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A L M O N D S   A N D   R O A D B L O C K S

Adapted from a discourse of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi by Rabbi Yossi Marcus


And behold the staff of Aaron blossomed…and almonds ripened (Numbers 17:23).

Why almonds?

Almonds ripen faster than any other fruit or produce, such as olives, wine, figs, etc. All of them tarry longer than almonds, which ripen in twenty-one days. Their Hebrew name is therefore shaked, which connotes swiftness.

We see this use of the word in Jeremiah (1:11-2), where G-d explains to Jeremiah that his vision of an almond branch signified G-d’s intention to fulfill His word swiftlyshoked ani al d’vari la’soto.

The almond is therefore a symbol for the priesthood. For it is through Aaron that all the revelations, influxes and lights are drawn from on high to the lower worlds swiftly. Through Aaron, these influxes are drawn from the highest heights to the lower realm very quickly, without any obstructions.

To explain:

It is written in the Blessing after Meals, Blessed are You…who sustains the entire world with His goodness, grace and kindness…. In order for His supernal goodness and kindness to evolve into physical sustenance, it must descend through the chain of myriad levels until it is coarsened into the form of physical kindness.

And it is through Aaron that this journey is expedited and cleared of all obstacles that might have occurred along the chain of worlds.

Myriad Levels

To explain further:

The question is well known: why do we ask G-d each day to heal us and to bless us when judgment has already been passed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?[1] Indeed the Tosafot ask this question.[2]  

The answer is that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a certain amount of kindness is allotted to the person’s soul. However, this kindness, which derives from the Infinite remains above within Malchut of Atzilut, which is the source for the lower worlds, Bi’ya.

This is what is meant by He sustains the world with His goodness, grace and kindness—referring to the supernal kindness, whose form is far, far loftier than that of physical beneficence. Abraham expressed this disparity when he said of his attribute of kindness and great love (Genesis 18:27), “I am dirt and ashes,” i.e., that they had no comparison to the kindness of Atzilut and were like dirt and ashes, etc.

[In his fifteenth epistle, Rabbi Schneur Zalman cites his master, Rabbi Dovber of Mezrich, who explains Abraham’s words as follows:

Abraham possessed a great love of G-d. Indeed one might have thought that his attribute of kindness and love was similar in nature to the same attributes as they exist in the supernal spheres. One might have assumed that the only difference between them was that in the supernal spheres these attributes are infinite and that in Abraham they were limited.

But with the words I am dirt and ashes Abraham is articulating the qualitative distance between his attributes and the supernal spheres, as we shall explain.

What are ashes? The ashes of burned wood, for example, are the essence and substance of the wood, which was previously made up of the four elements—fire, air, water, and earth. The first three elements dissipate through the smoke, while the fourth element, earth, remains intact, impervious to the fire.

Now earth is the primary element of the tree. It is the only element that contains length, width and depth. It is the most material of all. So the ash that remains was formerly the essence of the tree in all its glory. Yet there is no comparison at all between the great tree before it was burned and its current form, even though the ash is made up of the very essence of the tree.

Similarly, Abraham said of his attribute of love and kindness that although it is the same as the supernal variety, nevertheless, after its descent below to enter a body through the evolution of many worlds and concealments, there is no longer any comparison between his love and its form in Atzilut—no more than the comparison between the element of earth in ash form and its original state as a tree that was “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” In fact, the degree of separation between the earthly and supernal attributes exceeds the separation between the ash and the tree by thousands of degrees of separation.] 

So in order for physical, bodily sustenance to emerge from Chessed of Atzilut, the Chessed must descend through the myriad stages of the spiritual worlds, through the many chambers of the four worlds, from chamber to chamber until it is coarsened enough to become kindness in physical form to heal the sick and bless the years.   

This is the journey it must make.

Daily Decisions

Of this our sages say that man is judged each day (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Man is judged according to his actions each day as to whether the Chessed that has already been drawn upon his soul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should descend from level to level and from chamber to chamber so that it may migrate from spirit to matter. Or perhaps he is not fitting for this and the Chessed will be obstructed and will not descend below but rather remain above in a spiritual state. In the latter case, he receives this kindness in spiritual form as an increase of pleasure for his soul in Gan Eden, since the Chessed has already been evoked for him. But he will receive nothing of it at all below.

(Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss: Although the opinion that man is judged each day is only that of Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Nathan, nevertheless, we must say that they would agree that the primary judgment takes place on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Otherwise, how would they explain the verse, “It is a statue for Israel, a judgment for the G-d of Jacob,” which refers to Rosh Hashanah? [The Tzemach Tzedek cites other proofs as well.]

Similarly, the other sages would agree that there is some type of judgment each day, since we make requests of G-d in the Shemone Esrei every day. This is not the place to explain what the argument then is between them. It has already been elaborated upon in Asarah Maamarot, maamar Chikur Din, 2:1 and 26.)

So the Chessed is held up and tarries until it descends below, since at each level it must undergo judgment to decide whether the person is worthy. On each level  there are prosecuting forces who say that he has sinned and lacks merit.

But when the light and influx is brought forth through Aaron and his descendants—the priests who raise their hands and bless the nation with the priestly blessings—the influx is drawn forth swiftly through all the worlds unimpeded and there is no looking into the justice of the matter.

Two Types of Chessed

The reason for this is because there are two types of Chessed—chessed olam and and rav chessed, everlasting kindness and abundant kindness. Aaron draws forth rav chessed. This variety is without limit; there is no attribute of judgment that can impede it at all. Chessed olam, by contrast, can be impeded by judgment.

A metaphor. A great river, whose waters flow with great intensity, cannot be stopped. But rivers whose waters are not as abundant can be impeded by trees, dirt and the like. Bridges and mills can be erected in such rivers. But a great river cannot be stopped by impediments since it will continue to flow as is its custom and wash away the wood and dirt that stands in its way. So too the influx from rav chessed flows swiftly and all the strict judgments are severed and nullified in its path….               


[1] See Beitzah 15a

[2] Shabbat 12b; Rosh Hashanah 16a, end. This question is dealt with at length in Kuntres Uma’ayon, a discourse by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, available in English from http://www.kehotonline.com/scripts/tgij/paper/kehot-item.asp?book=689.



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