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layered critique

Adapted from a discourse of the Tzemach Tzedek by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

Moses’ words in the first few verses of Devarim are somewhat cryptic. They appear to be a description of some of the travels and encampments of the Israelites. But the commentators read them as a camouflaged criticism of the nation: the names of the places mentioned allude to the nation’s failings and sins, says Rashi.

Why the subterfuge? Rashi explains that it was for the dignity of Israel that Moses concealed their sins in ambiguous phrases. It has, however, been pointed out that later the leader’s reproach grows more explicit: Rebels have you been with the G-d! Inciters have you been…! Others therefore explain that Moses wished to gauge their openness to rebuke. When they proved comfortable with his indirect references to their shortcomings, he dispensed with the subtleties. But this answer, too, is not completely satisfying.

Kabbalistically, the two modes of rebuke offered by Moses addressed two different elements within the psyche of his listeners: the “hidden” and the “revealed.” The hidden was addressed indirectly—while the revealed was addressed directly.

hidden and revealed

The Zohar divides the many spiritual “worlds” into two general categories: the hidden world, alma di’iskasya and the revealed world, alma di’isgalya. These worlds are the primordial root of the hidden and revealed aspects of the human system.

The Divine Name Havayah, Y-H-V-H, is thus split in two: yud-kei[2] and vav-kei. Yud-kei embodies the hidden world, vav-kei the revealed. The yud embodies Chochmah (wisdom), the hei Binah (understanding). Vav-kei embodies the revealed world: vav embodies the six emotions, hei embodies Malchut, the lowest sephirah.

[alma di’iskasya - alma di’isgalya. When something is called “hidden” this means that it exists in a purer, less defined form than in “the revealed.” “Revealed” connotes a more coarsened form of the original. Along with revelation also comes susceptibility to corruption and the possibility that the Divine light will be improperly siphoned by negative and dead energies.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi[3] compares the hidden world to the drop, which contains, in an undefined form, all the elements of the future human that will grow from it. As the fetus develops within the womb, the drop is revealed and defined. The more developed the fetus, the more “impurities“ it accrues, such as nails and hair (which are “dead” entities.) When it is completely formed it begins to excrete, whereas as long as it is in the womb it does not excrete.

Similarly, in the hidden world there are no impurities. In the revealed world, especially in the lowest elements thereof, impurity and “death” can find a home.

In this way Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains a Talmudic rule regarding the various formulas of the blessings.[4] The Talmud states that a short blessing begins with boruch (blessed) but need not end in boruch. A long blessing, by contrast, begins and “is sealed”  with boruch. Kabbalistically, the short blessing, which says much in few words, corresponds to the hidden world, where all exists in undefined form. The long blessing corresponds to the revealed world, where all is spelled out. Now the word boruch, which in its deeper meaning means to draw forth, evokes the drawing forth of the energy of whatever is spoken of in the blessing. Thus the longer blessing, which evokes the Divine energies of the revealed world, requires a boruch at its end to “seal” the blessing and ensure that these energies are directed to proper and holy channels. By contrast, the blessing that evokes the energies of the hidden world needs only one boruch in the beginning to begin the flow.      

(Ironically, the lack of impurity in the hidden world often appears to us in a negative light. Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains in his Tanya[5] that all that occurs in this world is generated from on High. The misfortunes that a person experiences do not stem from an evil place but rather from “the hidden world.” When the energies of the hidden world are expressed in this world they may take the form of what we consider “misfortune.” The Talmud therefore states that one should accept all situations cheerfully: those perceived as good as well as those perceived as bad.[6]

Thus King David proclaims: “Happy is the man whom You chastise, O G-d.”[7] The Name of G-d used in this verse is Yud-kei, since it is Yud-kei, the hidden world, that generates what we perceive as chastisement.)]

the soul

The soul of man, which is created in the Divine image, also possesses a hidden and revealed world. One aspect of the soul, the “hidden world” remains aloof from the body, while the other aspect, the “revealed world” manifests itself inside the body.

The Kabbala describes the soul as having five attributes, which in turn are divided in two:

Chayah and Yechidah are the aspects of the soul that remain beyond the body, while Nefesh Ruach and Neshamah are manifest within it.

Chayah and Yechidah are alluded to in the Yud of Havayah. Chayah is the body of the Yud, while Yechidah is represented in the sarif at the tip of the Yud. (Yechidah, which means “alone” and “unique,” is the most sublime aspect of the soul and is therefore alluded to in a mere sarif, since its sublimity all but escapes expression.) Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah are represented in the other three letters: the vav and the two heis.

So Moses’ indirect rebuke addressed the Chayah Yechidah of the people—as our sages say, “the wise [need only] a hint”[8]—while the direct rebuke addressed their coarser element, which is manifest in the body and animal soul, Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah.

av”a and zu”n

In kabbalistic terminology, Moses’ indirect rebuke is described as rooted in Gevurah (strength, judgement) of Av”a. Its purpose was to rectify the Av”a of the nation. The direct rebuke, by contrast, stems from Gevurah of Zu”n and served to rectify the Zu”n of the people.

[Av”a is an acronym for Abba and Imma, literally father and mother, referring to Chochmah and Binah, wisdom and understanding, which are considered the “parents” of the emotions. Av”a refers to the mind of a being and is therefore called “the hidden world.”

Zu”n is an acronym Z”a and Nukva. Z”a in turn is an acronym for Ze’er Anpin, which is an appellation for the six basic emotions. Nukva, meaning female, refers to the lowest sephirah Malchut. The six emotions as well as Malchut, which is identified with action, are called “the revealed world,” since their activities are more apparent to an outsider, while the activities of the mind are hidden.]

all of israel

This explains an enigma in the first verse of Devarim, “And these are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel.” The biblical commentator Klei Yakar points out that this is one of two instances in the Torah where Moses is described as addressing “all of Israel.” Why so? According to the above it is understood that the verse means to say that with his words Moses addressed all of Israel, meaning every aspect of their being. (Indeed the Hebrew word for all, kol, is made up of a kof and lamed, which equal 20 and 30 repsectively. The kof therefore alludes to the two hidden aspects of the soul, Chayah and Yechidah, while the lamed  alludes to the three revealed aspects, Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah.)


[1] Ohr Hatorah, Devarim p. 11.

[2] This is the colloquial pronunciation of the Name formed by a Yud and a Hei. The Hei is replaced with kei so that one is not spelling out a sacred Name of G-d.

[3] Torah Ohr 6b.

[4] Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:8.

[5] Chapter 26.

[6] Berachot 48b.

[7] Psalms 94:12.

[8] Zohar 1:26b and 3:280b. See also Midrash Shmuel, 22:15 and 22.



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