Tag Archives: Va’era

Leviathan & the Seven Serpents

‘Destruction of Leviathan’ by Gustav Doré

In this week’s parasha, Va’era, we read about Moses’ first confrontation with Pharaoh and the famous battle of their serpentine staffs. Interestingly, in last week’s parasha when Moses’ staff first turned into a serpent (Exodus 4:3), the word used was nachash, while this time it says tanin (7:9-10)! The former term certainly means a “snake”, but the latter is more general and can be any serpent, reptile, or even crocodile. Mystical texts see this as an allusion to the greatest of the taninim, created by God on the Fifth Day of Creation, the great sea dragon called Leviathan. The Zohar (II, 27b) comments here that the Leviathan was red like a rose, with iron-like scales, wing-like fins, a powerfully-thrashing tail, and fire coming out of its mouth. It has long migrations in the deep seas lasting seventy years.

Commenting on the words hataninim hagedolim, “the great sea monsters”, in Genesis 1:21, Rashi says that God originally created a pair of Leviathans, but they were so terrible that He slew the female so that the couple wouldn’t reproduce. God then “salted” its flesh and preserved it for the righteous in the World to Come, who are said to enjoy it at the “Feast of Leviathan” in the End of Days. Rashi is quoting the Talmud here (Bava Batra 74b-75a), which adds that God will make a sukkah for the tzadikim from the skin of the Leviathan. The leftover skin will be draped over “the walls of Jerusalem” and will shine and glow to wow the entire world. Perhaps that means the Kotel will have a miraculous new look in the near future, which is quite fitting since it will no longer be a “wailing” wall.

We read here in the Talmud that God castrated the male Leviathan, too, and provides a Scriptural source for it all in Isaiah 27:1, that “He will slay the Serpent that is in the sea…” The Sages ask: why did God slay the female and not the male? One answer is that the female could have still laid eggs without the male. Indeed, we know scientifically that there is a phenomenon called parthenogenesis where female fish are able to reproduce even without fertilization by a male. The Talmud then gives another answer based on Psalms 104:26, which says “There is Leviathan, whom You have formed to sport with.” God created the Leviathan just to “sport with”, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to sport with a female Leviathan, so he left the male only. (It seems gender segregation in sports is not a new issue!)

There is a way to interpret all of this metaphorically, too, and the Talmud goes on to say that the Jordan River flows into the “mouth of Leviathan”, while the ancient Seder Rabbah d’Beresheet says the entire planet “rests” on one of the fins of Leviathan. Even the Zohar has an interesting interpretation of the taninim gedolim of Creation, saying they are actually referring to the “Seventy Princes”, the Heavenly angels overseeing the seventy nations of the world. Leviathan is chief among them. From other sources, we learn that the chief of all the Seventy Princes is the angel Metatron (ie. Enoch), so we find here a link between the great Metatron and Leviathan. (This is further appropriate because the earliest known reference to a “Feast of Leviathan” is actually the apocryphal Book of Enoch!)

Mystical texts say the spirit of Metatron is found within Mashiach (see, for instance, Kol haTor), and Mashiach is destined to slay the remaining Leviathan at the End of Days, ushering in the final Kingdom of God on Earth. This, too, might be a metaphor for Mashiach subduing all seventy nations and unifying them under one God, as we read in Zechariah 14:9 that “Hashem shall be king over the entire Earth; on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.” In fact, the numerical value of “Leviathan” (לויתן) is 496, equal to Malkhut (מלכות), “Kingdom”. Leviathan thus corresponds to the last of the Sefirot. (We explored in the past how the changing astronomical constellations in the sky above us are shifting now to reveal this very process.) Intriguingly, we find six other terms for serpents throughout the Tanakh, and they neatly parallel the six other “lower” Sefirot from Chessed to Yesod.

The Seven (Eight?) Serpents

The most common term for a serpent is, of course, nachash. This snake corresponds to the central Sefirah of Tiferet. Tiferet is the spiritual root of all Israel, and of Mashiach in particular. This is another reason why the values of nachash (נחש) and “Mashiach” (משיח) are equal, both being 358. When Jacob blessed his son Dan, he saw a vision of Mashiach and said “I await Your salvation, Hashem!” (Genesis 49:18) Before that, Jacob fittingly described Mashiach (while seemingly speaking of Dan) as a nachash ‘alei derekh, a “snake upon the road”.

He then used another serpentine term, saying that Mashiach should also be a shfifon ‘alei orach, typically translated as a “viper upon the path”. The Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague, c. 1512-1609) in Gur Aryeh connects this mysterious term with several roots, including the humbling shofef, as well as neshef, meaning an “exhale” or a “relaxation” or even a happy gathering of some sort. The shfifon (שפיפן) has positive energy, and corresponds to the loving Sefirah of Chessed. Jacob was possibly alluding to Mashiach’s role to bring all of Israel together and reconnect them spiritually through various “paths”.

On the opposite side of the Sefirotic tree we have the fiery and judging Gevurah. This corresponds to the Torah’s saraph (שרף), a “burning” venomous snake that God used to punish the people in the Wilderness for their rebelliousness (Numbers 21). To heal the people, Moses then made a nachash nechoshet, a copper serpentine rod. Now we can understand why it had to be specifically a nachash because, as we saw above, that one corresponds to Tiferet, which is said to be the source of healing and shares a root with refuah!  Mashiach, too, is said to carry a serpentine staff. In fact, the Midrash and Zohar state that a woman called “Heftzibah” will bring it to him, finding it somewhere in Tiberias where Eliyahu hid it. She is also known as Mevaseret Tzion, the “Herald of Zion”, as per Isaiah 40:9 (see Sefer Zerubbabel and Zohar III, 173b).

Next, we have the “twin” Sefirot of Netzach and Hod, corresponding to the legs. They are always referred to as being the source of prophecy. In Psalm 91 we read “You will tread on lion cubs and phethen…” The phethen (פתן) is none other than the python. It is worth noting that in ancient Greece, the python was associated with prophecy, and their prophetic Oracle at Delphi was called Pythia. In the famous messianic prophecy of Isaiah, we read of another serpent paralleling the python: “A babe shall play over the hole of a phethen, and an infant pass its hand over the den of a tzif’oni.” (11:8) The word used for a “den” here is me’urat, which can be read as m’orat, ie. “from the light [or fire] of the tzif’oni”. The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser, 1809-1879) reads it this way, saying the “fiery” poison of the tzif’oni (צפעוני) will no longer harm a child in the Messianic Age. This gives us a clue that the tzif’oni corresponds to Hod, lying beneath the fiery Sefirah of Gevurah, and tempering its judgement. More significantly, we can learn from this Isaiah verse that in the Messianic Age, even a child will be able to connect to Netzach and Hod and attain the light of prophecy.

The 72 Names of God (For the origin of these Names, see here.)

Finally, the last word for a serpent in Tanakh is ef’eh (אפעה), as we read in the Book of Job that “He sucks the head of a viper; the tongue of the ef’eh kills him.” (20:16) This one parallels the Sefirah of Yesod, the domain of sexual purity. In fact, the Kabbalists teach that of the 72 Names of God, the one that links to Yesod and through which one can atone for sexual sins is חב״ו. In the Amidah, there is a kavanah to insert during the kibbutz galuyot blessing to purify one of wasted seed and other sexual issues and it quotes a well-known phrase chayil bala’a vayakienu, mibitno yorishenu El, “The riches that he swallowed he vomits; God empties it out of his innards.” The letters of the first three words (חַיִל בָּלַע וַיְקִאֶנּוּ מִבִּטְנוֹ יֹרִשֶׁנּוּ אֵל) spell חב״ו. And where does this powerful verse come from? The preceding one in Job! (20:15) Thus, we have a clear Scriptural link between the ef’eh and Yesod.

Text of the blessing, with kavanah, both highlighting the חב״ו name.

And what of the Mochin, the upper three Sefirot? Perhaps we can link them to serpentine terms outside of Scripture. For instance, there’s the Teli (תלי) of Sefer Yetzirah (6:1-2), typically understood as the dragon constellation Draco. Recall that Sefer Yetzirah is an exposition of the Lamed-Bet Netivot Chokhmah, 32 Paths of Wisdom, so the Teli is directly linked to the Sefirah of Chokhmah. Then there’s the Talmud’s Aramaic hiviya (חויא), the root of which is said to come from Eve (חוה), and her encounter with the Snake. This would parallel the “motherly” Sefirah of Binah (also called Ima). And Keter on top, the origin of all the others, would be the generic term Tanin (תנין) with which we started, referring to any of the serpents below and often used interchangeably with them, as in this week’s parasha. Altogether, we have the following array of links between mystical Sefirot and mystical serpents:

Dever: Understanding the Plague

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

In this week’s parasha, Va’era, we read about the first seven of the Ten Plagues that God struck ancient Egypt with. The one that is particularly of interest today is dever, pestilence. While in Egypt, it primarily affected the livestock, the word dever can refer to any kind of pestilence. One of the big questions here is why the plague is called dever (דבר), a term we typically associate more with “speech” and “words”, davar. Perhaps one way to understand it is that a plague that is especially virulent, like the one in ancient Egypt—and the one we are in the midst of currently—can be spread even through speech. The plague (dever, דבר) is invisible and airborne, like a word (davar, דבר) itself.

Another way to understand it is to remember that the Tanakh often tells us that the world exists only through God’s Word. King David wrote poetically that “By the Word [davar] of God the Heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all of their hosts.” (Psalms 33:6) Even more relevant for us now, Moses told us that God “subjects you to hardship” and sends us difficult challenges “in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on all that comes out of the Mouth of God does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) In times of plague, this is a vital message—and while it might be a most difficult one to accept, it is undeniably true nonetheless—that ultimately, who lives and who dies is decreed by the Word of God.

Each person must do their hishtadlut, their effort in proactively preserving health. That means staying active, eating right, reducing stress, and maintaining positive relationships. It means reducing exposure to toxins and mutagens as much as possible, switching to more natural products, installing a good water filter (especially for drinking water), and spending time out in the great outdoors with plenty of fresh air. It also means, in times of plague, to be vigilant of surroundings, wear personal protective equipment when appropriate, maintain the highest standards of hygiene, and do the research in determining which medications are effective and safe. The rest remains in God’s Hands, and there is no need to panic. As the Prophet promised us, “Blessed is the man who trusts securely in God, and God will be his security.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

When it comes to our current pandemic, every person has had a different experience. Some have lost loved ones, others have not. Certain communities have been hit particularly hard while others went entirely unscathed. There are many views regarding how to deal with the plague and the proper way to get out of it. There have also been absurd conspiracy theories pushed on the one hand, balancing out the illogical and unreasonable measures enacted on the other. In fact, perhaps the key problem has been the constant torrent of misinformation, both mainstream and alternative. People don’t know what to think anymore! So, let’s try to honestly sift through the confusion and come to at least a few undeniable facts that everyone can agree on at this point.

A year ago, we were told that the new vaccines are up to 95% effective, and if all we did was take a couple of shots the virus would go away and the pandemic would be over. Here we are now, on the cusp of a third or even fourth shot, and nothing’s changed at all. The restrictions are still in full force, with new lockdowns on the horizon. Despite the high vaccination rates of most western countries, the pandemic has not receded whatsoever. Now, the majority of COVID cases are among the vaccinated. Here in Ontario today, 10436 new cases were reported, of which a whopping 8221 were fully vaccinated! The majority of people hospitalized are also fully vaccinated. In Israel, meanwhile, the first death from the Omicron variant was reported today—and it was a triple-vaccinated woman. Yet, unbelievably, the powers-that-be are still pushing us to vaccinate with even more boosters! As Albert Einstein purportedly once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The data really speaks for itself: vaccines have done little to stop the pandemic besides for reducing symptoms. We were initially told the vaccines would stop transmission, but that message has changed. The vaccinated are undoubtedly transmitting, too. On that note, the push to vaccinate children was primarily made on the argument of not having them transmit it to the elderly, who are most susceptible. But everyone now agrees that the vaccine does not stop transmission! So, what is the point of vaccinating children? Kids are not very susceptible to COVID, and no one disputes that the vast majority of children, with rare exceptions, take it mildly or are entirely asymptomatic.

Worse yet, evidence is building that the spike protein which the mRNA vaccines code for is itself carcinogenic (here is a peer-reviewed study in a scientific journal, and here is another). Why give little children multiple doses of a potentially harmful carcinogen when the virus itself is mostly harmless to them? What might be the horrific long-term consequences of repetitive mass-vaccination? It may very well end up being an enormous crime against humanity.

Finally, regardless of how you feel about the virus and the vaccine, or which side you are on, the new “mandates” being introduced by governments worldwide should concern everyone. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods for simply exercising the right to their own bodies. No one should be coerced into a medical procedure they do not want—especially when the data behind it is so poor, as we’ve seen. Meanwhile, fundamental rights are being stripped for all people, regardless of vaccination status. Freedom of movement? Highly restricted. Freedom of speech? Be careful what you say lest you lose your license! Freedom of religion and belief? Every single person I know who’s applied for some kind of religious exemption or conscientious objection has been denied outright.

You might think it’s okay because desperate times call for desperate measures. However, once these “rules” are in place, it will be almost impossible to repeal them, and they will remain long after the pandemic. Want to go to a restaurant? Let’s see your private medical records! Want to go on vacation? You will first have to take this invasive medical test before and after (and in between)! Want this job? Not if you don’t take multiple doses of a new “treatment” required for all employees! We are setting dangerous precedents and descending ever further down a treacherous slippery slope. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum is openly pushing a “digital ID” for everyone that will store a person’s private information and biometrics, linked to their vaccinations, and bank accounts, too. (See here on their own website.) Is this the future we want?

Let’s not forget what happened to the Israelites in Egypt. How did Pharaoh manage to convince an entire populace to turn on its Jews? The answer is simple, and relayed clearly in the Torah. Pharaoh saw an opportunity, and said: “let us outsmart them!” (Exodus 1:10) He engineered a crisis, and used fear-mongering and propaganda to convince everyone that Israel was the dreaded enemy. Did it happen overnight? Not at all. In fact, our Sages say that the Israelites gave up their rights willingly, one small “harmless” step at a time. This is the meaning of the famous statement that Israel was enslaved b’farekh (בְּפָרֶךְ, Exodus 1:13), meaning b’pe rakh (בְּפֶה רַךְ), with a “soft mouth”, gradually, through a set of small “gentile” mandates (Sotah 11b). It was for the good of society after all! It took thirty years until they were fully enslaved. By then, it was too late to go back.

We are now seeing the same playbook of fear-mongering followed by incremental restrictions. Now is the time for everyone—across the social and political spectrum, vaccinated or not—to stand up and fight to preserve freedom. The more people that speak out, resist (peacefully), and refuse to comply, the better it will get. The government needs to be sent a clear message, for the government is only as powerful as the governed allow them to be. If people do not speak out, or continue to stay silent for fear of ostracism, things will only get worse. And then, again, it will be too late.

We began by exploring the connection between dever and davar, the plague and the Word of God. Here may lie the real core of the matter. The test right now is one of faith in God. As our Sages taught, “All is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven.” (Berakhot 33b) The question is who is aligning with God’s Will, and who is not. (It is worth mentioning that the mystical term for the Will of God is Keter which, when translated into Latin, is literally “corona”.) It could very well be that the challenges we are facing now are meant to strain out those who have faith in God, think for themselves, and put Torah law first, from those who have faith in men, let the media think for them, and follow the corrupt laws and mandates of wicked people. Long ago, the prophet Zechariah (13:8-9) foresaw that a day would come when

Throughout the land—declares God—two-thirds shall perish, shall die, and one-third of it shall survive. That third I will put into the fire, and I will smelt them as one smelts silver, and test them as one tests gold. They will invoke Me by Name, and I will respond to them. I will declare: “You are My people.” And they will declare: “Hashem is our God!”

We have a general rule in Judaism that a negative prophecy does not have to be fulfilled, since it is given as a warning. Unfortunately, the warning usually falls on deaf ears, and the prophecy is realized anyway. If Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled, only a third will survive the coming calamity, and it is the third that trusts in God. Still, it will not be easy for that third, as they will be put through tremendous tests. We should learn from this that no matter what happens in the coming days, and how excruciating it might get, we must only strengthen our resolve and continue to declare loudly: “Hashem is our God!”

The Egyptian Who Prophesied the Exodus

This week’s parasha, Va’era, gets into the heart of the Exodus narrative, starting with the first of the Ten Plagues. These events are so monumental that it is specifically for this part of the Torah, far more than any other, that people always seek some archaeological or historical proof. An impressive amount of such evidence has indeed been found. One particularly important piece of evidence, the Ipuwer Papyrus, incredibly mentions the Nile River turning to blood and Egypt being decimated by pestilence, famine, and even fire from the Heavens. Yet, this text is generally rejected by secular scholars as having anything to do with the Exodus! A proper understanding of the Torah’s events and timeline might reveal that the Ipuwer Papyrus may very well be among the greatest pieces of evidence that we have.

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