The Secret of Splitting the River

Free translation and adaptation of a discourse by
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Eighth Day of Passover 5745 (1985)

by Rabbi David Rothschild



Part 3 (of 3)


C. Tribal Zones
Lower Chariot
Miracle Meaning
Who knows Twelve?
Upper Chariot
Seven Delights
Deep Thought
Flood Waters
Torah Revolution


C. Tribal Zones

Lower Chariot

Now it is possible to understand why the sea split into twelve sections. In contrast, the future Splitting of the River will be specifically in seven streams.

The Splitting of the Sea corresponds to the spiritual service of the Lower Chariot of the World of Creation. At this level, it is the Lower Fear of G-d that is felt, and as a result, the 'Lower' Divine Service that is performed. The term "lower" is employed because a mere radiation of G-d's Light shines in the Lower Worlds. Souls and angels there are cognizant of this Light. They pine for the Light's source, which remains imperceptible and aloof. This service divides into 12 parts.

Regarding the 12 Tribes of Israel, Moses said, "And these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming into Egypt" (Exodus 1:1). They left the Land of Israel and descended to Egypt. Kabbala reveals that the 12 Tribes are the Lower Chariot of the world of Creation. That is, the souls left the highest Divine realm to move downward into the created worlds.

Miracle Meaning

Ari-Kabbala and Zohar appear to differ on the nature of the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. According to Ari-Kabbala, Jewish souls and Lights from the World of Emanation broke through the barrier separating the realm of infinity from the created worlds. Zohar, though, relates that Jewish souls from the lower worlds ascended through the sea breach into the World of Emanation.

Chassidus explains that these differing explanations aren't contradictory. The miracle's central feature was the unprecedented fusion of antithetical worlds, which enabled the descent of a higher light as well as the ascent to a higher world. A parable is provided: When one person stands on a mountain peak and his friend is positioned down in the valley, and they choose to meet, it doesn't really matter whether their encounter resulted from the lower person's climbing the peak or the higher one's descent below; in the end they become united.

Who Knows Twelve?

In the World of Creation, the totality of Jewish souls comprises 12 distinct tribes. This division reflects a similar partition in the World of Emanation. A physical example is useful. There are three sets of bones in the hand. Intelligence shines in the highest set. One writes with his fingers, not the palm. Within the middle section are enclothed the emotions. Action attributes are found in the bottom section.

In Emanation, the right hand corresponds to the attribute of Kindness (Chesed). Like a physical hand, Kindness is divided into three general parts. Within these three parts are the ten sefirot.

The attribute of Severity (Gevurah) of Emanation is allegorized as its left hand. It too is subdivided into three parts. Emanation's right and left feet, corresponding to action faculties, receive the same treatment. In this manner, Emanation's four highest sefirot divide into 12 distinct sub-sections. Jewish souls residing in Emanation obtain their identity from its sefirot. They too are partitioned into 12 sections. And this initial grouping is reflected below in the World of Creation.

The attribute of Kingship in the World of Emanation, as mentioned earlier, prevented Emanation's lights from descending below to the three Lower Worlds of Creation, Formation and Action. Now that the time arrived for such a revelation, Kingship had to first undergo a preparatory stage.

Emanation's 12 sub-sections are separated, each occupying its own unique position. Therefore, Kingship had to provide a different channel for each one's crossing. Likewise regarding the Zohar's interpretation. Every one of the 12 tribes from the World of Creation was to ascend up into the World of Emanation. Each tribe, though, obtained vitality from its correlating sub-section of Emanation. To ascend, they required their own path; if they took another tribe's route, they would reach the wrong sub-section source.

For both of these reasons, Kingship's internal preparation had to match the task at hand. That's why the sea split into exactly 12 sections.

When the Jews crossed the sea, each tribe traversed the seabed on it's own particular route. On a spiritual plane, the Infinite Light of the World of Emanation shone down to the tribes in the World of Creation through 12 celestial pathways. The Splitting of the Sea was a historical fact in this physical world, but it mirrored a spiritual act in the highest worlds.

Upper Chariot

In contrast, the future Splitting of the River corresponds to the Higher Service, the Higher Chariot and Higher Fear. In this supernal realm, the number seven applies. For the Supernal Chariot refers to the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As the Midrash confirms, "The Patriarchs are the Chariot."

The Supernal Chariot also refers to the Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. The Midrash informs that in matters of prophecy, Abraham was subordinate to his wife Sarah. Genesis records, "Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice" (Genesis 21:12). When added together, the three Patriarchs and the four Matriarchs total seven.

Like the crossing at the Sea of Reeds, the future Splitting of the River allegorizes a spiritual event. But then the river will be breached into seven, rather then 12 streams. Within each pathway will descend a revelation of one of the seven aspects of the Supernal Chariot, itself composed of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Moreover, G-d's inner aspect of Delight (Atik) will be revealed.

Seven Delight

While the Supernal Chariot is situated in the emotive sefirot of the World of Emanation, Delight represents an infinitely higher realm. There, G-d's Light is abstracted beyond even the possibility of revelation. Delight also contains an aspect of the other sefirot. Its final seven sefirot represent the ultimate expression of G-d's "emotions".

Just as the sea conceals the lights of the World of Emanation, the river covers the emotions of Delight. When the sea split, Emanation's Lights shone down into the lower worlds. Likewise in the future, the river's breach will allow Delight's Infinite Lights to illuminate the earth.

Deep Thought

As discussed earlier, the river corresponds to the faculty of thought. Similar to speech, thought also possesses letters. While they are more refined than letters of speech, they are nevertheless tangible entities.

Thought's letters perform a dual role. On the one hand they cover the light of intelligence, will and delight. Speech corresponds to the sefirah of Kingship, which blocks the lights of the sefirot above it from shining below. In a similar manner, the letters of thought screen the sublime spiritual realms above it and prevent their revelation below. In order to access those realms, these letters of thought must be ripped asunder.

Letters of thought, though, perform the paradoxical role of making revelation possible. Letters act as vessels. And illumination can only transpire within a vessel. For example, should a candle's wick be damaged, the flame has nothing to hold on to.

Flood Waters

The Future Revelation will occur specifically by means of the letters of thought. But Thought will be different than it is today. Not only will the river be breached, allowing Infinite Light to shine forth, it itself will broaden and expand. This connotes the breadth of G-d's Essence of Thought.

Expanse of revelation occurs in the attribute of Thought (Binah) to a greater degree than in Wisdom. For Wisdom receives insight in compact form. The idea is then contained, developed and understood by the letters of Thought.

Then will be fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy, "For the earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d as water covers the ocean floor" (Isaiah 11:9). Enlightenment will expand and increase, just as a mighty river overflows its banks. The illumination will be so overpowering that it will extend below, reaching even the physical earth.

This revelation will be similar in nature to the method of Messiah's Torah instruction. The Messiah will teach his Torah not only to scholars but also to beginners. Jeremiah foretold, "For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest" (Jeremiah 31:33). While everyone will enjoy equal comprehension of G-d, at the same time distinctions of personal qualification and conduct will exist. Jeremiah's terminology makes this evident, "smallest … greatest." Still, the Messiah will also instruct "the smallest" - even those individuals who are in the lowly category of "earth."

Moreover, Messiah's Torah will be a "new Torah." This innovation will even be apparent regarding the Torah as it is now and will also be recognized in the "earth" below. In simple terms, its novelty will also be manifest in Jewish Law.

Torah Revolution

Maimonides ruled that a Rabbinical Court whose members are wiser and more numerous than an earlier court, has the authority to overturn the earlier court's judgments. This will also happen in the Future Era. At that time, a new Rabbinical Court will be established. The members of this new court will be wiser and more numerous than all previous courts. They will be legally empowered to introduce new concepts and subjects in Torah. (Some opinions assert that the court will include the most prominent figures in Jewish history, for the Resurrection of the Dead can occur simultaneously with Messiah's arrival.)

An example of this revolution is provided by the Midrash. It asks, "Why are swine called hazir? In the future they will return (hozer) to a purified state." A transformation in Jewish Law will occur. Swine, the ultimate beast of defilement, will itself become purified. How can such a mind-boggling assertion be understood?

Most commentaries suggest this change will be brought about when the swine loses its physical signs of impurity. Swines' physical appearance will be altered to render them kosher.

However this explanation is insufficient. For if that were to be the case, this new creature wouldn't be a swine. Rather, the correct solution is that there will be a completely new reality regarding the swine-of-old. And the new Rabbinical Court will be the ones who alter its reality!

Consumption of swine meat, though, is a clear prohibition enunciated in the Five Books of Moses. Rabbinical Courts, regardless of their Messianic status, are unable to change such a law. Hence, an even deeper explanation is required to explain the Midrash.
[The Rebbe delivered this discourse on a Holiday, when recording is forbidden. Chassidim wrote its text after the Holiday ended. But they couldn't remember clearly the Rebbe's answer!]

This revelation will descend all the way down to the land. As the prophecy says, "For the earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d." What's more, the lowly earth will be transformed until it becomes "filled." The Hebrew word for "filled" also translates as "completion." As the Midrash says, "The world was created in a perfected and complete state."

Isaiah's prophecy concludes, "as water covers the ocean floor." He foresaw, though, that the river's revelation shall also be present in the sea. That is, the hidden aspect of G-d - Thought - will be incorporated in His revealed condition - Speech. This is the ultimate interpretation of the river's breach into seven streams. For where do streams eventually wind up? They empty into the sea.

Then the sea will be transformed into a mikvah, similar to its state at the onset of Creation, when "the waters were gathered together." (Genesis 1:9). G-d's Light will then fill the land as the sea's waters cover the ocean floor.


[Rabbi David Rothschild, a resident of Tsfat, is the founder and editor of Nefesh Magazine.]


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