Tag Archives: God’s Chariot

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.

Anunaki: Giants and Aliens in the Torah

In this week’s parasha, Devarim, Moses recounts the journeys and battles of the Israelites and mentions a number of mysterious peoples:

The Emim dwelled there previously, a great and numerous and tall people, like the Anakim. They are also considered Rephaim, like the Anakim, and the Moabites called them Emim… Rephaim dwelled there formerly, and the Ammonites called them Zamzumim. A great and numerous and tall people, like the Anakim, but God exterminated them… For only Og, the king of Bashan, was left from the remnant of the Rephaim. His bed was a bed of iron… nine cubits was its length and four cubits its width… (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 20-21, 3:11)

Moses is apparently describing a race of giants, “great and tall”, of whom only one remained—Og (of whom we’re written in the past)—whose bed was nine cubits long, or approximately 18 feet! Who were these Rephaim, and how are they different from Anakim? What do they have to do with the Nephilim of Genesis, who are also thought to be giants?

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When Jews and Greeks Were Brothers: The Untold Story of Chanukah

As we continue to celebrate the festive holiday of Chanukah this week, it is important to remember that not all of the Greeks were wicked and immoral. We have already written in the past about the influence of Greek philosophy and language on traditional Judaism, and that the enemies of the Chanukah narrative were the Seleucids, or Syrian-Greeks, not the mainland Greeks of Europe. In fact, the Book of Maccabees (I, 12:6-18) records an alliance between Jonathan Maccabee—the kohen gadol and righteous leader of Israel after the deaths of Matityahu and Judah Maccabee—and the famous Spartans of Greece:

Jonathan, the high priest, and the council of the nation and the priests and the rest of the Jewish people send greetings to their brothers, the Spartans. In former times, a letter was sent to the high priest Onias, from Areus who was then king among you, to say that you are our kinsman… And Onias showed honour to the man who was sent to him, and accepted the letter, which contained a declaration of alliance and friendliness.

So, although we are in no need of these, since we find our encouragement in the sacred books that are in our keeping, we have undertaken to send to renew relations of brotherhood and friendliness with you, so that we may not become entirely estranged from you…

Coin depicting King Areus I of Sparta (309-265 BCE)

Jonathan points out that Israel does not need the help of the Spartans to defeat the Seleucids, as God’s help is all they need. Nonetheless, Israel and Sparta were always good friends, and Israel wants to keep it that way. In his letter, Jonathan mentions an earlier letter sent by King Areus of Sparta to Onias the kohen gadol (Onias is the Hellenized name for Choniyahu or Chonio, the son of Yadua the high priest, mentioned in Nehemiah 12:11, and discussed last week). This letter is recorded in the Book of Maccabees (I, 12:20-23) as well, and also in the writings of Josephus:

Areus, king of the Spartans, sends greetings to Onias the high priest. It is found in writing that the Spartans and Jews are kinsman, and that they are both of the stock of Abraham…

Incredibly, the Spartan king suggests that the Spartans are descendants of Abraham, too! Where does this bizarre belief come from?

Greek Sons of Abraham

Sometime in the 2nd century BCE lived a Greek historian and sage named Cleodemus, sometimes referred to as Cleodemus the Prophet. He also went by the name Malchus which, because of its Semitic origins, makes some scholars believe he could have been Jewish. Cleodemus wrote an entire history of the Jewish people in Greek. While this text appears to have been lost, it is cited by others, including Josephus (Antiquities, i. 15).

Cleodemus commented on Abraham’s marriage to Keturah (typically identified with Hagar), and their children. This is recorded in Genesis 25, which begins:

And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, and Yokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuach. And Yokshan begot Sheva and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Ashurim, and Letushim, and Leumim. And the sons of Midian were Ephah, and Epher, and Chanokh, and Avidah, and Elda’ah. All these were the children of Keturah. And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, while to the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and he sent them away from Isaac, while he was still alive, to the east country.

Abraham had six children with Keturah, from which came at least seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren which the Torah names explicitly. The Torah then makes it clear that Abraham gave everything that he had to Isaac—including the Covenant with God and the land of Israel—while the others received gifts and were sent away from the Holy Land.

Cleodemus suggests that Epher (or another child named Yaphran), the great-grandson of Abraham, migrated to Africa—which is where the term “Africa” comes from! (This is particularly interesting because Epher was the son of Midian, and Tziporah the wife of Moses was a Midianite, and is described as a Cushite, or African/Ethiopian.) Cleodemus states that Epher, Yaphran, and Ashurim assisted the Greek hero Hercules in one of his battles. Following this, Hercules married one of their daughters—a great granddaughter of Abraham—and had a son with her. This son was Diodorus, one of the legendary founders of Sparta!

It appears that the Spartan king Areus was aware of this possible historical connection, and accepted it as fact. This connection may explain why the Spartans were so similar to ancient Israelites. (Others have suggested that because the Israelite tribe of Shimon—known for being fierce warriors—did not receive a set portion in the Holy Land, many of them moved elsewhere and ended up in Sparta, or ended up in Sparta after being expelled from Israel by the Assyrians alongside the other lost tribes.) In his book Sparta, renowned historian Hugo Jones writes that the Spartans held in the highest regard a certain ancient law-giver, much like Moses the law-giver of Israel. The Spartans celebrated new moons (Rosh Chodesh), and unlike their Greek counterparts, even a seventh day of rest! Of course, the Spartans themselves were very different from other Greeks, particularly those in Athens, whom Sparta often battled. The Spartan form of government was different, too, not an Athenian-style democracy but a monarchy that governed alongside a “council of elders”, much like Israel’s king and Sanhedrin.

Perhaps most similarly, the Spartans were known for their “stoic” way of life. The later Greek school of stoicism was modeled on the ancient way of the Spartans. This meant living simply and modestly, being happy with what one has, and most importantly, putting mind above body, and logic above emotion. This almost sounds like something out of Pirkei Avot, and is a teaching echoed across Jewish texts both ancient and modern. In fact, when Josephus tried to explain who the rabbis were to his Roman audience, he said that they were Jewish stoic philosophers!

Bust of Zeno of Citium (c. 334-262 BCE), founder of the Athenian school of Stoicism. Zeno taught that God permeates the whole universe, and knowledge of God requires goodness, fortitude, logic, and living a life of Virtue.

Gideon and Leonidas

Undoubtedly, the most famous story of the Spartans is the Battle of Thermopylae. Around 480 BCE, the Persian emperor Xerxes invaded Greece with a massive force. Xerxes first sent messengers to the Greek city-states to offer peaceful surrender. According to the historian Herodotus, Sparta’s king Leonidas told the messenger: “A slave’s life is all you understand, you know nothing of freedom. For if you did, you would have encouraged us to fight on, not only with our spear, but with everything we have.” Spoken like a true Maccabee.

The messenger then told Leonidas and his men to bow down, to which Leonidas, like his historical contemporary Mordechai, said: “We bow down before no man.” Later, when the Persian boasted that his empire was the wealthiest in the world, with gold reserves the likes of which Leonidas could only dream of, Leonidas replied: “Ares is lord. Greece has no fear of gold.”

This statement almost makes Leonidas seem like a monotheist. Indeed, the Spartans worshiped Ares—the god of war—above all others. Interestingly, the Torah commonly describes Hashem in similar military terms, like a great warrior riding a merkavah or chariot, as a “God of Legions” (Hashem Tzva’ot), and even as a “Man of War” (Ish Milchamah, see Exodus 15:3). Of course, the Spartans had their abominable statues and idols, which is perhaps the greatest distinction (and a critical one) between them and ancient Israel.

‘Gideon choosing his men’ by Gustav Doré. God told Gideon to choose worthy soldiers based on the way they drank from a spring. Those that went on their knees and bent over to drink were disqualified. Those three hundred who modestly took cupfuls to their mouth were selected. (Judges 7:5-7)

King Leonidas went on to assemble just three hundred brave men to face off against the massive Persian invasion. Although they ultimately lost, the Spartans fought valiantly, inspired their fellow Greeks, and did enough damage to hamper Persian victory. This story of three hundred, too, has a Biblical parallel. The Book of Judges records a nearly-identical narrative, with the judge Gideon assembling three hundred brave men and miraculously defeating a massive foreign invasion.

Which came first? The earliest complete Greek mythological texts date back only to the 3rd century BCE. By then, the Tanakh had long been completed, and in that same century was first translated into the Greek Septuagint. It isn’t hard to imagine Greek scholars and historians of the 3rd century getting their hands on the first Greek copies of Tanakh and incorporating those narratives into their own. In fact, the Greek-Jewish philosopher Aristobulus of Alexandria (181-124 BCE) admitted that all of Greek wisdom comes from earlier Jewish sources. The later Greek philosopher Numenius of Apamea said it best: “What is Plato but Moses speaking Greek?”

Yafet and Iapetus

The similarities between Greek myth and more ancient Jewish texts are uncanny. Hercules was a mighty warrior whose first task (of twelve) was to slay a lion, like the mighty Shimshon who first slays a lion in Judges. Deucalion survives a great flood that engulfs the whole world as punishment from an angry Zeus. Like Noah before him, Deucalion has a wife and three sons, and like Noah, Deucalion is associated with wine-making (the root of his name, deukos). Pandora’s curiosity brings about evil just like Eve’s, while Asclepius carries a healing serpent-staff like Moses. Aristophanes even taught that Zeus first made man as male and female in one body, and later split them in half, just as the Torah and Talmud do.

Roman mosaic of Hercules and the Nemean Lion, and a Roman fresco of Samson and the lion, from the same time period.

In Jewish tradition, the Greeks come from the Biblical Yavan, son of Yafet (or Yefet or Japheth), son of Noah (Genesis 10:2). Yavan is the same as the Greek Ion (or Iawones), one of the Greek gods, and Ionia, referring to one of its most important regions, and the dialect of the great Greek poets Homer and Hesiod, as well as the scholars Herodotus and Hippocrates. Meanwhile, the Greeks worshipped Iapetus (same as Yafet) as a major god. Iapetus was the father of Prometheus, the god who supposedly fashioned man from the mud of the earth. So, not surprisingly, the Biblical Yavan and Yafet are firmly in the Greek tradition as well.

In the past, we wrote how Greece had a huge influence on Judaism. Now, we see how tremendous an influence Judaism had on Greece. The two civilizations go hand-in-hand, and between them gave rise to the world we live in. Indeed, this was prophesied by Noah, who blessed his sons: “May God make Yefet great, and he will dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). Shem is the earliest forefather of Israel, and Yefet of Greece. The two dwell in one tent. Winston Churchill said it best:

No two cities have counted more with mankind than Athens and Jerusalem. Their messages in religion, philosophy and art have been the main guiding light in modern faith and culture. Personally, I have always been on the side of both…

On Chanukah, we celebrate the Jewish victory over the Seleucids. Not of the Greeks as a whole, but of a relatively small faction of Syrian Greeks, far from the Greek heartland which always enjoyed a good relationship with Israel, starting with Alexander the Great and through to the Spartans and Maccabees.

Chag sameach!


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