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Based on a discourse of the Alter Rebbe parshat Re’eh by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]



“See, I place before you today blessing and curse. The blessing….”[2] On the literal level, this is a statement about man’s freedom choice. But as explained in the following discourse, the verse in fact describes the inner workings of the soul and the strength it possesses to achieve its mission.

Every soul contains within it the Divine Name y-h-v-h (referred to henceforward as Havayah).


The Yud (y) of Havayah is Chochmah.

Yud, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, reflects transparency and selflessness. Chochmah, on the human level, refers to the soul’s inherent desire to cleave to the Divine, a desire and awareness of the Divine that cannot be articulated.

[The level of Chochmah spoken of here is not a part of the rational process but rather of belief. Chochmah can also refer to the initial flash of insight, the “aha” moment of understanding. The common denominator between the two is that the person experiencing the belief or insight is entirely subordinate to the experience. In the case of the insight, at the moment of Chochmah, the person feels that he understands the concept entirely yet he cannot articulate it. Articulation comes in the next stage, Binah. This is because in the stage of articulation the focus is on the person and therefore requires Binah to be understood. In the stage of Chochmah, however, the focus is on the concept and the person is subordinate to the concept and therefore “understands” it. Similarly in the case of the soul’s belief in the oneness of G-d and its aversion to any form of denying this fact, the person is entirely transparent in the experience, the trademark of Chochmah.]

It is this aspect of the soul that explains the sporadic and rationally unjustifiable devotion of those who are otherwise spiritually indifferent. It accounts for the phenomenon of utterly irreligious individuals who throughout our history have sacrificed their lives rather than reject G-d’s oneness.

[Many people throughout history have given up their lives. Some to defend their country, their freedom, and some for a place in paradise. But all of these sacrifices can be rationally explained and—even if not selfish—are self-oriented. “Liberty or death” is not irrational since a life without freedom, to some, is not worth living. And one whose entire life is devoted to his religion cannot imagine living in contradiction to it.   

But only the Yud of the neshamah, the Divine soul, can explain one who ignores G-d all his life then gives it away rather than deny His oneness for even a moment.[3]]


The first Hey (h) of Havayah is Binah, Rechovot Hanahar, and contains length and breadth etc.,[4] like the letter Hey.

[Rechovot Hanahar, which can be translated as “Avenues on the River” signifies the expansiveness and elucidation that takes place in Binah. (The term Rechovot Hanahar appears in the Torah as the origin of one of the kings of Edom.[5] The Zohar states that Rechovot Hanahar alludes to Binah.[6])

On the human level, Binah comes as the result of pondering the awesomeness of the Creator. Each person according to his capacity meditates upon G-d’s omnipresence and on the fact that all is naught before Him.

Chochmah and Binah, the Yud and the Hey, must always remain together in one’s Divine worship. As the Zohar states regarding the supernal Chochmah and Binah: they are “two friends that never part.”[7]

Similarly on the human level, the instinctive knowledge of G-d and the one acquired through meditation must never come apart. A person must ponder the infinity of the Divine with his own human faculties and at the same time remain conscious of the selflessness inherent to the soul and its capacity for self-sacrifice that reaches beyond reason.

Meditation alone, even one that inspires love and awe of G-d, will not create a lasting experience. The person will eventually fall, chas v’shalom.

Thus it is written “and Chochmah keeps its master alive.”[8]

True there is an advantage to Binah, in that the person’s mind grasps Divinity, but Chochmah is the one that gives life. It is called “nekudah biheichalei—the point in the Chamber,” and the point gives life to the entire chamber. If there is no point, the chamber is useless.

On the other hand, if there is no chamber to host the point, the point is useless. Thus they must always remain together, remaining “two friends that never part” below as Above.

[The Zohar speaks of a “primal point” of light that is translucent, pure, and beyond reason. This point is vested in a “heichal” (palace or chamber) which acts as a “garment” for the “point.”[9] This “point” is understood to refer to Chochmah, while the “chamber” refers to Binah.

(The Rebbe Maharash explained this as follows: A point is similar to a Yud, Chochmah. Heichal (chamber) is made up of the letters Hey and Yud, which spells Hey, which is Binah—then Chof and Lamed, which equals 50, alluding the 50 gates of Binah.[10])

Maintaining a proper balance of Chochmah and Binah is challenging but crucial. Challenging because the two are in a sense opposites: Chochmah is selflessness, while Binah requires the involvement of the self to fully comprehend and articulate a concept. But with all the elaboration of Binah the point can become lost. There is no such fear in Chochmah, where the point is dominant and the person nonexistent. Yet the person’s uninvolvement in Chochmah is also its disadvantage, since without his involvement the point can be lost to him as well.

Hence the statement of Sefer Yetzirah[11]: “Chacham b’vinah, v’haven b’chochmah—be wise (Chochmah) in understanding (Binah) and understand in wisdom”[12]—i.e., retain an awareness of the seminal point while absorbing it and applying it.]   

(Gloss of the Tzemach Tzedek: According to this it can be said that the jug of oil that was found in the heichal of the Holy Temple [and with which the miracle of Chanukah occurred] is identical to the “point in the Chamber,” since oil symbolizes supernal Chochmah.)

Vov: The Vov (v) of Havayah refers to the descent of Chochmah and Binah into the six emotions to imbue them with Divine consciousness.

[The length of the Vov symbolizes descent, alluding to the “descent” of the intellect into the emotions. In addition, Vov equals six, the number of the basic emotions.]

Hey: The final Hey of Havayah refers to thought, speech and deed—alluded to in the three lines of the letter Hey—which must conform to the laws of the Torah.

(Hence the statement of the Talmud: “When a fetus is in its mother’s womb, a flame is lit over its head and they teach it the entire Torah.”[13] The flame is the Yud and the teaching of the entire Torah is the final Hey. I.e., while the person is in the womb he is impressed with the four letters, from Yud to the final Hey. This way when he leaves the womb and enters the air of the world he can more easily grasp these concepts in his mind and heart and reveal them from their concealment.)


But our sages have said: “During the time of Exile the Name is not complete.”[14] This means that the letters Vov and Hey are separated from Yud and Hey.

In Divine worship this means that although the person ponders the awesomeness of G-d, and also evokes the soul’s inherent nullification to
G-d, which transcends reason, nevertheless, these efforts do not translate into emotion.

Thus we pray “yihay shmay rabba mivarach liolam uliolmei olmaya—may His Name be great,[15] blessed (or drawn forth) forever and ever.”

Yihay shmay rabba…

Shmay is spelled Shem-Yud Hey. So we are saying that Yud Key[16]— Chochmah and Binah—should be great in our minds until they are—

Mivarach “drawn forth” (normally translated as blessed) into the six emotions. And then even further—

Liolam uliolmei olmaya to the three concealments, thought speech and deed, which must be imbued with Yud Key and consecrated for holiness.

[The word olam stems from the word helem, which means concealment. (The phrase Liolam uliolmei olmaya is usually translated as “forever and ever.”)] 

the verse

This is the meaning of the verse “See, I place before you today blessing and curse. The blessing….”[17]

The word used here for “I” is Anochi, the same word that begins the Ten Commandments given at Sinai. Anochi refers to the inner essence of G-d that cannot be named and is only described as “I, whoever I Am.” This “I” spoke to the “I” of the people, the inner self of every soul. Hence the verse: “Face to face I spoke to you at Sinai.”[18]

Indeed it was at Sinai that every soul received the light of the Name Havayah: “I am Havayah your G-d,”[19] meaning that Havayah will be revealed in you in such great measure that He can be called by your name, “your G-d.”

So it is this Anochi, the Anochi of Sinai, which permeates the inner soul of every person (hence lifneichem  (to your inner self), not lachem (to you)) and allows the soul to achieve bracha, to draw Yud Key into Vov Key through the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvot, as the verse states, “The blessing: that you listen to the commandments of Havayah your G-d….”[20]

This in turn brings to Re’eh, the ability to see (as opposed to hear[21]), i.e., the level of transparency of the supernal Chochmah. &


[1] Likutei Torah 18a.

[2] Deuteronomy 11:26-7.

[3] See Tanya chapter 18.

[4] See Sefer Hamaamarim 5659, English translation p. 30.

[5] Genesis 36:37.

[6] 3:142a.

[7] 2:51a.

[8] Ecceliastes 7:12.

[9] 1:20a.

[10] Sefer Hamaamarim 5633 2:446.

[11] 1:4.

[12] See Sefer Hamaamarim 5659, English translation p. 46.

[13] Niddah 30b.

[14] See Tanchuma end of Teitzei; Eitz Chaim beg. of Shaar Haklipot 1.

[15] “This is how Tur translates it. Tosafot translates it as “May Hi s great Name be blessed. And both intentions are true”

[16] The colloquial form of Yud - Hey to avoid spelling out a Divine Name.

[17] Deuteronomy 11:26-7.

[18] Deuteronomy 5:4.

[19] The first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:2.

[20] Deuteronomy 11:27.

[21] See essay on Va’etchanan.



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