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Darkness Revisited

Adapted from the Writings of the Chabad Rebbes by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]


These are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham.[2]

On the fifteenth day of the moon’s monthly orbit, we see its entire body. Ironically, this is the day the moon is farthest from the sun. It is then that the moon’s light is most pronounced. As it moves closer to the sun its light is diminished.  

The closer one is to one’s source, the smaller one feels. When one is close, one’s existence or independence is “dark,” inconspicuous. The further one is from one’s source, the bigger one feels. [In the overwhelming presence of the king or the sage, the subject or the student is nonexistent. As he moves away to spread the word, his existence becomes more pronounced.]

In the blessings before the Shema we praise G-d as “the One who forms light and creates darkness.”[3] The world of Formation (Yetzirah) is lower than the world of Creation (Beriah).[4] It is a further step in the creation of physical reality. (The world of Creation is merely the creation of a most rarefied matter. This matter is not formed at all. It is in the world of Formation that this matter takes on a defined shape.) The world of Formation is therefore associated with light (“one who forms light”) because of its distance from the Source. The world of Creation is associated with darkness (“who creates darkness”) because of its closeness to the Source.

Avraham and Yitzchak

From the Zohar:

And G-d called the light “day”—this refers to Avraham; for he is the light of day.

And the darkness He called “night”—this refers to Yitzchak, for he is darkness.[5]

The Patriarchs are called “the Chariot.”[6] Just as a chariot has no agenda of its own—its identity and direction is dictated solely by the will of the rider—so the Patriarchs were merely conduits for the expression of Divinity.

More specifically, Avraham was a conduit for Chessed (kindness, love, revelation) of the highest world Atzilus, Yitzchak of Gevurah (restraint, awe, concealment,) of Atzilus, and Yaakov of Tiferes (beauty, harmony, mercy) of Atzilus.

Thus it is written in the Kabbala that the attribute of Kindness said to the Holy One blessed is He, “Master of the Universe! From the day Avraham came upon the earth, I have not needed to do my task. Avraham stands and serves in my place.”[7]

Enclothed in a physical body, Avraham replaced the attribute of Chessed as it exists in the world of Atzilus. Avraham was known for his extraordinary generosity and hospitality.[8] He gave freely of his possessions, even of his body and soul.[9] Not only did he provide expensive delicacies to all of his guests, he himself stood over them and tended to their needs. Even while recovering from his circumcision, he ran to prepare food for his guests.[10] He gave of his soul as well, spending his life explaining Monotheism to anyone who would listen.[11]

Avraham’s life focused on love and kindness, which resulted in the revelation of G-dliness to the masses.[12] He focused on channeling Divinity to the far reaches of reality. He brought the heavenly into earth (hamshacha milmailah limatah—drawing from above to below). Thus he is called Day and Light—revelation.

Yitchak was a “chariot” to Gevurah of Atzlilus. His Divine service consisted of “digging wells,” eliciting the waters hidden below, a task that requires great strength. The spiritual idea[13] of digging wells is to elevate what is below—bringing the earthly to heaven (hamshacha milmatah limailah—drawing from below to above). Yitzchak epitomizes the soul’s yearning for transcendence, to leave the physical world and become one with its Divine source—an upward motion. Avraham epitomizes the downward motion of bringing the G-dly into the physical. [Avraham travels here and there to spread the word; Yitzchak never leaves the Holy Land. He is called an “unblemished burnt offering,” referring to the fact that he was “sacrificed” to G-d.[14]]

These two directions are known as ratzo (running, yearning) and shov (return, practicality).

Now And Then

The era following the revelation at Sinai is one of shov. At Sinai we were given the capacity to draw holiness into the physical. However, the physical remains lowly. In the Messianic era, the world will experience ratzo, we will be elevated from our lowliness and brought close to our Source. The Messianic era is therefore described as a time when “they will go into the caves in the rocks…because of the fear of G-d and the splendor of His majesty.”[15] This is a description of the intense awe and humility that will be experienced as result of the closeness we will then experience.

Thus Yitzchak, whose thrust is closeness to the Divine—as opposed Avraham’s bringing the Divine to earth—epitomizes selflessness and awe in the face of the Creator.[16] Yitzchak is therefore the Patriarch most associated with the Messianic era—“then they will say to Yitzchak, you are our father.”[17]

Yitzchak’s Wells

This explains why the wells of Yitzchak, unlike those of Avraham, were not blocked up by the Philistines. Since Avraham’s service takes place from afar, his accomplishments are susceptible to corruption. The accomplishments of Yitzchak, however, contain no trace of self and are therefore invulnerable to the advances of darkness.[18] &

[Adapted and summarized by RabbiYosef Marcus.]  

[1] Torah Ohr, Toldos; Sefer Hamaamarim 5698 p. 129. by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe."

[2] Genesis 25:19.

[3] Siddur Tehilat Hashem p. 42.

[4] The Kabbala speaks of four worlds, or four states of reality, which represent the evolution of physical reality from pure spirituality. The four worlds are (beginning with the loftiest): Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah—Emanation, Creation, Formation, Action.  

[5] Zohar 1:141b. The Chariot refers to the Chariot described by Ezekiel.

[6] BR 47:6.

[7] Sefer Habahir 191, cited in Pardes 22:4.

[8] See Sotah 10a.

[9] Orchos Tzadikim 17.

[10] Genesis 18:7.

[11] Since Avraham was Chessed of Atzilus, which is in the world of Tikkun, his Chessed incorporated Gevurah. Thus when the situation called for Gevurah, he was strict with his guests: when they refused to acknowledge G-d, he would make them pay a high price for their meal.

[12] Avraham thereby fulfilled the command stated in the Shema, “and you shall love your G-d.” The Talmud (Yoma 86a) explains this to mean that “the Name of G-d should be made beloved by your actions.” (This interpretation of the command answers the famous question: How can G-d command us to love Him? How can we be commanded to feel a certain way? Generally, Chassidus explains that the command is to meditate on G-d’s greatness. This will cause a person to love G-d. However, this answer is not entirely satisfactory, since the command is “and you shall love,” not “and you shall meditate.” Sefer Hamaamarim 5699 p. 105.)  

[13] “All of the stories of the Torah, including those of the prophets and judges, the story of Shimshon, the concubine in Givah, all the stories of the kings, as well as the stories in the Talmud, such as those of Rabbah bar bar Channa (Bava Basra 73*)—contain within them allusions to the secrets of the Torah.” (Torah Ohr, end of 20d.) *These stories are some of the most esoteric stories told in the Talmud. [While the stories recounted in the Torah are literal as well, some of the stories in the Talmud are, according to some opinions, only metaphors.]

[14] Although he was not actually sacrificed, he retained the status of an olah, a burnt offering. Yitzchak thus symbolizes the ultimate self-sacrifice. He was not only willing to die for G-d, he actually did die temporarily. Unlike Abraham's walk in the fire, which did no harm at all, Yitzchak's binding caused his soul to leave him. Such self-sacrifice stems from the power of the essence of the soul, which is one with G-d. It therefore permeates all facets of the person, even his corporeal body to the extent that he surrenders his body to G-d. Thus, through the binding, Yitzchak became entirely holy. Even the material aspects of his life were so subservient to holiness that their materialism was not apparent—they were seen purely as instruments for the service of G-d. See Likutei Sichos 25:135.

[15] Isaiah 2:18.

[16] Yaakov refers to G-d as the “G-d of Avraham and the Fear of Yitzchak” (Genesis 31:42).

[17] Isaiah 63:16. Shabbos 89b. 

[18] See Likutei Sichos 15:118, rendered in English by Rabbi Yanki Tauber in his The Inside Story.


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