Tag Archives: Rachamim

Shevirat haKelim and the Kings of Edom

This week’s parasha, Vayishlach, has an entire chapter outlining the progeny of Esau in detail, along with all the future “kings of Edom” that emerged from him. The inclusion of this passage in the Torah is somewhat puzzling: why should we care to know about all of these foreign rulers? Like we explored last week with Jacob’s sheep, though this information may seem trivial on the surface, mystical texts actually derive a great deal of meaning from this chapter. In fact, the Arizal stated that the secrets of shevirat hakelim, the famous “Shattering of the Vessels” at the start of Creation, are relayed specifically in this chapter.

Recall that God originally made the cosmos entirely with Gevurah, or Din, with strict measure, strong judgement, and precise severity. This is why the account of Creation uses only Elohim as the name of God, for that is the name associated with Din (whereas the Tetragrammaton is typically associated with Chessed, unlimited kindness, and more specifically, with Rachamim, mercy and compassion). However, that universe was “too perfect” and too fragile, unable to contain God’s light. Of the ten “vessels” (the Sefirot) that held the universe together, the lower seven “shattered” and had to be reconstructed. The Arizal notes that they shattered into 288 major fragments. This is alluded to when the Torah says that the Spirit of God “hovered” over the primordial waters (Genesis 1:2). The word “hovered”, merachefet (מרחפת), is an anagram of met-rapach (מת רפ״ח), the fall or “death” of the 288 pieces (see Sha’ar HaPesukim on Beresheet). Continue reading

Ten Sefirot: A Brief History

The Sefirot of mochin above (in blue) and the Sefirot of the middot below (in red) on the mystical “Tree of Life”.

This week, in parashat Yitro, we read the Ten Commandments. As with all other things that are ten in the Torah, the Ten Commandments correspond neatly to the Ten Sefirot. Just as the first three of the Sefirot are on a higher plane, referred as the mochin, the first three of the Commandments are also distinct and relate directly to God (to know there is a God, to have no other gods or idols, and not to take God’s Name in vain). We saw a similar division of ten into groups of three and seven in the Ten Plagues, where the first seven are read in parashat Va’era, and the final three in parashat Bo. Likewise, we find a division of ten into three and seven in the very first case of ten: the Ten Utterances of Creation.

As our Sages famously teach, God created the entire universe through Ten Utterances (Avot 5:1). When we look in the first chapter of Genesis at the account of Creation, we find the expression “And God said” exactly 10 times. It was through these Ten Utterances that God brought the entire cosmos into existence. It is important to note that the last instance of “And God said” (1:29) is really just a continuation of the ninth instance (1:28). The actual remaining Utterance is the first word of the Torah: Beresheet. This word itself was the First Utterance, and was the initial burst of energy that brought a dark universe into existence. The Second Utterance was “Let there be light”, and the Third was “Let there be a firmament”. While the first three clearly involve grand cosmic developments, the remaining seven Utterances all relate specifically to Earth.

Of course, all of the above tens correspond to the Ten Sefirot, the first emanations that emerged out of God’s Infinite Ein Sof. The Ten Sefirot permeate all of existence, which is why we find so many patterns of ten in the Torah and all around us in Creation. The notion of Ten Sefirot is a foundational and inseparable part of Judaism, yet few are aware of where all the information about the Sefirot came from! It is commonly thought that the Sefirot were first revealed by the Zohar, but this is highly inaccurate. Discussion of the Sefirot dates back centuries before the first publication of the Zohar. So, let’s take a brief trip back in time to explore the historical revelation of the Sefirot. 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