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One Eye

From a teaching of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe[1]


Deuteronomy 23:5-6: “…he hired against you Balaam son of Beor, of Pethor, Aram Naharaim, but G‑d did not wish to listen to Balaam and He reversed the curse to a blessing for you because G‑d your G‑d loves you.”

It seems that if not for G-d’s refusal to listen to Balaam’s curses the Israelites would have suffered their effect. This essay explores the source of Balaam’s power and the dynamics through which this power is neutralized.


he Torah’s depiction of G‑d’s “vision” is inconsistent. King David speaks of the Eye of G‑d[2]—in the singular. Other verses in the Torah speak of G‑d’s eyes, in the plural: In Jeremiah’s[3] words G‑d’s eyes are open upon on all the ways of man. Zachariah, similarly, sees G‑d’s eyes roving over all the earth.[4]

Kabbalah explains that the two eyes of G‑d refers to the Divine manifestation on the level of what is called Z”A. On this level there are two eyes, one of Chesed and one of Gevurah, kindness and judgement. This is the level referred to as daas tachton, or “lower mind,” where the same situation can be judged in two opposite ways.

On the human level, for example, a person can judge his own act to be noble while considering a similar act committed by his enemy to be criminal. The difference in view stems from a subconscious motivation: his personal bias caused by his self-love  causes his mind to lean towards Chesed in one case, to  Gevurah in the other.

(The Talmud tells of certain sages who refused to preside over court-cases where one of the disputants had accorded them even the smallest favor for fear that their judgement would be biased.[5] Bribery is not only prohibited when the judge is persuaded to cheat for his patron; it is even forbidden in cases such as those recounted in the Talmud where the favor accorded the judge may cause his daas to unwittingly lean in one particular direction.) 

So the Divine “lower mind” in its manifestation in Z”A contains within it the potential for Chesed and Gevurah.

That daas contains Chesed and Gevurah can be seen in the mitzvah of Tefillin. The four passages of Torah written on the scrolls placed in the Tefillin—all four on one scroll in the arm tefilah and four scrolls for the head tefilah—  correspond to the “four brains”: The passages entitled Kadesh and Vihaya ki yiviacha correspond to Chochmah and Binah, while Shema and Vihaya correspond to Chesed and Gevurah. This is because daas is the intermediary between Chochmah and Binah and Chesed and Gevurah.

Generally the mind is divided into three: Chochmah, Binah, and Daas. Chochmah is the initial, unarticulated flash of insight; Binah is the development and articulation of the insight; and Daas is the bridge between intellect and emotion, where the insight goes from an abstract thought towards an emotional feeling. The emotional feeling can be either positive or negative, love or rejection. Thus Daas includes within it four elements: Chochmah and Binah, its “parents,” and Chesed and Gevurah, its “children.”

There is, however, a deeper level called daas elyon, “higher mind.” This level stands beyond the division of Chesed and Gevurah. Daas elyon is pure kindness. This is the level of One Eye referred to by King David. Of this level it is written in the Zohar,[6] “there is no left side (judgement) in this atika.”


Balaam son of Beor introduces himself as the man “with an open eye.”[7] The Talmud derives from this self-description that Balaam had only one open eye: the other was blind.[8] His one-dimensional view was the view of Gevurah alone, strict judgement. Similarly, in Pirkei Avot, the students of Balaam are described as having “an evil eye,” while the students of Abraham possess “a good eye.”[9]

Whereas Abraham saw everything from the point of view of kindness, Balaam saw only Gevurah. And it was this view that he wished to invoke upon the Israelites in the desert.

(A similar phenomenon occurs every Rosh Hashanah when the “children of Elokim [judgement] come to stand upon Havayah [kindness].”[10] This refers to the argument of Satan, whose power stems from finding the sins of man and demanding the implementation of the attribute of judgement, Elokim. Satan obviously has no power of his own, it is merely his function to be the mouthpiece for judgement.[11]

Chesed and Gevurah are conceived of as right and left. Thus the right side is always given precedence in Judaism. (The right hand is used to hold the object of a mitzvah, such as the kiddush cup or the coin being given to tzedakah, or any food upon which a blessing is being made; the Mezuzah is placed on the right side of the doorway, etc. [Chasidic custom goes so far as to mandate that even men’s clothing should button right over left.] Indeed those mitzvot that take place on the left side, such as tefillin and menorah, reflect a unique sublimity that allows them to thrive even in the realm of the left.)

So when the Torah speaks of the uplifting of the right hand of G‑d[12] that means that Chesed is overpowering Gevurah.

Where does Chesed derive the strength to overpower Gevurah, its equal? —from the “one eye,” from the place that is beyond division and is all kindness, daas elyon. According to the Zohar,[13] this is the level of Moses.[14]

Moses is identified with the phrase “one with a good eye shall be blessed.”[15] This is different than the eye of goodness (ayin tovah) attributed to Abraham, which is the counterpart of Balaam’s eye of evil. The kindness represented by Abraham is within the realm of kindness and judgement. Moses, by contrast, is called “good eye” (tov ayin), referring to the One Eye, which is beyond the division of Chesed and Gevurah.

When this level is evoked, as it was in the case of Balaam, G‑d’s right arm is raised and Chesed rules.[16]

© Chabad of MAlibu


[1]Maamarei Admur Hazaken, parshiyot hatorah 1:124. See also Maamarei Admur Haemtzai Bereishit p. 199 ff.; Torat Chaim 1:108d ff.

[2] Psalms 33:18.

[3] 32:19.

[4] 4:10.

[5] Ketubot 105b.

[6] Idra Rabba Nasso 129a.

[7] Numbers 24:15.

[8] Niddah 31a.

[9] Avot 5:19.

[10] Job 1:6, 2:1. See Zohar Bo 32b.

[11] [This is also the idea behind the concept of concealing one’s good fortune for fear of an “evil eye,” which many consider to be mere superstition. In truth, however, when one looks upon a fellow with a jealous or “evil” eye, this has the effect of evoking the attribute of judgement, which calls into question the good fortune enjoyed by the particular person. Ed.’s note.]

[12] Psalms 118:16.

[13] Pekudei 221a. See Tanya 42. See Likutei Sichot 6:244 for a lengthy discussion seeking to identify the exact level of Moses and to reconcile the seemingly inconsistent statements in this regard found in various kabalistic and chasidic texts. 

[14] Balaam says of himself that he knows daas elyon (Numbers 24:16), since he stems from the “back side” (achorayim) of daas elyon, whence the division of Chesed and Gevurah begins. 

[15] Proverbs 22:9. See Nedarim 38a.

[16] Abraham, on the other hand, unsuccessfully pleaded for the people of Sodom. For the “one eye” can only work by influencing the right side of kindness to overpower the left side of judgement. However, if the right side does not have anything to stand on, the “one eye” does not overrule the attribute of judgement.  


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