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The Conflict Between Joseph And His Brothers—A Gender Theory

The confrontation between Joseph and his brothers is one of the most troubling stories of the Bible. Joseph and his brother—twelve sons of Jacob—were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are described as tzadikim (the righteous and pious men) and prophets. However, as we read in the Torah portion Vayeshev, we are told that brothers hated Joseph: And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. (Genesis 37:3) And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more. (Genesis 37:5) And his brethren envied him… (Genesis 37:11) The brothers intended to kill Joseph: And they said one to another: ‘Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now [...]

On Rachel, Leah, and Dark Energy

Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (Genesis 29:16)   Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (the Shelah HaKadosh)[1] famously says that the Torah speaks to the upper words and hints to the lower words. That means that the primary subject to the Torah narrative has to do with the dynamics of the spiritual worlds while only hinting at the historical narrative that appears to be the meaning of the biblical text. It is not surprising because what happens down here reflects what happens up there—in the spiritual spheres. However, the historical narrative is not necessarily the only reflection of the higher reality. We may see how the same or similar dynamic is reflected in natural laws. This Torah portion introduces us to two [...]

Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Reality

A light shalt thou make to the ark…with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. (Genesis 6:16) We mentioned in the previous posts that Noah’s ark was a microcosm.[1] As we discussed in the previous post, “Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Being Human,” most structural parallels related to Noah’s ark are based on its tripartite structure —that is, its having three tiers. In Chasidic thought, the three levels of Noah’s ark correspond to three worlds of BiYA—Beriyah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation), and Asiyah (the World of Action). In this essay, we will investigate how the tripartite structure of Noah’s ark is reflected in the structure of reality. We might say that the totality of existence comprises three layers—physical, informational, and spiritual. The classification of reality into three [...]

Getting a Blessing Through a Wormhole

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. (Bamidbar 17:23)   In the Torah portion we read last Shabbat, God instructs Moses to Speak to the children of Israel and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house… thou shalt write every man’s name upon his rod.” (Bamidbar 17:17) As we read in verse 23, the next morning, Aaron’s rod (i.e., staff) bore ripe almonds. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi asks the question, why almonds?[1] If the staff of Aaron had blossomed with any flowers or fruits, that would have been enough to miraculously demonstrate to the children of [...]

The Soul is in the Blood

For the life of the flesh is in the blood." (Leviticus 17:11) The word translated here as “life” in the Hebrew original is nefesh, i.e., “soul.” Torah appears to be telling us that soul of every live creature is in its blood. Indeed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says so explicitly in the Tanya: The abode of the animal soul derived from kelipat nogah in every Jew is in the heart; in the left ventricle, as it is filled with blood, and it is written, 'For the blood is the soul' (nefesh)…. just as the blood has its source in the heart, and from the heart it circulates into every organ…" (Likkutei Amarim, 9)[1] The animal soul is primarily vested in the blood (from where it spreads to the whole body and beyond). What does [...]

Counting Weeks and Days

There is a Biblical Commandment to count the days between the Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost). We start counting on the second day of Passover (the first day of the barley harvest in the land of Israel, when the wave-offering of the omer, i.e., “sheaf,” of ripe barley was made in the Jerusalem Temple) and finish on the eve of Shavuot—the day when two loaves of bread made of wheat were offered at the Temple. There are exactly seven weeks (forty-nine days) between these two holidays; we are commanded to count the weeks and the days. These forty-nine days are called days of Sefirat HaOmer (the ays of “counting the Omer”) or simple days of Sefirah. This commandment is given in the following verses of the Torah: And ye shall count [...]

Salt: The Covenant of the Opposites

And every meal-offering of thine shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13)   Torah dictates that all offerings to God must be brought together with salt. Classical commentators ask: What is so special about salt that it is an indispensable ingredient of any sacrifice? Moreover, why is it called the covenant of salt? Nachmanides explains: The Torah also uses this covenant as a model for other covenants, as both the priestly covenant[1] and the Davidic covenant[2] are called “covenant of salt” because they are upheld just as the sacrificial covenant of salt…. I am of the opinion that the significance is that the salt is water, which [...]

The Surrounding Light and the Penetrating Light

The Torah portion Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Mishkan, i.e., the “Tabernacle.” In Kabbalah, the Mishkan is viewed as a microcosm that represents a miniature model of the entire universe—both physical and spiritual. The Mishkan was comprised primarily of two categories of objects. The first category included the coverings that made up the roof and the walls surrounding the Mishkan. The second category included kelim—the objects inside the Mishkan. This is not the first time the description of the coverings and kelim appear in the Torah. In the Torah portion Teruma, God gives Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Interestingly, in Teruma, God first speaks of the kelim and then of the coverings, whereas in Vayakhel, when Moses instructs the Jewish people, he reverses the order and first [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

In the Beginning — It’s All About Change

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)   The first verse in the Torah is key to understanding the fundamentals of creation. As far as physics is concerned, there are three key words in this verse, which are highlighted in bold: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. According to Nachmanides, these three words—“beginning,” “heaven,” and “earth”—represent, respectively, time, space, and matter. It is easy to see that the “beginning” stands for time, because the “beginning” is clearly a temporal concept that sets off the beginning of time; that “heaven” is a metaphor for space, because the stars and the planets are perceived to be in the sky (i.e., heaven) when, in fact, they are moving in space;[1] and that “earth” is emblematic of matter, [...]

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