is said, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and thick darkness was under His feet.” (II Samuel 22:10)

Despite being a lowly mountain, Sinai’s summit ascended up to the Heavens. Then God Himself descended upon it, with His “feet” amidst the cloud of thick darkness (‘araphel) surrounding the mountain. The passage continues:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karchah said: The feet of Moses stood on the mount, and all his body was in the Heavens… beholding and seeing everything that is in the Heavens. The Holy One, blessed be He, was speaking with him like a man who is conversing with his companion, as it is said, “And Hashem spoke unto Moses face to face.” (Exodus 33:11)

Moses’s feet were “on the mount”, yet his entire body was in Heaven! This brings to mind the vision of Ezekiel, where the prophet sees the Merkavah, God’s “Chariot”, descending from Heaven before “… a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the sound of a great rushing… also the noise of the wings of the Chayot as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, the noise of a great rushing.” (Ezekiel 3:12-13)

A Sci-Fi Version of Ezekiel’s Vision

Like Elijah and Enoch before him, Ezekiel was taken up to Heaven upon a mysterious vehicle, complete with wings and spinning wheels that generated a deafening noise. (With regards to Elijah, we read in II Kings 2:11 that “there appeared a chariot of fire… and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind up to Heaven.”) Similarly, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer suggests that there were 22,000 such chariots at Sinai! This is based on Psalms 68:18, which says “The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; Adonai is among them, as at Sinai, in holiness.”

A Vehicle of Prophecy

The similarities between Ezekiel’s Vision and the Revelation at Sinai don’t end there. Ezekiel (1:4, 13, 24) writes:

… A stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire flashing up… and out of the fire went forth lightning… a tumultuous noise like a great military camp…

Exodus 19:16-18 describes the scene this way:

… There were noises and lightning bolts, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the sound of a horn exceedingly loud… And Mount Sinai was covered in smoke, because Hashem descended upon it in fire…

Both passages speak of fire and lightning, thick clouds and ear-splitting noises. The semblance is undoubtedly the reason for Ezekiel’s Vision being read as the haftarah for the holiday of Shavuot. The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 43:8) even writes that the inspiration for the Golden Calf at Sinai was the face of the bull upon God’s Chariot, as described by Ezekiel (1:10).

These midrashic descriptions suggest that Sinai—far from being simply a mountain—is a vehicle of prophecy and revelation, much like the Merkavah. It is therefore not surprising to see Sinai implicated in various other prophetic visions, including Elijah’s conversation with God (I Kings 19), and Jacob’s vision of the ladder (where “ladder”, סלם, also has the same gematria as “Sinai”, סיני). It explains why Pirkei Avot states that Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and why the Torah constantly connects Moses’ prophecy to it.

Ultimately, prophecy and divine revelation will return with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple. So, it is fitting to end with one more midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 391), which states that God will bring back Sinai in the future; it will descend upon Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple will be rebuilt right on top of it.


Make your Shavuot night-learning meaningful with the Arizal’s ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’, a mystical Torah-study guide, now in English and Hebrew, with commentary.

An Honest Look at Death and the Afterlife

This week we once again read a double Torah portion, combining the parashot of Behar and Bechukotai to complete the book of Leviticus. The main themes of these parashas are the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, as well as God’s rewards and punishments for those who follow His ways and those who do not.

One interesting thing that the reader will note is that there is no mention of any kind of afterlife. All of the rewards and punishments that are listed are described in wholly physical terms: ample rains and abundant harvests, military victories and secure borders, good food and the feeling of God’s presence – and the opposite of these if the people are sinful. Why is it that the Torah does not mention any kind of reward and punishment in the afterlife? After all, we are accustomed to hearing that this world is nothing but a transient “hallway”, so to speak, while the next world is the real deal, where people receive what they deserve.

More puzzling is the fact that the Torah essentially never mentions the afterlife in explicit fashion. Everything appears to happen in this physical world. Yet, there is certainly a discussion of souls, and many spiritual entities. So, what is the real Torah conception of the afterlife?

The Garden of Eden

'Garden of Eden', by Thomas Cole

‘Garden of Eden’, by Thomas Cole

Typically, it is common to think that those who have passed away are now in the “Garden of Eden”, and this is indeed how Hebrew-speakers often refer to the dead, wishing them menucha (rest) in Gan Eden. But where exactly is this “Gan Eden”?

The Torah is quite clear on the fact that God created the Garden of Eden right here on Earth. The Genesis account describes God’s creation of the world, and all of its inhabitants, and concludes with the planting of a garden in Eden, where the first man and woman are placed. After their sin of consuming the fruit, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, and continue their lives elsewhere on Earth. There is no mention anywhere in the Torah of a spiritual Garden of Eden located somewhere in the Heavens!

Conversely, it is common for people to refer to an afterlife of damnation in a place called Gehinnom, typically translated as “hell”. Again, there is no explicit mention of a “hell” in Scripture. Gehinnom itself simply means “the Valley of Hinnom” (or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, Gei Ben Hinnom) which is discussed in the Tanakh as a place right outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem. This is described as a place of sinners and idolaters, outcasts that were expelled from the Holy City. Once again, we see that the place usually thought of as hell is simply a physical place here on Earth.

As Above, So Below

By the times of the Talmudic period, the Jewish Sages had developed a unique cosmic worldview. They saw this material world as only a reflection of the spiritual world. What happened down here reflected, in some way, much greater cosmic events that were happening in the Heavens. Thus, just as there was a Jerusalem down here on Earth, there was a Jerusalem shel ma’alah, a “Jerusalem Above” (see, for example, Ta’anit 5a).

Similarly, just as there was a Garden of Eden – a place of utmost peace and pleasure – here on Earth, there must be a similar one above in the Heavens. And just as there was a Gehinnom – a deep valley of evil – here on Earth, there must be such a place in the Heavens, too.

It appears that the idea of righteous souls moving on to a Heavenly Gan Eden, or wicked souls to a Heavenly Gehinnom, came from this view on the nature of God’s universe.

The Big Afterlife Problem

However, this brings about a very large problem: both the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom are described in physical terms. But, after the body dies and decays, only the soul lives on, and how can the soul experience physical pleasures or pains? Additionally, the soul is described as pure and eternal. Why is it the soul that must suffer for the sins accrued by the body? And why should the soul suffer infinitely for a body that had only such a short, finite existence?

This problem was presented to Rabbi Yehuda haNasi by the Roman Emperor Antoninus nearly two millennia ago (Sanhedrin 91a-b).

Antoninus said to Rabbi: “The body and the soul can both free themselves from judgment. Thus, the body can plead: ‘The soul has sinned, since from the day it left me I lie like a dumb stone in the grave.’ While the soul can say: ‘The body has sinned, since from the day I departed from it I fly freely in the air like a bird.’”

He replied: “I will tell you a parable. To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now, he appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind. [One day] the lame man said to the blind, ‘I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Come and take me upon your shoulders, that we may procure and eat them.’ So the lame strode the blind, procured and ate them. Some time after, the owner of the orchard came and inquired of them, ‘Where are those beautiful figs?’ The lame man replied, ‘Do I have feet to walk with?’ The blind man replied, ‘Do I have eyes to see with?’ What did he do? He placed the lame upon the blind and judged them together. So will the Holy One, blessed be He, bring the soul, place it in the body, and judge them together…”

Rabbi Yehuda replied with a wonderful parable, and concluded that God brings the body and soul together again, and only then judges the person, and bestows upon them their due rewards or punishments.

So, if the body and soul go back together again after death, then there is no “Garden of Eden” or “Gehinnom” in the sense that we might commonly think.

Gate of Reincarnations

The only way that the body and soul can go back together again is if, following death, the soul returns into bodily form. This is the definition of reincarnation. Roughly 500 years ago, the great kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, better known as the Arizal, revealed many secrets of reincarnation, and these teachings were recorded by his primary disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, in a text called Sha’ar HaGilgulim (Gate of Reincarnations).

This text describes reincarnations in great detail, and affirms that those who have lived sinful lives are reincarnated into new lives that are very challenging, and in this way have to make reparations for the mistakes of their past. The righteous, too, are reincarnated, since no one goes through life without making some mistakes, and even the most minute of these errors must be repaired. However, such people will enjoy much better lives, and be given the opportunity to fix those minor details from their past.

Of course, proper repentance can nullify any trials that a person must bear due to a mishap from a past life. Thus, free will ultimately trumps everything else. And what happens to those who have completely fulfilled their missions? In that case, there is indeed a “Garden of Eden” of sorts.

(For more on reincarnation, click here to read ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Reincarnation in Judaism’.)

Resurrection of the Dead

One form of afterlife that Scriptures do mention explicitly is the Resurrection of the Dead. It is taught that sometime after the coming of Mashiach, all of the righteous souls will miraculously come back to life. They will then enjoy the world as it was always meant to be: a Garden of Eden.

Ultimately, this is the role of Mashiach: to return the world to that perfect, primordial state. It is interesting to note how the figure responsible for driving mankind out of the Garden was the Serpent, Nachash (נחש) in Hebrew, a word which has a numerical value of 358; and the figure responsible for returning mankind to the Garden is Mashiach (משיח), a word which also has a gematria of 358 – measure for measure. Thus, the final step for each soul, once its mission is complete, is to be resurrected in the restored Garden of Eden, right here in a new Earth, following the arrival of Mashiach.

We can now understand why Bechukotai does not speak of any spiritual rewards or punishments in an afterlife. All of the rewards and punishments are right here in this world, where body and soul unite as one, as Rabbi Yehuda told Antoninus. We can now also see why no “Heaven” or “Hell” is ever explicitly mentioned in Scripture, and why we never even mention them in our prayers. The Amidah prayer recited thrice daily makes no reference to souls in some Heavenly realm, but does have a blessing for techiyat ha’metim, the Resurrection of the Dead in a future, perfected world.

May we merit to see it speedily and in our days.


To learn more about the afterlife and the era of the Resurrection, please see ‘Space Travel in the World to Come?‘ in Garments of Light.