Silent Bundles

Adapted from a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe." by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]


Yosef’s first dream: Behold we were gathering bundles in the field and behold my bundle arose and remained standing; and behold your bundles turned and bowed to my bundle.


G-d Himself is one and indivisible, as is known.

If G-d is oneness, the opposite of G-d is division. The greater the distance from G-d, the greater the division, the greater the sense of separateness—from G-d and from other beings.


So it is in the case of the souls. As the souls exist in the world of Beriah, there are 600,000, the number mentioned in the Torah. As they descend, the souls are divided and subdivided into millions. (See the Talmud’s statement regarding the village of Shachalayim (Gittin 57a.)


The same idea is expressed in the description of the river that leaves Eden and then splits into four heads (Gen. 2:10). The river, as it exists in Eden, is the world  of Atzilus, so named because of its closeness (aitzel) to its Source. In Atzilus, Divinity is the reality; it is therefore a world of oneness, reflecting G-d’s oneness. Only when the river leaves Eden, when Atzilus gives way to Beriah, does it split into four. These four streams are the four camps of the Divine presence—the face of the Lion, Ox, Eagle and Man, described in Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot. These in turn evolve into the four camps of Angels—Michoel, Gavriel, etc.—whose hosts number in the many thousands. Each descent produces further division.

Divine Sparks

And the same is true of the 288 fallen sparks, the result of the shattered vessels of Tohu. (The shattering of the vessels can be compared to the scattering of letters. When letters are placed together they form words that house ideas. The word boruch, for example, contains the idea of blessing. Scatter the letters of boruch, however, and the idea no longer has a home. Similarly, when the vessels are shattered into separate entities, they no longer serve as a home for the light. This leads to their descent into the lower worlds, allowing the creation of separateness and multiplicity.)    

These 288 sparks are alluded to in the second verse of the Torah, in the phrase hovering upon the face of the water. The first and last letters of the word for hovering, mirachefes, spell the word mes, dead. Its three middle letters equal 288, alluding to the 288 “dead” or fallen sparks of Divine light that descended in order to sustain the lower worlds. (See Rabbi Chaim Vital’s Eitz Chaim, Gate 288 Sparks). 


It is known that with the elevation and refinement of these 288 sparks, the Messianic era will commence (Arizal). It seems puzzling, though, that after 1700 years of Exile—during which time the Jewish people have been dispersed throughout the world for the purpose of “converting” the sparks—the mission has not yet been completed. Is it possible that in such a great amount of time, when generation after generation of souls have elevated their individual portions of the world—the 288 sparks have not yet been elevated?

The answer is that just as the souls and the angels evolve and subdivide into myriad branches, so it is with the sparks. As they exist in the lowest world, Assiyah, they number in the many thousands. Therefore the exile draws on since not all of the sparks have been elevated. When the elevation will be complete, the redeemer will come, speedily in our days, Amen.

[Editor’s note: These are the words of the Alter Rebbe. Two centuries later, however, the late Rebbe declared this process completed. That Moshiach had not yet arrived was a fact he described as incomprehensible. Our service now is for the sole purpose of unveiling the Messianic reality. (See previous essay.)]


Now we can understand the meaning of Yosef’s dream.

Yosef saw himself and his brothers taking many separate stalks and tying them into one bundle. He saw them taking the splintered sparks of Tohu and elevating them to a state of oneness. This was done “in the field,” referring to Malchus of Atzilus, which is called an Apple Orchard (chakal tapuchin). It is to this level that the brothers elevated the sparks. In Zoharic terms this is called the ascent of the “feminine waters,” mayim nukvin, or ma”n.

These bundles are called alumah, which connotes silence, the inability to speak.  (A mute is called an Eilem.) Speech among spiritual beings obviously does not refer to physical speech but to spiritual communication. When a being is absorbed in its source, it is entirely selfless and silent; it does not have the power to communicate to others because of the immensity of its nullification.

In this state it is compared to a fetus in the womb of its mother. There it is not its own person but an extension of its mother—eating from what its mother eats, etc. Only once it leaves the womb does it become its own being.

In the same way, when the sparks are elevated and enter the place of oneness, they are silent, muted by the overwhelming presence of their Source.    

[See essay on Toldos, on the difference between Avraham and Yitzchak, light of the moon, etc.]

Second Stage

However, it is known that after the sparks are elevated to the level of Malchus of Atzilus, they must undergo a further refinement in order to be truly united with G-dliness, as they were before the Shattering. This second refinement is effected from Above. In Zoharic terms this is the union of the male waters (mayim duchrin, or ma”d) with the feminine waters, or the union of z”a and nukva.

For example, when a person consumes food and drink and then, with the energy from the food he prays to G-d with awe and love, the sparks of Tohu found in the food and drink are elevated through his awe and love. Yet despite their elevation, they are still far from the level of true Oneness. Their true elevation comes when the person is granted awe and love from Above, of the sort that far transcend the quality of his own, self-developed awe and love.

Similarly, after the brothers had created their bundles—had elevated the sparks of Tohu found in the lower worlds, Beriah, Yetzirah and Assyiah, to Malchus of Atzilus—the bundles were seen bowing to Yosef’s bundle. For Yosef, who is called “Yosef the tzadik,” is the one who effects the second refinement, the drawing forth of the “male waters.”

[Yosef the tzadik embodies Yesod of Atzilus, (as in the verse, “and the tzadik is the yesod (foundation) of the world” (Ecclesiastes 10:25).) Yesod is the sefirah of connection. It is therefore Yosef who connects the male and female waters.]

Thus the brothers must bow to him, i.e., make themselves vessels for and elicit the “male waters” that refine and elevate the “feminine waters.” (This is reflected in the human sphere, wherein the female must awaken the male in order to effect their union.)

This, however, is only Yosef’s dream. In reality, the brothers did not bow to Yosef. They did not recognize Yosef’s superiority, since they too stemmed from Atzilus. In truth, though, it was only Yosef who, even in Assiyah, remained the embodiment of Atzilus. The other tribes, though rooted in Atzilus, were on the level of Beriah. They therefore were in need of Yosef to complete their achievment.

Souls in the Field

Now, just as this process occurs with the sparks, it must also be accomplished in the realm of souls. In addition to the elevation of sparks in one’s own domain, one must go out “into the field” and engage in the service of “making bundles,” to gather the souls of those “outside in the field.”

(Hence the custom of the Chabad masters to send messengers to various places in the world—even distant ones—to gather the sparks that are scattered there. One of the primary activities of the Alter Rebbe was the effort to create baal teshuvos. For five years he traveled from place to place—often incognito—gathering souls. [The fourth Rebbe, the Maharash, once walked into a casino in Paris, sat down near a man sipping wine, tapped him on the shoulder and said: “Reb Yid (“Mr. Jew”)! Non-kosher wine dulls the heart and mind. Be a Jew!” This tap from the Rebbe turned the man’s entire life around. The height of Chabad activism was achieved by the late Rebbe who sent over a thousand messengers all over the world to live “out in the field” and teach the light of Torah and Chasidism.])


This explains the relationship between the section of Yosef’s dream of bundles and the time of the year during which it is read. This section is often read in between the holidays of Yud Tes Kislev—commemorating the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from prison—and Chanukah.

After Yud Tes Kislev, the Alter Rebbe’s teaching of Chasidus reached a new level of expansion. The ideas of Kabbala were now explained in even greater measure, bringing the inner of light of Torah further outside “into the field.” Similarly, the lights of Chanukah serve to light up and elevate the outside. (Thus they are supposed to be lit outside the door of one’s home [though this is not the custom nowadays], on the left side of the door way (the side of darkness), and at the time when the sun descends and night falls.

Yud Tes Kislev and Chanukah, then, are holidays that have as their motif “the gathering of bundles in the field” (Likutei Sichos 10:119).    

[1] From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe."


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