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and yehudah approached

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


The paradigm of Heaven and Earth manifests on all levels of creation: Soul and body, “lights and vessels,” revelation and concealment, study and deed, male and female, awareness vs. selflessness, etc.

The body is inherently superior to the soul. It is because the soul senses this that it agrees to descend into the body. But in the present conditions of the world, the soul is superior and serves as the source of life and guidance to the soul. The body needs the soul to reveal and cultivate its power. In the Messianic era the body’s superiority will be apparent.

The female is inherently superior to the male. It is in her power to create life. The male cannot create life. Yet, in this world, the female needs the male and must receive from him in order to manifest her ability to create. In Messianic times, the female’s superiority will be apparent.

Deed, the practical fulfillment of the Divine will, is superior to study and Divine awareness, love and awe. Yet in this world “study is superior, since it leads to [and cultivates] deed.” In the future, the superiority of deed will be apparent.


And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and said to him, “In me (usually translated as “please”), my master….”

One of the major differences between the Temples that stood in Jerusalem and the Tabernacle that the Israelites constructed in the desert was in the way they were built. The Temples were made almost entirely of stone and earth, while the Tabernacle was made with (cedar) wood and covered with animal skins. The only appearance of earth in the Tabernacle was on its floor.

The reason for this difference is as follows:

As is known, every level of reality contains the four elements:

Mineral (domem,  “silent”),

Vegetable (tzome-ach, “that which grows”),

Animal (chai, “alive”)

and Human (medaber, “able to speak”).

[The Four Elements: In human terms, for example, Mineral corresponds to thought, speech and action, which are “inanimate” and, unlike emotion or intellect, are unable to produce additional thought, speech and action. They are also compared to the letters of speech and thought, which are “inanimate” vessels for the ideas and feelings they contain. (Sefer Yetzirah calls letters “stones.” See essay on Kee Savo.) Vegetable/Growth corresponds to emotions—love, fear etc.—which experience “growth,” i.e., maturation, as the person matures. They also “grow” in intensity as one ponders and contemplates the beauty and desirability of a thing, or, conversely, the destructiveness and repulsiveness of a thing. The angels also are described as grass, i.e., Vegetable, since they experience emotion—love and awe of G-d. They also experience growth, i.e., their stature increases when they are engaged in song or the fulfillment of some mission (see Mi Kamocha 5629). Animal, or Chai (translated not as animal but as “alive”) corresponds to intellect, which  “gives life to all that possess it” (Ecclesiastes 7:12). (See Likkutei Torah, Chukat 58a; Torat Chaim pp. 19d – 22b.)

The Human, unique in his ability to speak, corresponds to Kesser (Crown), the essence of the soul, whence the ability to speak—and thus the letters and words of speech—stem. For it is speech whose entire being exists solely for the other, so that one can communicate to others. And it is in “leaving” itself and serving others that the soul’s essence and infinity is expressed. As long as it is self-contained, even in the loftiest thoughts, it has not transcended its limited self. Thus the Human is referred to by his ability to speak (medaber), not his ability to think.

In the four letters of G-d’s Name, Y-H-V-H, the first letter, Yud, corresponds to Human, Hey to Animal, Vav to Vegetable, and the second Hey to Mineral. In sefiros, Human is Chochmah, Animal is Binah, Vegetable is Chesed through Yesod (the six emotions), and Mineral is Malchus.]

Heaven and Earth

Now, in the natural order, Man is the highest and Mineral the lowest. But in the origin of things, Mineral is highest. For the final product is the first image in the mind of the creator. Later comes the conception of the steps necessary to achieve the final product. So what we perceive to be the “highest” worlds are in fact lower than our own, since ours is the “first image” in the eye of the Creator, and for whose creation all previous worlds come into being.

Hence the opinion of Beis Hillel, who maintain that the creation of Earth “preceded” that of Heaven—i.e., conceptually. The creation of Heaven may have been first in the chronology of the world of Action—the world referred to by Beis Shammai, when they say that Heaven preceded Earth—but in the world of Thought, Earth came first. (Their debate centers on which aspect to emphasize. See Chagigah 12a; Beyond the Letter of the Law p. 275).

So if Mineral is lowest in this world, it is highest in its original, conceptual manifestation. This accounts for the puzzling fact that the ground, the lowest element, has the capacity to produce its “superior,” the Vegetable kingdom, which in turn has the ability to sustain its superiors, Animal and Man. For as we read in the Lecho Dodi prayer, “the final deed was first in thought”—thus the “lowest” element precedes all others and therefore sustains them. [It is for this reason that through talking, a seemingly inferior faculty, the “superior” faculties of intellect and emotion are intensified and enhanced. When one verbalizes a thought, one gains deeper insight into the matter. When one articulates an emotion, that feeling is intensified. Hence the paramount station of speech in Jewish law—the prayers must be enunciated verbally and the study of Torah must be performed with the mouth, not only with the brain. For, as explained, the ability to speak, the “inanimate” letters of speech stem from the essence of the soul, and are therefore inherently superior to the intellect and emotions they contain. (See English translation of Yom Tov Shel Rosh Hashanah 5659, introduction and p.30ff; Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat 3:194; LS 6:116.)]

Tabernacle and Temple

Now the Tabernacle was only a temporary dwelling of the Divine manifestation and therefore reflects the reality of the “order” of worlds, where highest precedes lowest, and Earth is lowest. Thus its floor was Earth, its walls Vegetable, and its roof Animal, following the order of “Heaven precedes Earth.”

But the Temples—permanent dwellings, as in the verse “this is my dwelling forever” [as opposed to the Tabernacle which moved from place to place]—were a taste of true reality: the reality of things as they exist in their source, the reality that will pervade in the Messianic era, the seventh millennia, the Shabbos of history. 

At that time, the hierarchy of existence will be seen as it is in the world of Thought, where “Earth precedes Heaven.” The “woman of valor [will be] a crown to her husband” (Proverbs 12:4), since “woman,” i.e., Malchus [which is called “female” because it receives from the “higher” sefiros], will be seen as it is in its source as being above ZA [the six sefiros of Chesed through Yesod, which are the “male” aspect of the ten sefiros], the higher sefiros.

Thus the Temple, the permanent dwelling, was constructed primarily of stone and earth, the lowest element, since is represented the Messianic reality when Malchus, or Mineral, will be seen as supreme. (The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4a) therefore sees wickedness in Cyrus’ instruction that the walls of the Temple be constructed of three tiers of stone and a fourth of wood.

(The Talmud says his intention was that “if they rebel, I will set it on fire.” On a deeper level, though, the use of wood in itself ran contrary to what the Temple was to represent. (Though Solomon used wood as well, this was done in a different way—see Talmud ibid.))

The inherent supremacy of Mineral is apparent even now in its humility. Unlike the Vegetable kingdom, which produces tall and proud trees, the earth is trodden upon by the feet of all. This selflessness is an expression of its lofty source.

Yosef and Yehudah  

Yosef and Yehudah are Heaven and Earth, Vegetable and Mineral. Yosef, which means to increase, embodies growth. He is like the towering cedar tree that reaches the greatest heights. He is ZA of Atzilus, the “emotions” of the sefiros, which, as mentioned, experience growth. Yehudah, on the other hand, represents Malchus of Atzilus, the selfless and “inanimate” sefirah. Hence his name Yehudah, from the word hoda’ah, acknowledgement and humilty.

Now in the natural order, Yosef is above Yehudah, since Malchus receives from ZA. Thus Yosef is the vizier of Egypt who provides sustenance to all. Yehudah, like Malchus, is the recipient. He therefore approaches Yosef and says “in me, my master,” i.e., let the light of ZA enter Malchus. As the Zohar writes, “And he approached—this is the coming together of one world to another.” Namely, the lower world, Malchus approaches the highter world, ZA, to be sustained and cultivated. As in the Tabernacle, Vegetable transcends Mineral. [This was the fulfillment of Yosef’s dream in which all the tribes “gather bundles,” which then turn and bow to Yosef’s bundle. This represented the need for the tribes, represented by Yehudah, to come to Yosef to achieve “the second refinement” (Vayigash 5670). See essay on Vayeishev, Silent Bundles.]

But in the Messianic era, Yehudah will rise beyond Yosef, the woman of valor will be the crown of her husband, since the final deed is first in thought. The selflessness of Yehudah will be revealed to be superior to the love and awe of Yosef.

Hence we read in the haftorah that Yosef and Yehudah will in the future come together and “my servant Dovid will rule over them forever”—Dovid, of the tribe of Yehudah, will be seen as superior to Yosef.

(This explains a story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a, end) regarding Yerovam, the formerly righteous king of Israel who led the secession of the ten tribes from Judah and Benjamin and their descent into idolatry: The Holy One blessed be He grabbed the garment of Yerovam son of Nevot and said to him, “Repent! Then I, you, and [Dovid] son of Yishai will stroll together in the Garden of Eden.” Said Yerovam, “And who will be first?” “The son of Yishai,” came the reply. “Then I am not interested,” said Yerovam.

Yerovam, who descended from Yosef, wished to maintain the status quo, where Yosef transcends Yehudah. He did not have the humility to accept the Messianic condition when the son of Yishai will precede him.) (Torah Ohr)


It is known that Moshiach is called Dovid because Dovid epitomizes selflessness and so does Moshiach. Although Dovid was a monarch, he referred to himself as poor and destitute (Psalms 70:6). Similarly, Moshiach, though he will be unsurpassed in greatness and the spirit of G-d will rest upon him and he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moshe of blessed memory—yet, he will have the ultimate humility and he will study with simpletons.

To bring about his arrival, a commensurate activity is required: the teaching of Torah to all, even the ignorant and simple. And in a humble and selfless way—not for the gains to be had from teaching, but for the sake of the recipient. This brings closer the day when “my servant Dovid will rule over them,” may it be now (Melukat 6:84).

& [Adapted and summarized by Rabbi Yosef Marcus.]


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



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