When the Egyptians realized that they were being attacked by supernatural forces at the Red Sea, they said, "I must flee from the presence of Israel, for G‑d [Havayah] is fighting for them against Egypt." (Ex. 14:25)

As you know, Pharaoh derived sustenance entirely from immature divine consciousness [mochin d'katnut], which is alluded to by the word "End".

Pharaoh personified the Primordial Snake….

The words usually translated as "Red Sea" [in Hebrew, "Yam Suf"] really mean "Reed Sea", and can also be read as if they were vocalized "Yam Sof", meaning "Sea of the End". The "end" is the final sefira, malchut, which descends into the lower worlds, i.e. the lower levels of divine consciousness. Relative to its native environment, these lower levels of consciousness are "immature" or "constricted".

This is the significance of [the fact that] the snake puts its tail in its mouth.

Pharaoh personified the Primordial Snake.

A person's mouth should properly utter words of divine wisdom. But when the tail, the lowest level of the body, is placed in the mouth, the mouth is misused to utter words of "immature", constricted consciousness, i.e. awareness of divinity only as it is expressed in Creation and nature.

This elevation of material consciousness to the status properly reserved for true divine consciousness, i.e. awareness of G‑d as outside and unbound by the laws and limitations of nature, is the essence of the Primordial Snake.

Those who give their bodies preeminence over their souls see only the outer shell of their fellow man….

In the Zohar, the imagery of the snake putting its tail in its mouth is used to illustrate the sin of "the evil tongue", i.e. slander, a gross misuse of the power of speech. (Zohar III:205b) People commit this sin when material consciousness gets the better of them. As is explained in the Tanya (ch. 32), those who give their bodies preeminence over their souls see only the outer shell of their fellow man, which differentiates between people, and are oblivious to the inner souls. They thus fall into the sin of hatred, which leads to slander.

This being the case, Pharaoh was both a head and a tail, in the idiom of the verse, "G‑d will cut off from Israel both the head and the tail…on one day."(Isaiah 9:14)

Pharaoh, here signifying the evil inclination in general, acts as the tail, the lowest consciousness of the Jew, and as the head, i.e. the tail elevated to and usurping the role of the head, proper divine consciousness.

This also alludes to the [Primordial] Snake. Originally, he was the tail and Adam was the head, but [because of the Primordial Sin] this was inverted and the snake became the head and Adam the tail.

Sin consists of reversing the hierarchy between divine and material consciousness….

Adam here personifies the Good Inclination, or divine consciousness. Sin consists of reversing the hierarchy between divine and material consciousness.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse "He will hit you on the head and you will bit him in the heel" (Gen. 3:15).

Man hits the snake on the head because the snake has usurped man's role as the leader; the snake bites the heel because by sinning man has become the heel/tail instead of the head.

For the same reason, the snake gives preeminence to the tail, carrying it above his head, and licks the dirt.

He puts his head in the dirt instead of his tail. He thus embodies the upside down order caused by sin.

Pharaoh was the image of the Snake; he was "the great serpent".

Ezekiel prophesied against Pharaoh: "Thus said G‑d: Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great serpent that crouches inside its rivers, who has said, 'My river is mine, and I have made myself.'" (Ezekiel 29:3)

The river of Egypt, the Nile, was also the god the Egyptians worshipped. The Nile provided Egypt with water to irrigate its crops by overflowing regularly. It thus represented the immutable laws of nature, whereas the irregularity of rain encourages reliance upon G‑d.

Thus, Pharaoh became synonymous with his river, his god, his philosophy of denying G‑d's active involvement in life.

Therefore G‑d was angry with Pharaoh, and He exacted retribution from him - i.e. from the Nile river, changing it to blood - using the very letters of the name Havayah that he denied.

At the sea, the entire name Havayah was mobilized against the consciousness of Pharaoh….

When Moses first approached Pharaoh, he told him to release the Jews from slavery, saying, "Thus says G‑d [Havayah], G‑d of Israel: 'Send out My people, that they may celebrate for Me in the desert.'" But Pharaoh replied, "Who is G‑d [Havayah], that I should listen to Him and send out Israel? I have not known G‑d [Havayah], and I will not send out Israel." (Ex. 5:2)Pharaoh was acquainted with "Elokim", G‑d as nature, but not with "Havayah", G‑d above nature.

With the yud [of His Name, whose numerical value is 10], He struck him with ten plagues. He began with that which made him into the head - the Nile - and changed it into blood.

Corresponding to the first hei [of the name Havayah, whose numerical value is 5], He said, "Behold, the hand of G‑d [is upon your cattle,…"] (Ibid. 9:3) [the hand] comprising five fingers.

Pestilence was the fifth plague.

Regarding the hand, [Rabbi Yosi the Galilean] said, "With how many [plagues] were [the Egyptians] struck by [G‑d's] finger? Ten plagues! [Thus, you must conclude that in Egypt they were struck by ten plagues]" (Passover Haggadah, quoting Mechilta on Ex. 14:31, Midrash Tehillim 78:15, Shemot Rabba 23:9) - this is because the finger forms one yud, representing ten plagues - "and at the sea they were struck with 50 plagues" - corresponding to the first hei [of the name Havayah].

When the Egyptian sorcerers could not reproduce the plague of lice, they declared, "This is the finger of G‑d [Elokim]." (Ex.8:15) As the Arizal states in the present passage, this characterized the Egyptians' awareness of G‑d throughout the ten plagues. Thus, the overall effect of the Ten Plagues is considered that of the "finger" of G‑d.

Even though the expression "Behold, the hand of G‑d is upon your cattle…" was said with regard to the plague of pestilence, one of the Ten Plagues, the Arizal here is interpreting it as a portent of the blow the Egyptians were to suffer at the sea. In this, he is basing himself on the above-quoted passage of the Haggadah, in which it is pointed out that the idiom "the hand of G‑d" is used also to describe the scene at the sea: "Israel saw the great hand that G‑d laid against Egypt." (Ibid. 14:31)

Since "the finger of G‑d" alludes to the ten plagues, and the hand possesses five fingers, the effect of the "hand of G‑d" was the equivalent of fifty plagues.

Corresponding to the vav [of the name Havayah] is the staff of G‑d [that Moses used to begin the plagues and split the sea]. The vav is beneath the [first] hei, which is divided into a beginning, a middle, and an end, i.e. three vav's.

The vertical line form of the vav signifies the downward channelling and flow of the mental content of the hei into the emotions. The hei is composed of the three lines: a top horizontal line and right and left vertical lines. These three lines can be visualized as three vav's.

[The three vav's of the hei] also form an allusion to the three [consecutive verses that begin with] vav's, i.e. "And it traveled…", "And it went…", and "And he extended…" (Ibid. 14:19-21), each of which possess 72 letters, and with which [Moses] split the sea, i.e. the "sea of the end", which is the latter hei [of the name Havayah].

We have seen previously that these three verses form 72 three-letter divine names.1

Inasmuch as the vav produces another vav [when spelled out, as vav-vav], it alludes to the twelve paths that appeared in the sea when [Moses] split it.

The numerical value of vav is 6, so twice vav is 12. We are taught that a dry pathway through the sea appeared for each of the twelve tribes.

What struck this vav in order to transform it into three vav's? The power of the yud of the name Havayah, above the vav.

The intensity of the insight-experience of chochma is what serves to produce an emotional response to the intellectual abstraction of bina, transforming its three inherent vav's into an actual vav of emotion. Thus, at the sea, the entire name Havayah was mobilized against the consciousness of Pharaoh.

G‑d was fighting the Egyptians with His name Havayah….

This [is the meaning of the fact that Pharaoh's constricted consciousness was only that of] the names Elokim, while of the name Havayah, which signifies expanded, mature consciousness, he knew nothing. As it is written, "I have not known G‑d [Havayah]." (Ex. 5:2)

The Egyptians reasoned that [the plagues] were nothing more than the finger of Elokim, and therefore were not worried, because [they felt that] their existence was not threatened.

Now, however, [at the sea], they saw that events were being conducted by the name Havayah, so therefore [Pharaoh] said, "I must flee [from the presence of Israel], for G‑d [Havayah] is fighting for them against Egypt."(Ex. 14:25) G‑d was fighting the Egyptians with His name Havayah. This is why the name Havayah is used here, and not the name Elokim.

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.