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VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim


The dreams of Joseph symbolized the relative roles of his brothers and himself in G-d’s plan for the universe.

Within the spiritual realm of Atzilus, the highest of the four general spiritual “worlds,” G-d’s unity is absolute, and no divisiveness is possible. This state of affairs does not extend past malchus, the lowest level within Atzilus, and beyond that point, unity gives way to diversity and multiplicity. However, the spiritual task of Joseph’s brothers, the sh’vatim (and us, their descendants) is to extract the sparks of holiness from this state of diversity and unify them all, elevating them back to their source in malchus of Atzilus.

Joseph’s spiritual function is to bring the unity of Atzilus, which does not extend into the lower realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, to the lower realms anyway. This is accomplished by a spiritual “partnership” with the brothers in which they elevate Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah up to malchus of Atzilus and Joseph brings the true unity of chochma of Atzilus to meet and carry higher the elevated sparks of B’YA.

THE STORIES related in the Bible concerning our patriarchs and the events of their lives are not re­counted merely for their historical value. Instead, they are themselves instructive and fully deserve their place in the Bible. This is because our forefathers and other great Biblical figures like Moses and Aaron were the incarnations of various G-dly attributes (e.g., Abraham is identified with G-d’s attribute of Chesed, kindness; Isaac with Gevurah, might or restraint). The events that befell them were orchestrated by G-d to symbolically represent spiritual concepts. An example of this is the story, found in this week’s Torah portion, of Joseph and his dreams.

To Joseph’s brothers, his two dreams meant he would dominate them. They resented this, and sold him into slavery in Egypt, where ironically, he rose to power and ultimately did dominate them. The first dream was, in Joseph’s own words (Genesis 37:7), “And lo! We were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and stood upright, and lo, your sheaves surrounded and bowed down to my sheaf.”

Joseph’s dream was symbolic of the relative spiritual statures of Joseph and his brothers, as well as their – and our own – respective roles in G-d’s plan for Divine worship in this world. To understand its mean­ing, we must first come to an understanding of the manner in which a multitude of created entities, each seemingly endowed with an existence of its own, come into being from the One and Indivisible Creator.

The Kabbalah explains this in terms of a con­cept known as “Sh’viras HaKeilim” — “the breaking of the vessels.” This has been explained elsewhere, and will not be dealt with at length here. However, we can understand one aspect of it with the following analogy:

When letters are combined in a word, a concept (the word’s meaning) is expressed thereby; the word is a “container,” a vessel, for the expression of the meaning. On the other hand, should those letters sepa­rate, they lose that added element and become mean­ingless. Similarly, the Divine creative force that brought the universe into being was originally “contained” within “vessels,” or instruments for its expression, that came apart and thereby lost the G-dliness within. It is not G-d or the life-force He radiated into creation that is diverse; it is the vehicles for the expression of that G-dliness that have separated into multiple parts.

Now, to the extent that letters are not viewed independently but as parts of a word, they will express, or “contain,” the meaning of that word. Conversely, as long as they express the meaning, they remain whole: they cannot separate into their component parts and still express that meaning. It is possible, though, for a word to “break up” just a little and still contain traces of the original meaning. For example, the word “benediction,” which means “blessing,” is formed from the Latin roots “bene” (good) and “dict” (speech), and literally means “good speech.” It can be broken into the components “benedict” and “ion” and not entirely lose its meaning; in fact, it can further be broken into “bene” and “dict” and still express, although in a much more imprecise fashion, something of the original idea. As long as we wish to hold on to some vestige of the meaning, the letters cannot be completely separated, or every trace of meaning would be lost. Once this has happened, however, the letters are free to dissolve into individual components; nothing holds them together. The more this separation occurs, the greater the number of possible combinations of new words that can be formed from the letters.

Perhaps this is analogous to the idea that when the G-dly radiance or “light” is within the spiritual vessels intended to contain and express it within this world, those vessels remain whole. They cannot break up, because their entire purpose is to express the G-dliness they contain – which holds them together, as it were – and not to be considered as entities in their own right. However, once they do begin to break up, it will be seen that the less G-dliness they retain, the less cohesive they remain, until they can separate into countless individual components.

(What is being omitted from this limited discussion of Sh’viras HaKeilim is how, in fact, it came to be that the spiritual vessels broke apart.)

This, then, is the way G-d brought into being a multitude of created entities, all of which appear to possess independent existence. This scheme of things is mystically alluded to in the verse (Genesis 2:10), “A river went out from Eden to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became four streams.” As has been explained elsewhere, the spiritual realm of Atzilus is the most sublime level of creation, in which G-d is so openly manifest that nothing exists outside of Him. “Eden” refers to the spiritual level known as chochma of Atzilus – the highest level within Atzilus – and the “garden” refers to malchus of Atzilus­ – the lowest level of that realm. The “river” running from Eden to the garden is the flow of G-dly light, the radiance of the Divine life-force of creation, throughout Atzilus, where, because of G-d’s all-pervasive presence, there is no disunity at all. However, the verse tells us, “from thence” – i.e., beyond malchus of Atzilus, the “garden” at the lowest extremity of Atzilus – the Divine flow separated into four parts. This was the beginning of the spiritual realm of Beriah, in which (like the two spiritual realms beneath it, Yetzirah and Asiyah), due to the effects of Sh’viras HaKeilim, there is diversity as opposed to unity.

(This spiritual source in Atzilus of the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah is associated with the Divine name comprised of 52 letters. This is known as the shem bn (pronounced ban), or “name of 52,” because the Hebrew letters bais and nun (which, together, spell ban) are numerically equivalent, by the grammatical principle of gematria, to 52.)

Now, as the G-dly light reached Beriah, it had only split into four parts. It was still relatively close to Atzilus, the realm in which G-d’s unity is openly manifest. However, the breakage of the “vessels” had begun, and, allegorically speaking, the broken pieces came falling down. The farther from the G-dly light they fell, the more they fragmented, until, by the time they reached this lowest realm of Asiyah, a virtually infinite number of individual fragments had come into being.

These fragments, whether the “larger” fragments of the higher spiritual realms or the “smaller” ones in Asiyah, form the actual substance of the created entities within those realms. Thus, in Beriah the “creatures” (souls) may be considered greater than the beings of Yetzirah (angels), which in turn are greater than those of Asiyah. This progression plays itself out in several respects, and may be applied to souls, angels and even (in Asiyah) G-dly forces themselves.

With respect to angels, the four basic divisions of the G-dly light as it entered the realm of Beriah are the four camps of the Divine Presence referred to in Ezekiel 1:10 as “the face of a lion to the right … the face of an ox to the left [etc.]” The phrase “the face of a lion to the right” refers to the archangel Michael (spiritually associated with the G-dly attribute of chesed, kindness, which is identified with the right side); “the face of an ox” refers to the archangel Gabriel, and so on. These four levels further fragmented within Beriah, so that the spiritual level of “Michael” split into the 186,000 individual components of the “camp of Michael,” and so on. Beyond Beriah, each of those many individual units further split into the “spirits” (ruchos in Hebrew) of Yetzirah, which in turn each further divided into the “souls” (nefashos) of Asiyah. There are thus literally countless angels ministering to G-d.

The angels, however, are essentially spiritual beings whose purpose is to minister to G-d and do His will. It was His plan that there be countless such ministering angels, and this situation requires no rectification with respect to them. This is not the case, however, for souls and G-dly forces, as shall now be explained.

Although the Jewish people are (thank G-d) quite numerous, especially when their numbers are aggregated over all the generations that ever lived, our souls, like angels, can also be traced back to their roots in four basic levels. Scripture (see Numbers chapter 2) describes how, when the Jews camped in the wilderness, each tribe had its assigned place around the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed). The three tribes of Yehudah, Yissachar and Zevulun collectively camped under the “banner of Yehudah” in the east; the “banner of Reuven,” to the south, included the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Gad; to the west, the “banner of Ephraim” included the tribes of Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin; and to the north, the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naftali made up the “banner of Dan.” (The Levites camped in the center.)

The soul of Yehudah (Judah) was an all-encompassing soul which included within itself the souls of all the individual people to camp under the banner of Yehudah. Likewise, the souls of Reuven, Ephraim and Dan encompassed the souls of those within their respective banners. These, then, are the four general levels at which the Jewish souls entered the spiritual realm of Beriah. Within Beriah, they divided further: the spiritual levels of the four banners of the wilderness “fragmented” into the individual souls within each banner; and these souls in turn fragmented into “smaller” component souls, until the point at which, as the Torah teaches (see Exodus 12:37), there were 600,000 souls encamped in the wilderness.

Even this figure of 600,000, however, only represents the number of Jewish souls as they existed within the spiritual realm of Beriah, for the Torah speaks in terms of that realm. However, as Jewish mysticism explains, the 600,000 Jews who camped in the wilderness were themselves encompassing souls which, as they reached the realm of Yetzirah, divided further, and in the realm of Asiyah further fragmented into the countless multitude of individual Jewish souls born throughout history.

The 600,000 “general” souls of the realm of Beriah, like the angels discussed above, have already been rectified (in the sense to be explained more fully below).

It will be remembered that the fragmentation into progressively smaller “pieces” of the beings within the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah is a result of Sh’viras HaKeilim. The state of affairs prior to this “breaking of the vessels” is known as Olam HaTohu, the “realm of chaos.” Like the analogy discussed above of letters “containing” the meaning of a word, this realm was characterized by an abundance of G-dly revelation (the “meaning”) expressed through relatively few “vessels” (the letters). (Perhaps this can be compared to words like “G-d,” which are so rich with content that their full meaning simply cannot be expressed by their few letters.) On the other hand, as we have been discussing, when these “vessels,” unable to contain the overabundant revelation, or “light,” burst apart, they fragmented into a great multitude of pieces. Each of these expresses only a small fragment of the original G-dly revelation. This opposite state of affairs – an abundance of vessels to contain relatively little revelation – is known as Olam HaTikun, the “realm of repair.”

Now, consider how a word can split into fragments and still retain some vestige of its original meaning. The smaller the fragment, the less of the meaning is retained. The last word in the previous sentence, “retained,” provides a suitable illustration. There are fragments of this word which, if split off from the main word, lose virtually all original meaning but are not totally devoid of content. The “re” prefix and the “ed” suffix each have definite significance, even if it is imprecise and not specific to the original word. (Indeed, there are aspects of meaning that can be expressed by even a single letter, like the “a” in such words as “asymmetrical” and “amorphous.”) At the same time, this breaking up of the word “retained” does not affect the abstract concept of “retention” at all: this abstract meaning still exists in the universe regardless of whether or not a particular word still expresses it.

This should help us to understand something about the “light” – that is, the G-dly revelation – which had been contained in the vessels which “broke” during Sh’viras HaKeilim. Just as the breaking up of the letters of a word do not affect the abstract concept, the meaning, signified by that word at all, so did Sh’viras HaKeilim affect only the “vessels” for the Divine Light, but the light itself remained intact. However, just as traces of the original meaning can still cling to the broken fragments of a word – and even to single letters thereof – so can traces of the light still be found “clinging” to the broken vessels which now form the very substance of the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. These remaining vestiges of G-dly revelation still attached to the vessels are the so-called “sparks of holiness” which “fell” with Sh’viras HaKeilim.

By definition, every created entity – having been formed from the substance of the broken keilim, or vessels – has a spark of holiness about it, which clung to that vessel. The very purpose of this world and the mystical intent (in a very broad and general sense) behind most practical mitzvos (the majority of them, those which involve actual physical things) is for us to go about our daily lives, interacting with this physical world and its substance and using it for holy purposes. When we use wool for tzitzis or cowhide for tefillin, for example, or even when we use money for charity or eat our everyday food and then use its energy to study Torah or pray with love and fear of G-d, we are actually extracting, liberating, these sparks of holiness from the mundane substances of the physical world and raising them up to their original place in the spiritual scheme of things. Moreover, we not only elevate them, but we re-unify all those fragmented sparks by separating them from their many different physical “hosts” and directing them all into the service of the One G-d. This accomplishment, this aspect of our Divine service, is called birur nitzotzos, “extraction of the sparks,” and is the purpose of Olam HaTikun, this “realm of repair.”

We thus see that not only souls and angels, but G-dly forces themselves (the sparks of holiness) “fell” with Sh’viras HaKeilim. The “lower” they fell through the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah the more numerous they became.

This is Kabbalistically alluded to (see Eitz Chaim 18:1) by the verse (Genesis 1:2), “And the earth was unformed (tohu) and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of G-d hovered (merachefes) over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word merachefes is spelled by the initial letter mem and the final letter tav, which bracket between them letters having, by the Hebrew principle of gematria, a numerical value of 288. Mem and tav spell the Hebrew word for death; 288, the Kabbalah teaches, is the number of sparks of holiness which fell (“died”) during Sh’viras HaKeilim. The verse is hinting at the fact that originally, there was Olam HaTohu (the word for “unformed”), from which point, with Sh’viras HaKeilim, 288 general “sparks of holiness” fell into the world.

The number 288, however, refers to the sparks as they fell into the realm of Atzilus. As they fell lower and lower, however, they fragmented more and more, to the point where, now, there are countless sparks to be elevated by the countless individual Jewish souls over all the generations.

This is why the exile has dragged on for so long (may G-d have mercy on us and send the Messiah immediately). It is taught that our purpose is to elevate the 288 sparks of holiness, and that when this has been accomplished, Messiah will arrive. One might think that it should not take so agonizingly long for 600,000 people – actually much more, counting their descendants over all the generations – to elevate a “mere” 288 sparks. But in fact, this teaching refers to the spiritual state of affairs in the realm of Atzilus. On our level in this lowest realm of Asiyah, however, the souls and the sparks have all fragmented into countless individual “pieces.” The service of elevating all these sparks has not yet been completed, and when it is, Messiah will arrive, may it be speedily in our days.

(Note: the above paragraph, taken from the Hebrew original of the Alter Rebbe, was first published over 170 years ago, in 1836, and was actually recited 32 years earlier than that (in 1804). However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe of our generation announced that Messiah is now arriving, and revealed, by his Divine inspiration, that at this point, the spiritual task of elevating every last spark of holiness has finally been completed. Indeed, said the Rebbe, the Final Redemption has already taken effect in the spiritual realms, and at any moment, we are about to experience its full revelation in this physical universe.)

This concept is alluded to in the verse (Psalms 104:24), “How numerous are Your creations, O G-d! You have made them all with wisdom….” The sense of this verse is not that G-d is to be praised because there are many of the same thing in the world (e.g., “How many rocks there are!”) Rather, the Psalmist is exclaiming in wonder over the fact that there are so many diverse things in the world. In terms of the “fragmentation” that followed Sh’viras HaKeilim, quantity and diversity are interrelated: the more separated and diverse the fragments became, the more numerous they inevitably were, and vice versa. This is the subtle meaning of the above verse: Your creations are varied, thus, how numerous they are.

Yet, as the second part of the verse continues, “You have made them all with wisdom.” The Hebrew word for “[You have] made,” asisa, can be understood in the sense of “rectification,” “repair.” The Hebrew word for “wisdom” is chochma, which refers to the Divine attribute of that name. (Recall that earlier, in connection with the verse, “A river went out from Eden…,” we said that “Eden” refers to the spiritual level known as chochma of Atzilus – the highest level within Atzilus.) The phrase “You have made them all with wisdom” can thus be understood as meaning, “You repair them all with [the Divine attribute] chochma.” The characteristic of chochma is its quality of bitul, or nullity, before G-d, its total lack of “self.” This is precisely what has the power to unify all the diverse fragments that make up this created world. When things lose their sense of self and are rendered “transparent” to the light of G-d shining within them; when each thing behaves (or is used) not in furtherance of its own separate objectives, but as a part of one grand plan to express the will of G-d; the diverse entities of the universe – and specifically, the sparks of holiness within them – are thereby united and elevated back to their spiritual source.

This is the task of the Jew. Through our mitzvah observance and Torah study (note that Torah derives from the Divine attribute of chochma, and is referred to as the Wisdom of G-d – another aspect of meaning to the concept, “You repair them all with Wisdom”), we are to unify and elevate – to repair – the multiplicity of creation.

And this is the meaning of the liturgical expression (Shemona Esre prayer for Shabbos afternoon, based upon II Samuel 7:23), “You [O G-d] are One, and Your Name is One; and who is like Your people Israel: one nation on earth.” “You are One” refers to G-d’s very essence and self; “Your Name is One” refers to the extension and revelation of G-dliness known as the “Light of the blessed Infinite One” (Or Ein Sof). In Hebrew, the conclusion of the phrase “who is like Your people Israel: one nation on earth” can be read literally as, “the nation of One upon earth.” This is a praise of the Jews for the fact that it is they, through their worship and Torah study – that is, the extraction, unification and elevation of the sparks of holiness which fell during Sh’viras HaKeilim – who cause G-d’s Oneness to be expressed even here, “upon earth.”

We are at last in a position to understand the spiritual symbolism of Joseph’s dream. The setting of the dream – “we [Joseph and his brothers] were binding sheaves in the field” – is a mystical reference to birur nitzotzos, the extraction of the sparks explained above. Sheaves are bundles of individual wheat stalks tied together. The individual stalks are diverse and have no unity about them. However, when gathered together and bound, they assume a new dimension: no longer thin, disparate stalks, they form a single, united bundle, a sheaf, that stands on its own. This is symbolic of the disparate sparks of holiness being individually gathered and bound together; elevated back into the unity of their spiritual source.

This spiritual “destination” is alluded to by the fact that the sheaves were being bound “in the field.” Jewish mysticism allegorically describes the spiritual level of “malchus of Atzilus” as the “holy chakal tapuchin,” or “field of apples.” The meaning of this is as mentioned earlier in connection with the verse, “A river went out from Eden to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became four streams.” The point at which the unity of the realm of Atzilus separated (at first into four parts, and then increasingly so) was as it “exited” malchus of Atzilus – the “garden” or “field” of the verse – and entered the next lower realm. Thus, in the dream, the brothers’ goal of “binding the sheaves” – unifying the sparks of holiness – was to re-elevate them to the point of their initial unity – “in[to] the ‘field’,” the spiritual level of malchus of Atzilus.

This elevating the sparks into malchus of Atzilus is Kabbalistically termed ha’alas m.n. (an abbreviation, pronounced man, for mayin nukvin), which means “raising up feminine waters.”

Another reason why ha’alas man is symbolized by binding sheaves is because the Hebrew word for “sheaves,” alumim, is similar to the word for “mutes,” il’mim. As noted, the unification and elevation of the sparks of holiness comes about through the quality of bitul, of making oneself as naught in deference to G-d (and, in a more abstract sense, of bringing out that every diverse thing in the universe is as naught in deference to the One G-d). Something which is batul (the adjective form of the abstract noun bitul) is totally dedicated to absorbing influence from that to which it is batul. It does not, if it is truly “as naught,” also transmit influence in its own right, for how can it have “its own right” if it is as naught? Something which is in a state of bitul may therefore be described as “mute,” unable to speak and express itself to others, for it is itself totally preoccupied with receiving the influence being transmitted to it. For this reason, the raising up of the sparks of holiness, involving the rendering of the physical world and its contents batul to G-d, is symbolized by binding together (unifying) alumim, sheaves, a word which implies “muteness.”

Yet another metaphor for the above is pregnancy (ibur in Hebrew). An embryo in its mother’s womb is totally batul to its mother: just as described above, it does not speak or transmit influence to others; instead, it is entirely a receiver of sustenance from its mother. It is only after its birth that it will assume the role of an entity in its own right, eventually even speaking and transmitting to others. Therefore, the point to which the sparks of holiness are elevated, the state in which they are absorbed and united within malchus of Atzilus, is termed ibur, or pregnancy. However, prior to achieving this state of unity, they were as entities unto themselves, which could “speak” (transmit influence to others). It is only at the level where they have already entered the state of ibur that they can be termed il’mim, mutes. The grammatical meaning of the Hebrew words m’almim alumim (“binding sheaves”) is that the brothers were “making the sheaves, sheaves,” that is, they were not sheaves until the brothers, through their spiritual achievements in ha’alas man, raised up the sparks to the level of malchus of Atzilus/ibur/il’mim. At that point, which is the destination of ha’alas man, they could be called alumim, [unified] sheaves.

So far, then, we have explained that Joseph’s dream of binding sheaves in the field referred to the task of extracting and unifying the sparks of holiness in the universe, and elevating them back into their spiritual source in the “field,” or malchus of Atzilus.

Now, things are about to get considerably more complicated, but with a reasonable amount of concentration we should be able to understand them, with G-d’s help.

For, all the above is not all there is to it. It sounds like a goal in itself to unite and become batul to G-dliness within the spiritual level of malchus of Atzilus, but actually, that is only a prerequisite to an even higher level. We must not forget that the sparks of holiness originated as the G-dly “light” which filled the vessels that ultimately burst and fell into the lower realms. This light, as it was manifest in Olam HaTohu, was an expression of G-d Himself. For the sparks of holiness that had fallen with the broken vessels to be elevated all the way back to that lofty pinnacle, returning to their condition in Olam HaTohu and “reuniting” (in a manner of speaking) with G-d Himself, more is required than mortal effort can supply.

All a human being can do in this regard is to liberate the sparks of holiness from their physical trappings; to free them from any aspect of independent existence in their own right (i.e., as entities not utterly batul to G-d); and this is accomplished through Torah study and mitzvah observance. As explained above, this elevates the sparks to the point just prior to their separation, that is, to malchus of Atzilus, which is the “field,” or “garden” that, in a spiritual sense, lies at the “lower” extremity of the realm of Atzilus. At this point, they are batul in the sense that they have been divested of any sense of independent existence of their own, but not yet in the sense that they are literally united with G-d Himself. The entire realm of Atzilus is above that point, including the highest level, chochma of Atzilus. It is chochma that is the embodiment of true bitul, as mentioned above, and in order for the now-unified sparks to rise any higher and actually return to their G-dly source, the higher-order bitul of chochma of Atzilus must be manifest upon them.

(This is why this stage is called ibur sheni, a “second pregnancy.” Before their extraction and elevation, the formerly diverse sparks were separate entities, capable of transmitting and not only receiving influence. This is usually characteristic of a creature which has already gone through pregnancy (i.e., as a fetus) and been born. However, in order for them to be fit to receive the revelation of true bitul from above, they had to be raised to the point of malchus of Atzilus, where, as explained, they are once again batul and only receivers, like an embryo in the womb. Only then, after this “second pregnancy,” can they ascend higher.)

This may be compared to the two-stage process following a person’s eating and drinking. When a person takes nourishment from food, he or she extracts the holiness within that food by using the energy from the meal to pray with love and fear of G-d. However, the love and fear of G-d which a mortal can attain is severely limited: it is rooted in the person’s own experience in this world (he or she loves G-d because He gave the person life, or because He created the universe, etc.). It is nothing, however, compared to the love and fear a person would experience if only G-d – as He is in Himself, not merely as He can be inferred from creation – would actually be manifest to him or her. That would be true love and fear of G-d Himself. This higher-order love and fear of G-d is, in fact, something we can experience, but only as a gift from G-d: when G-d sees that we have first reached our own limit in sincere love and fear of Him, and still yearn for more, He rewards us by bestowing upon us from Above a degree of love and fear of G-d Himself, as opposed to G-d as He is perceptible from within creation. The first level of love and fear, which was attained as a result of the G-dly energy the person took from the food, was thus only the result of an initial extraction of the sparks (called birur rishon, or “initial extraction”). This was followed by a birur sheni, a “second extraction,” in which the revelation from Above took the person’s love and fear of G-d (and the sparks of holiness inherent within them, which had been initially extracted from the food) and raised them to an even higher level.

Similarly, we mortals can achieve on our own only a birur rishon of the sparks of holiness, by which we elevate them – in the manner known as ha’alas man, raising of the feminine waters – to the level of malchus of Atzilus, where they no longer are separate entities. However, to ascend beyond that, a birur sheni is necessary.

As explained elsewhere, the spiritual realm of Atzilus (like each of the other spiritual realms) contains ten degrees of G-dly manifestation, known as the ten sefiros. These range from chochma, the highest, to malchus, the lowest. The six sefiros above malchus are collectively known as z’eir anpin (“minor countenance”), abbreviated z.a. (pronounced za).

Just as the Divine name of 52 letters (the shem ban) is associated with malchus of Atzilus, there is a Divine name of 45 letters (the shem ma, or “name of 45”) associated with za of Atzilus, which has about it an element of the bitul of chochma of Atzilus. The birur sheni – which is the main birur – consists of the “descent,” as it were, and manifestation of the shem ma of za within malchus, so that, through chochma, the sparks of holiness are drawn back up with it to unite with their ultimate source – not merely at the point immediately prior to their separation, but in G-d Himself.

This descent of the level of za of Atzilus (containing an element of chochma of Atzilus) to draw further up that which was previously raised by ha’alas man is called hamshachas m.d. (pronounced mad, an abbreviation for mayin duchrin), “drawing down of masculine waters.” This concept, the descent of za of Atzilus (containing the “masculine waters” of chochma of Atzilus) to meet and elevate the “feminine waters” of malchus of Atzilus, is mystically known as yichud z.u.n., the union of za (which is referred to as “masculine”) and malchus (which is referred to as “feminine”). (“Z.u.n.,” pronounced zun, is an abbreviation for za ve-nukva, or “za and the feminine one,” i.e., malchus.)

Now, one of the first things we said in this entire discussion was that our forefathers and other great Biblical figures were the very incarnations of various G-dly attributes, and that the events that befell them were orchestrated by G-d to symbolically represent spiritual concepts. It is as though people like Joseph and his brothers were actors in the Divine “play” of this life, whose “roles” were to act out in their own lives the spiritual concepts each represented.

Specifically, the sons of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers – the progenitors of the tribes of Israel, the sh’vatim (including Joseph’s two sons, who replaced their father as tribes; there is no tribe of “Joseph”) – represented the twelve spiritual levels which exist at the beginning of the realm of Beriah. As discussed earlier, after leaving the unity of malchus of Atzilus, the souls separated into four general levels (the banners of the wilderness), each of which contained three tribes, for a total of twelve tribes (plus the Levites). These twelve spiritual levels are symbolized by the design of the Holy Temple of King Solomon. I Kings 7:23 and 7:25 describes how part of the Temple was designed with a dome (referred to as a “sea”) of brass supported by four groups of three (for a total of twelve) statuary oxen, each group of which faced a different direction. These oxen symbolized the twelve tribes and their respective orientations at the head of the realm of Beriah. The “sea” stretching above them all represented malchus of the realm of Atzilus, which is above, and the source of, Beriah.

It was the spiritual task of the sh’vatim at the head of Beriah to extract the sparks from the lower realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah and “pass them up,” elevate them, into the state of unity in their collective source in malchus of Atzilus. Joseph, on the other hand, stemmed from a higher spiritual level than the rest of the tribes: he represented za of Atzilus, or the “river which flowed from Eden [chochma of Atzilus] to water the garden [malchus of Atzilus].” Joseph, in other words, was the hamshachas mad, drawing down of masculine waters, to the sh’vatim’s ha’alas man, raising up of feminine waters. The sh’vatim, operating from below, raised up the sparks to the limits of their reach, malchus of Atzilus, and Joseph, operating from above, reached down and raised the sh’vatim’s sparks even higher. He performed the birur sheni following the sh’vatim’s birur rishon.

As explained above, the sh’vatim’s birur rishon divested the sparks of any appearance of independence from G-d (as if such a thing were possible), uniting them from their prior state of dispersion, although it was not sufficient to affirmatively unite them with G-d. This level, wherein entities exist but are as naught before G-d, is associated with the concept of yichuda tata’ah, “lower-order unity.” The true unity, however, is that in which the sparks are re-absorbed into G-d Himself and literally cease to exist. This level, wherein there is literally nothing else but G-d, is known as yichuda ila’ah, higher-order unity. Joseph’s accomplishment, bringing the true, higher-order bitul of the level of chochma of Atzilus down to reach and elevate the lower-order bitul of malchus of Atzilus, is referred to in Kabbalistic terms (see Zohar II, 135a, recited by some as the “k’gavna” prayer of kabbalas Shabbos) as l’mehevei echad b’Echad, “to be oneness corresponding to Oneness,” and also as “the inclusion of yichuda tata’ah in yichuda ila’ah.

To summarize, within the spiritual realm of Atzilus, G-d’s unity is absolute, and no divisiveness is possible. This state of affairs does not extend past malchus, the lowest level within Atzilus, and beyond that point, unity gives way to diversity and multiplicity. However, the spiritual task of the sh’vatim (and us, their descendants) is to extract the sparks of holiness from this state of diversity and unify them all, elevating them back to their source in malchus of Atzilus. Joseph’s spiritual function is to bring the unity of Atzilus, which does not extend into Beriah and the lower realms, to the lower realms anyway. This is accomplished by a spiritual “partnership” with the brothers in which they elevate Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah (collectively abbreviated B.Y.A., pronounced b’ya) up to malchus of Atzilus and Joseph, the “river flowing from Eden,” brings the true unity of chochma of Atzilus (“Eden”) to meet and carry higher the elevated sparks of B’YA.

Now, although Joseph’s task of birur sheni was far superior to the sh’vatim’s task of birur rishon, Joseph also, being a person born into this world, performed the service of birur rishon. That is why he said, “We were binding sheaves in the field”: he, too, engaged in this activity. However, he continued, after that birur rishon had been accomplished, “my sheaf rose up and stood upright, and … your sheaves surrounded and bowed down to my sheaf.” This, of course, was a reference to Joseph’s spiritual function being inherently superior to that of his brothers, and the fact that the brothers’ capacity to raise the sparks of holiness to malchus of Atzilus was essentially batul to (symbolized by the bowing down), and dependent for its fulfillment upon, Joseph’s bestowing upon it his own spiritual level of za (as a conduit for chochma) of Atzilus. Only then would they achieve true, higher-order bitul to G-d Himself, another aspect to the symbolism of the bowing down.

It is still necessary to clarify, however, one point about the bowing down, as well as to understand Joseph’s second dream, in which (Genesis 37:9) “the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Here, not only the eleven stars (Joseph’s brothers), but also the sun and the moon (representing Jacob, Joseph’s father, and Rachel, his mother) were bowing to him. How is this possible, when Jacob’s spiritual level was superior even to that of Joseph?

The answer is that the concept of bowing (hishtachava’a in Hebrew) involves two things. One, which we have been dealing with all along, is simple submission to the superiority of what one is bowing to. The other is the phenomenon, found in several contexts in nature, by which, when submission is manifest on the part of the passive party, this itself arouses or stimulates the active party to action. Both of these aspects of hishtachava’a were present with respect to the sh’vatim. It is not the way of superior spiritual revelations to become manifest where there is no proper recipient or “receptacle” for the revelation. In technical terms, for hamshachas mad to come about, there must first be ha’alas man. In order for Joseph’s spiritual function – hamshachas mad, the manifestation of chochma of Atzilus upon the elevated sparks of B’YA within malchus of Atzilus – to be carried out, it was first necessary that there be the ha’alas man of the sh’vatim, i.e., that the sparks be unified and raised to the point of bitul. This itself aroused or elicited the response from Joseph, and in that sense, Joseph can be said to have depended upon the sh’vatim.

That was the sense in which it can be said that Jacob, too, “bowed” to Joseph. Unlike that of the sh’vatim, Jacob’s bowing did not include an element of inferiority, only the element of “eliciting” Joseph’s hamshachas mad, of facilitating Joseph’s being able to perform his function.

Finally, the error of the sh’vatim was in their misunderstanding of their spiritual place in G-d’s plan. They did not resent Joseph out of simple jealousy, for they were saintly figures not given to simple jealousy. However, there is a teaching on the verse (Psalms 122:4), “there the tribes used to go up, the tribes of G-d…” that the spiritual source of the tribes is within za of Atzilus. In light of that, the brothers believed that Joseph and they were on the same level, and if so, it was wrong of Joseph to conduct himself as though he had to transmit spiritual influence to them. This, the sh’vatim believed, would be a corruption of the Divine plan, and that was the reason for their resentment.

And in truth, the spiritual origin of the sh’vatim really is in za of Atzilus. However, their mistake was in not realizing that they themselves, as humans born into this world, were no longer on the plane of their spiritual origin. As they stood within this world, they embodied instead, as mentioned above, the higher levels of the realm of Beriah. Joseph, by contrast, actually existed in this physical realm as the embodiment of za of Atzilus, and was thus superior to the sh’vatim after all.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin