Earthly and Heavenly Chariots

Adapted from the Writings of the Arizal, parashat Beshalach, by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky

[When the Jewish people left Egypt,] Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for [Joseph] had adjured the children of Israel, saying: "G-d will deliver you, and you will bring up my bones from here with you." (Ex. 13:9)

As you know, our sages tell us that when Pharaoh told the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you," Joseph required them to circumcise themselves. (Gen. 41:55)

After storing up food during the seven years of plenty, the Egyptians found that when the years of famine began, it had all rotted. They went to Pharaoh, who advised them to go to Joseph and ask him for food. Joseph told them that he would distribute food to them only if they circumcised themselves. Pharaoh advised the Egyptians to comply with his demand, for "he [evidently] decreed that the produce should rot; what happens if he decrees that we should die?

[In so doing,] he converted a number of souls and [therefore] circumcised them. These were the "mixed multitude" that left Egypt with the Jewish people.

When the Jews left Egypt, "a mixed multitude also left with them" (Ex. 12:38). These were converts from a number of peoples - including Egyptians. (See Rashi's commentary on this verse.)

Moses also wanted to accept them and take them in under the wings of the Shechina.

See Rashi's commentary on Ex. 32:7.

Therefore, since Joseph began this deed and was the first one to convert them to Judaism, [it is appropriate that] Moses took him [Joseph] with him [personally].

In the Talmud Sota (13a), the Sages point out, "Whereas all the [other] Jews were occupied with the spoil [of Egypt], Moses occupied himself with the commandments," i.e. with fulfilling Joseph's wish to be exhumed and taken to the holy land. The Arizal gives a thematic explanation of why this was so.

Further on (Ex. 14:7), we are told that Pharaoh regretted that he had let the people go, "and Pharaoh took six hundred choice chariots and all the chariots of Egypt, manned by militia."

[Mystically, this means that] the patron angel of Egypt summoned his entire chariot to prosecute [the Jewish people].

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was the earthly manifestation of the "guardian angel" of Egypt, the spiritual distillation of the evil(s) embodied in Egypt. The imagery of the chariot (in Hebrew, "rechev") evokes that of the celestial Chariot ("merkava", from the same root, reish-kaf-beit) Ezekiel saw in his famous prophetic vision. There, the "chariot" depicts the array of spiritual forces of holiness that were departing from the world as the Divine Presence was being banished from Earth with the destruction of the Temple. Here, the earthly chariots of Egypt that Pharaoh summoned represent the array of evil forces the patron angel of Egypt summoned to do battle with the Jewish people.

[There were] six hundred [angels] in order to oppose the six extremities.

The six hundred "choice chariots" correspond to the evil angels (or forces) that opposed the six holy middot (i.e. chesed to yesod). These inter-include all ten sefirot, and these sub-sefirot again inter-include, giving 6 x 10 x 10 = 600 sub-sub-sefirot.

"All the chariots of Egypt" opposed malchut.

"All the chariots of Egypt", Rashi says, means all the other, non-choice chariots. Perhaps the words "of Egypt" are taken to mean "contracted", indicating a lower-grade evil force. Since malchut, as we know, does not possess its own intrinsic content, the force evil had to muster to battle it did not need to be as intense. Still, "all the [other] chariots of Egypt" presumably numbered more than the "six hundred choice chariots", in which case we could infer that although malchut embodies less qualitative intensity, it does embody more quantitative power.

"Manned by militia" opposed the first three sefirot, i.e. the intellect, which is subdivided into thirty [aspects].

The Hebrew for "militia", "shalishim", can be understood to mean "thirty", in Hebrew, "sheloshim"; this is especially because there is no yud between the lamed and the second shin, allowing the word to be vocalized as the word for "thirty". The words for "manned by" ("al kulo") literally mean "over all of them". Thus, this phrase refers to the thirty that govern the midot and malchut, which are obviously the intellect. As we know, intellect comprises the three sefirot of chochma- bina- daat, which by virtue of their inter-inclusion comprise in turn thirty sub-sefirot.

We have seen previously that higher levels of inter-inclusion (by tens, hundreds, etc.) are associated with higher orders in the schema of sefirot. Here, the opposite is the case.

But the Holy One, blessed be He, "removed the wheels of his chariots". (Ex. 14:25)

G-d lured the Egyptians into the sea, and they were followed by the pillar of fire which boiled the sea water, causing the wheels of the Egyptian's chariots to fall off. (See Rashi on Ex. 14:24 -25.)

[Another] interpretation: Pharaoh deducted the number 6 from the numerical value of the word for "chariot" [in Hebrew, "rechev", 222] leaving the numerical value of the word for "choice" ["bachur", 216] in holiness.

The phrase "Pharaoh took six hundred choice chariots" can be read, "And Pharaoh took six from the letter[-s of the word] 'chariot', leaving 'choice'". This is because the word for "hundred" ("mei'ot") can be read "from the letter" (in Hebrew, "mei-ot").

"Rechev" is spelled: reish-chaf-beit = 200 + 20 + 2 = 222.

"Bachur" is spelled: beit-chet- vav-reish = 2 + 8 + 6 + 200 = 216.

G-d then subtracted another 1, leaving the numerical value of "cast" (in Hebrew, "215), which became: "He cast the horse and its rider into the sea." (Ex. 15:4)

" By subtracting 1 from the power Pharaoh left in holiness, G-d caused his downfall..."

The word for "cast" is "yarah", spelled yud-reish- hei = 10 + 200 + 5 = 215.

The phrase quoted is from the first verse of the Song of the Sea, which the Jew people sang upon seeing the miraculous destruction of the Egyptians (and the evil they embodied) at the sea. By subtracting 1 from the power Pharaoh left in holiness, G-d caused his downfall, beating him, so to speak, at his own game.

The significance of the number 216 will become apparent presently.

The initials of the words for "G-d will fight for you" (Ex.14:14.) are yud-lamed-yud. This is the holy seal of the face of the ox in the [Divine] Chariot, the second of the 72 names derived from the three verses "He moved...," "He came...," and "He stretched...."

"G-d will fight for you" in Hebrew is "Y-H-V-H yilachem lachem".

The three consecutive verses from Exodus 14:19-21 each contain 72 letters, an obviously rare phenomenon. The letters of these three verses can be arranged as 72 triplets of letters. But we are taught in Kabbala that if we reverse the order of the letters in the middle set, the 72 triplets become 72 "names" of G-d.

We have explained this previously (in our comments on parashat Nitzavim) as follows:

In the story of the exodus from Egypt, three consecutive verses describe G-d's power as manifest just before He split the Sea of Reeds, which the Jewish people passed through on dry land while the Egyptians were drowned:

"And the angel of G-d who had been going ahead of the camp of Israel now moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud went from in front of them and stood behind them. Thus [the pillar of cloud] came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, making it cloud and darkness [to the Egyptians], but it gave light by night [to the Jews], so that the one came not near the other all the night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and G-d drove the sea back with a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land; thus the waters were divided." (Ex. 14:14)

In Hebrew, these three verses each contain 72 letters. In the Zohar (II:51b) it is stated that these three verses refer in sequence to the divine attributes of chesed, gevura, and tiferet. The harmonious blending of these three principle emotive attributes forms the basic paradigm of how G-d relates to the world. Thus, they together form a composite name of G-d, since a name is a means by which one is made known to others, i.e. manifests his attributes.

The fact that each verse contains 72 letters means that they can be aligned in parallel, forming 72 triplets of letters. In this configuration, the Zohar states, the first verse is to be written in its proper order, since it represents G-d's loving-kindness, or a direct revelation of G-d's goodness. The second verse is to be written in reverse order, from the last letter to the first, since it represents G-d's severity, which is an indirect revelation of His goodness. Although tiferet is a blend of both chesed and gevura, the third verse is not to be written half in the proper order and half in reverse order, as one might expect. There are two reasons for this: (1) in tiferet, chesed dominates over gevura, and (2) as the ideal blend of chesed and gevura, tiferet is a direct revelation of G-d's goodness and glory rather than an indirect one. (This array may be seen inter alia in the standard editions of the Zohar, volume 2, p. 270a.)

The name we are concerned with is the second of the 72. It presumably is associated with gevura since it is the second. The four faces of the beasts that carried the divine throne in Ezekiel's vision were that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The lion-face signified chesed, the ox-face gevura, the eagle-face tiferet (and the midot below it), and the man-face malchut. Thus, this name (yud-lamed-yud) and the ox-face are related by virtue of their mutual association with gevura.

The difference is that in [the initials from] this verse, the yud's are ascendant. They indicate the force of chesed. The lamed is left to be last. It indicates Imma, the source of judgment that battles with Egypt.

In the verse from which these initials are taken, the order of the initials is yud-yud-lamed. Thus, although this name indicates gevura, it is a gevura motivated by chesed. Yud is associated with chesed because when the name Havayah is spelled out with yud's, its numerical value is 72, the numerical value of "chesed"(spelled: chet-samech-dalet = 8 + 60 + 4 = 72).

The lamed originally was in the middle verse (and column), which as we said, is associated with gevura. The lamed is associated with Imma since in its form it towers above the other letters, just as bina, embodying the intellect in general - presides over the midot. (See Tikunei Zohar 55, 89a). The intellect is represented by the three sefirot of chochma-bina-daat, which inter-include to produce 30 sub-sefirot, as we mentioned above. 30 is the numerical value of the letter lamed.

This [manifestation of gevura] is followed by [a manifestation of] mercy, as it is written, "...smiting Egypt and healing Israel." (Zohar II:36a, on Isaiah 19:22.)

[The verse continues:] "...and you will be silent." G-d told them to be silent since it was not proper that they awaken the face of the ox, inasmuch as they would later sin [by worshipping] the [golden] calf. They thereby unhitched one of the four animals of the chariot. ( Shemot Rabba 43:8)

It would not be proper for the Jewish people to invoke the power signified by the ox when they themselves would misuse this manifestation later on. In the zodiac, the Bull (Taurus) follows the Ram (Aries). The Exodus took place in the month of Nisan, the zodiacal sign of which is Aries. The Passover sacrifice was a ram; by sacrificing it, the Jewish people subdued the astrological power ascendent at that time. The Mixed Multitude, seeing that the sign of Aries had been overcome, thought to invoke the next icon, the Bull.

By abusing the ox, the Jewish people neutralized, so to speak, its power. The Midrash uses the imagery of a four-horsed chariot, one of whose horses has been unhitched. Since they weakened G-d's power through their sin, it was not proper that they try to invoke that very power, G-d's gevura, to judge the Egyptians.

Rather, [G-d] acted with mercy at the sea, and judged [the Jews] only according to their deeds at that time.

Thus, the word for "will be silent" is written without [an expected] yud, so that it may be read, "the ox descended," i.e. in order to assist in their salvation.

In fact, in our text of the Bible, the word for "will be silent", "tacharishun", is written with a yud. Ignoring the yud, however, the word can be seen as a permutation of the two words for "ox" (in Hebrew, "shor") and "descended" ("nachat"):

"Tacharishun" is spelled: tav-chet-reish-(yud)-shin-vav-nun.

"Shor" is spelled: shin-vav-reish.

"Nachat" is spelled: nun-chet-tav.


Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [...Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.) Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Elohi Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Elohi [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].

Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem. While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.


Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION