Tag Archives: Middot

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

What’s The Ideal Number of Children to Have?

1907 Illustration of the Exodus from the Providence Lithograph Company

This week we begin reading Shemot, the second book of the Torah. Commenting on Israel’s rapid population growth (Exodus 1:7), Rashi famously cites the Midrash that each woman gave birth to six children in a single pregnancy! This is a classic Midrash in the sense that it probably should not be taken literally. One way to make sense of it is to suggest that perhaps each woman produced six Jewish souls per pregnancy. We know that while there was a limited number of Israelites physically present in Egypt and at the Exodus, we maintain that all Jewish souls that ever lived or will live (including those of converts) were there spiritually. Jewish souls from across history were liberated from slavery in Egypt and experienced the Revelation at Sinai. That’s one reason the Passover Haggadah reminds us that each and every Jew at the seder should feel like he or she personally came out of Egypt. You did!

Back in Egypt, the physical Jewish population did indeed grow rapidly. However, when we read the detailed genealogical lists in the Torah, we find that family sizes were not disproportionally large. Amram and Yocheved had three children, Aaron had four, Moses just two. In fact, throughout the Torah family sizes seem relatively small. Isaac had two sons, and Joseph had two as well (that we know of). Abraham was one of three sons. He went on to have a single child with Sarah, one with Hagar, and six more with Keturah (who may or may not be the same person as Hagar). There’s a tradition that Abraham had a daughter, too. Jacob had two children from Rachel, two from Bilhah, two from Zilpah, and seven from Leah—six boys and a girl (like Abraham). The reason for this, from a mystical perspective, is quite evident.

When it comes to the Sefirot, six are described as “masculine”, and the seventh is the feminine Nukva. Higher above, the Sefirah of Binah is called Ima, the “mother”, while Chokhmah is called Aba, the “father”. In this arrangement, the first and highest Sefirah of Keter symbolizes God Above. So, there’s God, father, mother, the six sons, and the daughter. This is a complete mystical “family”. Is this, then, the ideal family on the physical plane as well?

Not exactly. Continue reading

The Ten Plagues on the Ten Senses of the Human Body

‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt’ by J.M.W. Turner (1800)

This week’s parasha, Bo, describes the final three plagues that God brought upon Egypt. There is an allusion to this in the very name of the parasha, since the gematria of “Bo” (בא) is 3. It is not a coincidence that the Torah divides the Ten Plagues between two parashas, seven in last week’s and three in Bo. In fact, all things that are “Ten” in the Torah (such as the Ten Utterances of Creation, the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Trials of Abraham) follow the same pattern of 7 and 3. The pattern is based on the Ten Sefirot, where there are three higher mochin, “mental” faculties, above the seven lower middot, “emotional” faculties or character traits. Since the Ten Sefirot permeate all aspects of Creation, this same pattern reveals itself in many places.

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