Adapted from Maamarei
Admur Hazaken Haketzorim by Rabbi Yossi Marcus
name of this week’s parsha is that of Moshe’s father-in-law: Yisro. This essay
deals with the source of Yisro’s soul and the reason Moshe shows him such deference
The essay adapted from a discourse of the Alter Rebbe of the “pre-Petersburg”
period of his teachings. After his release from imprisonment in S. Petersburg,
the Alter Rebbe’s teachings changed radically. If his prior teachings were brief
esoteric bits of light, the teachings in the post-Petersburg era were lengthy,
developed dissertations. The following essay is of the former type, taken from
the book “Discourses of the Alter Rebbe, the Short Ones.”
Aharon and the elders of Israel came to eat bread before Elokim…
The interaction between Moshe and his father-in-law, Yisro
(Jethro), begs for explanation. Why does Moshe bow to Yisro, the priest of Midian?
And why does he show such affection for him, kissing him, etc.
is that Yisro’s soul transcends that of Moshe. It is written in Likutei
Torah (by Arizal) that the soul of Yisro stems from the realm of Kayin
(Cain), while Moshe stems from Hevel (Abel). [That Yisro stems from Kayin is actually written in the
Zohar (1:28b), which cites the verse (Judges 1:16),
“And the sons of the Kenite, father-in-law of Moshe….” I.e., Yisro is referred
to as a Kenite, which the Zohar interprets as a soul of the realm of Kayin.]
realm of Kayin is much loftier than that of Hevel. As it is written in Sefer Hagilgulim
(“The Book of Incarnations” chapters 23, 26, et al), all souls of the realm of
Kayin are extremely lofty souls. Thus Moshe, who is of the realm of Hevel, bows
Now Kayin is the realm Gevurah. Thus Kayin is numerically equivalent
to sela, rock (160). Indeed it is written: “[Bilam saw the Kenite and said:]
‘…set in a rock (sela) is your nest (kinecha)” (Num.
24:21) [an allusion to Kayin].
is therefore written that with Yisro they ate bread “before Elokim.” For
Elokim is the Name that embodies Gevurah.
Similarly, the “sons of Elokim”
refer to the lofty souls of the realm of Kayin.
Of them it is written (Gen.
6:2): “And the sons of Elokim saw the daughters of man that they were good…and
they took for themselves wives….” (This cannot refer only to the two angels Shemchazai
and Azael who fell from heaven [see Rashi Numbers
28:33], since the verse seems to imply that there were many sons of Elokim
who took many of the daughters of earth.) They were drawn after corporeal desires
because of their lofty source. As the Talmud states (Sukkah 52a, end): “The greater
the man the greater his temptation.”
any case, the Talmud relates the following: The sage Abaye once overheard a man
say to a woman, “Let us rise early and set out on on the way.” Abaye said to himself,
“I will go and keep them from sin.” He followed them for a distance of three parsah.
When they parted, he heard one say to the other, “Our paths are far apart; but
the company would have been pleasant.” Abaye said: “If it were “my enemy” [a
euphemism for himself], he would not have been able to control himself.” He went
and leaned against a door bolt and was distressed. A certain old man came and
told him: “Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination is greater than
his fellow’s.” According to some opinions, this statement was made by Elijah the
Prophet (see Tosafot Chullin 6a).]
This follows the
principle that whatever is highest falls lowest. For Adam’s sin of the Tree of
Knowledge caused the blending of good and evil. This occurred in such a way that
beings with a large level of goodness gained a proportionately large and powerful
measure of evil.
And so it is in each generation. There are many souls from
the realm of Kayin, which are much loftier than those of Hevel. When they fall,
their drive for evil is far greater. “According to the camel is the load” (Kesubos
Sefer Hagilgulim lists various ancient souls including the
sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud and designates them as stemming either from
Kayin or Hevel. There are in fact signs by which to recognize the roots of souls.
It is written in Sefer Hakavanos (“The Book of Meditations”),
one who is wrapped in a tallis from right to left and left to right is
from the realm of Hevel. And one whose nature and custom is to fold the two sides
of his tallis on his two shoulders is from the realm of Kayin. (It was
the Baal Shem Tov’s custom to fold his tallis on his shoulder, and perhaps
he was from the realm of Kayin).
(This idea of recognizing the roots of
souls is also alluded to by Yisro when he advises Moshe to appoint judges over
the nation. Yisro says “and you shall look about…(vi’atah techzeh).”
I.e., in choosing the judges Moshe should follow the signs described in the Zohar
regarding the furrows of the forehead, similar to the above differences between
the souls of the realm of Kayin and those of Hevel. This should suffice for he
[On the words of Yisro
to Moshe “and you shall look about and choose out of all the people able men…”
the Zohar (2:70a) presents a lengthy exposition on the idea that a person’s physical
features reveal his nature. “The character of man is revealed in the hair, the
forehead, the eyes, the lips, the features of the face, the lines of the hands,
and even the ears.” For many pages the Zohar describes different hair types, foreheads,
eyes, and the personalities that they represent, as well as a discourse on palmistry.
A description of one type of forehead reads as follows (translation follows Soncino):
“A large rounded forehead indicates
one who is open-minded and generally gifted. He can acquire any kind of knowledge,
even without a teacher. … He can infer great things from small; hence he is rightly
called discerning. He is detached from the things of this world… He is tenderhearted.
His forehead is deeply furrowed by two wrinkles, set high upon his brow, one over
each eye. His forehead also has three long lines, and between his eyes is the
double vertical furrow, which signifies deep thought. He is always concerned with
realities and not with appearances, because he does not care what men say about
him… So much for the mystery connected with the study of the forehead.”])
And Aharon and the elders of Israel came to eat bread before Elokim…, which
is the level of Gevurah, the root of Kayin, referring to the root of the soul
of Yisro, who is of the “sons of Elokim,” as explained.
of his connection to Gevurah, severity and judgment,] Yisro merited
to study the laws of judges and to implement the use of many judges to
help Moshe. In addition, his offspring sat on the Sanhedrin and were great tzadikim
and ascetics, as alluded to in Scipture (I Chronicles 2:55, see below).
Talmud records that because of his good deeds—his hospitality towards Moses in
telling his daughters (Ex. 2:20), “call him and let him eat bread” (Sanhedrin
104a), or the fact that he [protested Pharaoh’s decision to throw the Jewish children
into the Nile and] ran away from Egypt (ibid. 106a)—Yisro merited that his descendants
became great Torah scholars and sat on the Sanhderin. The Talmud points to the
verse in Chronicles as support for the above assertion.]
In the future,
when the mixture of good and evil will be sifted and the realm of Kayin will be
purified of all waste, it will be above that of Hevel, as gold surpasses silver,
as explained elsewhere….. This should suffice for he that understands.
by Rabbi Yosef Marcus from Maamarei Admur Hazaken Haketzorim p. 47.
a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the
See Pri Etz Chaim, Shaar Hakrias Shema
3; Mishnas Chasidim, Meseches Tefilas Haberiah 3:3,4.
Rabbi Yossi Marcus is director
of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California. He is also the editor of
the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators at Kehot Publication