Tag Archives: Ki Tavo

Counter-Sefirot and the Seven Chambers of Hell

This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, records some of Moses’ final instructions to the people before his passing, and what the nation should do upon entering the Holy Land. Among these things is to have the Twelve Tribes divided upon two mountains, and pronounce a set of curses and blessings. The Torah records a total of 11 distinct curses. Although the word “cursed” appears twelve times, the last instance is only a general statement that “Cursed be the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to fulfill them…”

In his mystical commentary on this week’s parasha (in Sha’ar HaPesukim), the Arizal explains that the 11 curses are neutralized by the 11 ingredients of the special Ketoret incense. Similarly, they are blocked by the 11 curtains of the Mishkan. Why specifically 11? The Arizal explains that just as there are Ten Sefirot in the realm of holiness, there are ten opposing “counter-Sefirot” forces in the realm of kelipah, the unholy “husks”. These ten counter-Sefirot have an additional 11th source which gives them energy, since they are otherwise empty on their own. This is unlike the holy Sefirot, each of which is imbued with, and shines forth, its own unique energy and light. Having said that, among the Sefirot there is indeed an eleventh aspect, too, which is the unifying Da’at (itself portrayed as only the inverse of Keter).

Although Rabbi Chaim Vital records little else in Sha’ar HaPesukim that the Arizal said on Ki Tavo, we do know that the Arizal’s source for the counter-Sefirot was actually the Zohar—not on this week’s parasha, but on parashat Pekudei. In one of the longest, most complex, and most esoteric passages of the Zohar (starting at II, 242b), we learn about the energies that oppose (and, in some ways, balance out) the Sefirot in the realm of the Sitra Achra, the “Other Side”. Making sense of the Zohar’s cryptic language is a huge challenge, and I hope to do it some justice in the overview that follows. Continue reading

The Meaning of Tiferet

In the parasha of Ki Tavo, we read:

And God has affirmed today that you are His treasured people, as He promised, who shall observe His commandments, and He shall place you above the nations that He has made, for fame, renown, and glory, and you shall be a holy nation unto Hashem, your God, as He promised.

The unique word for “glory” here, tiferet (תפארת), appears just three times in the whole Torah, and another 26 times or so in the rest of the Tanakh (not including the related tiferah). That it appears specifically three times in the Torah is no coincidence, for Tiferet is the third of the lower Sefirot, and is always associated with the number 3. It sits at the centre of the mystical Tree of Life, and is the only Sefirah interlinked with all the others. In Kabbalistic texts, Tiferet holds tremendous significance, and is discussed perhaps more than any other Sefirah. It is the Sefirah of the Torah, and of Israel, and the one associated with the very Name of God, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה). What is so special about Tiferet and why is it so important? Continue reading

The Meaning and Power of “Amen”

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, the Israelites are presented with a list of curses that they would bring upon themselves if they did not fulfil God’s commands. In the first set of curses, the Israelites answer each statement with “amen”, a term connoting agreement and acceptance. The now-ubiquitous term is actually quite rare in the Tanakh. In the Torah itself it appears in only one other context with the same meaning (Numbers 5:22). What does “amen” really mean, and why is it recited at the end of blessings? Why does it have the power to include its reciter in another person’s mitzvah? Continue reading