Tag Archives: Garden of Eden

The Letter of Creation

The following is an excerpt from Garments of Light, Volume Two. Get the book here


Vayigash elav Yehudah, “And Judah approached him…” The Zohar begins its commentary on this week’s parasha by briefly citing a well-known Midrash about how the letters of the Hebrew alphabet approached God seeking to be the letter through which God creates the universe. The account is presented in full in an ancient text called Otiot d’Rabbi Akiva, and is also referenced to in multiple places, including the first chapters of Beresheet Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni. The Zohar itself provides a detailed account in its first pages (I, 2b-3b):

…when the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to create the world, the letters of the alphabet appeared before Him (in reverse order). First came Tav and said: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will that You create the universe with me, for I am Your seal of Truth [emet], and You are called Truth. It would therefore be fitting for the King to start His Creation with the letter of Truth.”

The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “You are right and worthy, but I shall not create the universe with you, for you will be the mark upon the foreheads of the faithful, who fulfil the Torah from Aleph to Tav. With your mark, they shall die, for you are the seal of death [mavet].”

Being the last letter of the alphabet, Tav is the “seal” of God, and God’s seal is Truth. Tav argued it should be the letter of Creation—and the first letter of the Torah—because it represents Truth. God responded that Tav also represents death. The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) states that when a person is “marked” for death, the mark is a letter Tav on their forehead. And so, the universe cannot be created with a Tav. Next came the letter Shin: Continue reading

The Secret of HaMotzi Lechem

This week’s parasha is Balak, named after the Moabite king who sought to curse Israel. The Zohar spends a significant amount of time on the mysteries of this parasha. Included within it is a distinct mystical text known as the Yenuka, the “Child”, describing some fateful encounters between the Sages and an angelic youth, who reveals to them profound Torah secrets. (The identity of this child and some of his teachings were explored in the second edition of Secrets of the Last Waters.) In the first encounter (Zohar III, 186a), Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Yehudah are travelling and make a stop at the home of the famous mystic Rav Hamnuna Saba. They meet the Rav’s wife and child, then settle down to rest and eat. This sets the stage for the youth to reveal the secrets of things like netilat yadayim, mayim achronim, and zimun.

In another encounter (III, 188a), Rabbis Elazar, Abba, and Yose make a stop at the same home. The Yenuka senses that the Sages are perplexed by an issue regarding Ammon and Moav (which ties to this week’s parasha, Balak being the king of Moav). The youth segues into a discussion of the mystical secrets of grains and breads. These teachings help us understand why the hamotzi blessing is so powerful and “covers” all other foods. It also explains why the Sages described bread as the most wholesome food, and one that can save a person from many illnesses: In Bava Metzia 107b, for instance, we read that the gematria of “illness” (מחלה) is 83, while “bread” (לחמה) is its anagram, with the same value. This is to teach that eating a simple meal of bread and water—with the right blessings and meditations in mind—can cure a person of 83 illnesses. Continue reading

Unicorns in the Torah

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, and her favourite thing in the world is unicorns. Perhaps this is because the unicorn makes a hidden appearance in her parasha, this week’s parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei. In summarizing the construction of the Mishkan, the Torah notes that it was made with the skins of the tachash (Exodus 35:7). The tachash is a mysterious animal whose true identity is entirely unknown. The Talmud (Shabbat 28b) states that it was a unique mammal species, wild and undomesticated, with a singular horn on its head. It came specifically in the time of Moses to be used for the Mishkan, and has since disappeared. The Talmud goes on to suggest that it was probably the same animal that was brought by Adam as a sacrifice in the Garden of Eden. This ties to another passage in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8a) that explains how Adam brought a thanksgiving offering to God, of a unique animal with a single horn, as it states in Psalms 69:32 that “it shall please God better than an ox with horn and hooves.” Elsewhere (Chullin 60a), the Talmud adds that this special animal emerged fully formed, horn-first, from the Earth. The Sages hold that having horn and hooves means it was probably kosher! Continue reading