"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Supernal Unification Versus Refining the Sparks

Supernal Unification
Versus Refining the Sparks

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn זצ"ל
in honor of his yahrtzeit on 20 Av

“Yitzchak loved Esav because he would eat from his prey,[1] while Rivka loved Yaakov”.[2]

Although Yitzchak surely loved Esav as his son, how could Yitzchak have felt so favorably toward Esav that the Torah tells us that he specifically loved Esav, while it doesn’t declare that he loved Yaakov? Clearly Esav possessed some worthy quality that Yitzchak valued, and even more so than he valued the qualities of Yaakov!

Yitzchak’s divine service specifically resembled that of Esav, so he felt a special affinity with Esav.

Yitzchak was involved with “sowing” in “the field”, as it is written, “Yitzchak sowed in that year,”[3] and “Yitzchak went out to pray in the field”.[4]

The field, where plants grow and from which food is harvested, represents the spiritual task of birur hanitzutzos, refining the sparks of holiness trapped in physical objects. We accomplish this by being actively involved in the physical world and using it to serve Hashem. This was the focus of Yitzchak’s avodah—divine service.

Esav, too, was “a man of the field”,[5] whose main task was to be involved in the material world. (Unfortunately, he did not merit to do so by refining the sparks of holiness, as did Yitzchak.)

Moreover, the reason Yitzchak loved Esav was that “he would eat from his prey”, as Esav would bring him food from the field. In fact, Yitzchak desired not the food itself but the sparks of holiness hidden in the food that Esav would bring him.

Yaakov’s path was different. He had no connection to working in the field,[6] to active involvement in the physical world for the sake of refining sparks of holiness. He was a “man of simplicity who would sit in tents”.[7]

Rashi interprets that the plural “tents” refers to the two academies of the righteous Shem and Ever, where Yaakov would study Torah.[8]

Along these lines, the Medrash states that “tents” refers to “the tent of the Written Torah and the tent of the Oral Torah”.

Another interpretation is that a tent alludes to one’s wife and the mitzvah of marital relations, as in when Moshe instructed the Jewish men to “return to your tents”,[9] which our Sages explain[10] as granting permission to return to marital relations after a period in which it had been prohibited. Thus, Yaakov would “sit in the tents” of his wives, Leah and Rachel.

Modes of Malchus

On the kabalistic level, a wife corresponds to the sefirah of malchus of Atzilus, the feminine aspect of the divine. Thus, “sitting in the tents” means that Yaakov’s divine service was focused on malchus.

Yet we also find that the field, associated with the divine service of Yitzchak, alludes to malchus. How can this be, if the divine service of Yitzchak and Yaakov are different?

The “tent” and the “field” correspond to different aspects of malchus.

The “field” refers to the way malchus descends into Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (b’ya for short) in order to refine the sparks of holiness found in the kelipos, negative spiritual energies, found there.

This is the meaning of “she gave teref—prey to her house”,[11] a reference to malchus. Teref (טרף) has the numerical value of 249, which corresponds to the 248 general sparks of holiness plus one (im hakolel).[12] Malchus descends to refine the sparks, which are then elevated to their supernal source.

In contrast, “tents” refers to marital relations, as above. Thus, “sitting in tents” represents ze’ir anpin, the masculine aspect of the divine, as it influences and unites with malchus, the feminine aspect of the divine. On this level, malchus remains in its original state in the utterly pure realm of Atzilus and is completely detached from the lower worlds of b’ya, where G–dliness is hidden in successively greater concealments.

Thus, a field alludes to the way malchus gives (shov)—the divine service of Yitzchak; while a tent, to the way it receives (ratzo)—the divine service of Yaakov.

Earth Versus Yerushalayim

This distinction parallels the difference between the earth (aretz) and Yerushalayim, which are also both said to refer to malchus.

The earth is the same concept as a field—it brings forth food.[13] Food represents refining the sparks because produce grown in a field contains an edible part—ochel and waste matter—pesoles. Eating involves birur—refinement, separating the useful part from what is to be discarded.

Thus, the earth/field is an analogy for the way malchus descends into b’ya in order to separate and refine the nitzotz, the spark of holiness, from the energy of kelipah in which it is encased there.

In contrast, Yerushalayim is called “the good [city]”,[14] which corresponds to the way malchus exists in Atzilus in a state of sublime purity.[15] The destruction of the physical city of Yerushalayim is merely a reflection and consequence of the “destruction” of the spiritual Yerushalayim, which is the estrangement between ze’ir anpin and malchus.

Rebuilding Yerushalayim means bringing ze’ir anpin to reunite with malchus, which we accomplish through Torah study.[16] Torah possesses this power because Torah, too, is pure goodness and holiness and is thus able to rebuild the spiritual Yerushalayim, which is similarly pure. This leads naturally to the rebuilding of the physical Yerushalayim as well.[17]

This is the deeper meaning of Yaakov, who corresponds to ze’ir anpin,[18] “sitting in the tents”—i.e., engaging in marital relations—with Leah and Rachel, who correspond to malchus. On a deeper level, this alludes to Yaakov’s Torah study, which effected the supernal unification of ze’ir anpin and malchus.

This fits nicely with the literal meaning of Yaakov “sitting in the tents”—Torah study.

Adapted from Yalkut Levi Yitzchak al HaTorah, Vol. 1, pp. 467-469.


[1] This translation follows Onkelos.
[2] Bereshis 25:28.
[3] Ibid. 26:12
[4] Ibid. 24:63
[5] Ibid. 25:27.
[6] “לא היה שייך לשדה”.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Bereshis Rabbah 63:10.
[9] Devarim 5:27.
[10] Shabbos 87a.
[11] Mishlei 31:15.
[12] Cf. Sefer HaMaamarim 5663, p. 51.​​
[13] Berachos 49a.
[14] Berachos 48b.
[15] Cf. Likkutei Torah 15:3-4.
[16] Ibid. 29:3 ff.
[17] Ibid. 31:1-2.
[18] Cf. Reshimos vol. 169.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Significance of Seventy

The Significance of Seventy 
by Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

in honor of the seventieth birthday of my mother,
Zipporah Oliver (Chana Feiga bas Reizel)

Seventy is a very significant age, for it represents the full span of a lifetime, as David Hamelech says in Tehillim: “Our days are seventy years”.[1]

But how does this fit with the fact that some people lived for much longer? In particular, the Avos—Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov—lived for far longer than seventy years. It would seem clear that David included all mankind in his statement, including the Avos, so why did they live for so long?

The answer is that in fact, this emphasis on the age of seventy is not referring to a physical age but to a spiritual age. As is known, the number seven represents the seven middos, the emotional character traits. Seventy represents perfection in each of these traits, as they each contain ten, corresponding to the three levels of intellect and the seven emotional traits as they exist within each trait.

We find a similar expression of perfection within the seven traits in the custom of counting the forty-nine days of the Omer, when we specifically mention how each day corresponds to one of the seven traits within each of the seven traits.

Seventy represents an even higher level of perfection, because it includes the three levels of intellect within each emotion as well.

Thus, the reason that a lifespan lasts for seventy years is that our task is to refine our character traits and reach the spiritual level of seventy, which represents perfection in the refinement of one’s character traits.

Thus, the greatness of the Rambam is expressed in his lifetime of seventy years, which emphasized that he reached perfection in his self-refinement and this perfection also expressed itself on the physical level, in the length of his lifetime in this world.

But since this number represents spiritual accomplishments, it could also be accomplished by someone who is not seventy. Indeed, we find that in the Hagadah, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says “I am like someone who is seventy years”, which means that spiritually he had reached the age of seventy even though he was physically a young man.

But if this level of perfection can be reached in seventy years and even less, why did the Avos live for longer?

The answer is that even after a person has reached perfection in his divine service, that does not necessarily mean that one’s life needs to come to an end. One may be given the opportunity to rise to an even higher level of perfection, by involving oneself in a completely new endeavor, one that is higher than his previous form of divine service.

Although this task is based on his previous divine service, it is far superior to it, and it adds further perfection to his previous divine service.

All human life is divided into stages and each stage has its own task. When one stage is complete, because one completed one’s mission in that stage, then a new stage begins with a new task. As the Mishnah puts it: “At five, one studies Chumash; at ten, Mishnah”,[2] and so on. The same applies to the end of the age of preparation for mitzvos, at 12 for a girl and at 13 for a boy.

Likewise, at the end of a period of seventy years, corresponding to the seven character traits, comes a new level of divine service in order to reach an even higher level of perfection.

We find this also regarding Torah study, and Hashem “looked into Torah and created the world”.[3] Torah study comes in stages: Chumash, and then Mishnah, and then Gemara. Each stays follows and builds on the accomplishment of the previous stage or stages. So after one has study Chumash well, then one progresses to studying Mishnah, and so on.

But on the other hand, the study of Mishnah adds to the understanding one reached at the previous stage, when one had only studied Chumash, and so is it with all the further dimensions of Torah that one learns.

So those who have been blessed by Hashem with a life longer than seventy years have merited to be able to open a new page and start a new form of divine service.

As mentioned, we find this in the case of the Avos, who lived for longer than seventy years. Once they reached the age of seventy, they began a new kind of divine service.

“The deeds of the forefathers are a sign for the sons”[4]: Every single Jew is granted the ability, through the Avos, to complete the divine service of seventy years and then to start a new, higher form of divine service.

Conversely, one can attain this perfection before the age of seventy and then start a whole new level of divine service, and then another, and so on.

We see this in the age of the Rambam, who lived for seventy years. Although he lived for exactly seventy years, he managed to accomplish many different tasks during this time, which would have taken a lot more time for someone else.

The lesson is that everyone should constantly grow and increase in their divine service, and with renewed vigor, in all the three areas of Torah study, prayer, and charity.


[1] 90:10.
[2] Avos 5:21.
[3] Zohar 1:134:1
[4] Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 9.

Adapted from the Rebbe's Hisvaduyos 5749, vol. 2, pp. 163-165.