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The Generation of the Dispersion sought to receive sustenance from the name Havayah

Backstage Pass

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The Generation of the Dispersion sought to receive sustenance from the name Havayah

"And G‑d said: "There is one nation of one tongue…and now shall they be allowed…?" (Gen. 11:6)

What were they thinking? To build a tower that reaches the heavens? All of this is very puzzling. Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that the Generation of the Dispersion intended to "elicit divine beneficence - of which they were not worthy - by manipulating the divine names".

In Etz Chaim it is written that the ten sefirot, the ten attributes that form the building blocks of Creation, exist in three stages: Akudim (Ringed), Nekudim (Speckled) and Berudim (Spotted). (These are the terms used to describe the various spots on the animals Jacob received from Laban; see Gen.31:10.)

In Akudim: All the sefirot are one and indistinguishable - in Hebrew, "akud", meaning "tied", in one vessel. They are not yet divided into ten sefirot. In this world they are called "the ten hidden sefirot". The ten sefirot as they exist in Akudim are of an unknowable and indefinable nature…

Regarding the hidden sefirot, the Tikunei Zohar says: "You are one but not in the numerical sense…You are Wise but not with wisdom that is knowable….". In other words, the ten sefirot as they exist in Akudim are of an unknowable and indefinable nature. The hidden sefirot relate to the powers of the soul as they exist within their pre-manifestation stage.

All the multifaceted powers of a person, i.e. the potential for sight in the eye, hearing in the ear, deed in the hand, intellect in the brain and emotions in the heart, proceed from the soul, which is a singular whole. All of these multifaceted powers must exist within the soul in a completely unified form. But how can this be? Do we not see that sight and hearing are two distinct energies?

The answer is that within the soul these powers exist in an infinitely more ethereal form, very unlike their form as manifest in the material body. In their abstract form they are all unified and are as if they were literally one entity. [The hidden sefirot are also compared to a flame as it exists hidden within the coal (see Sefer Yetzira 1:7) or to the abstract power of intellect as opposed to applied intellect (see Derech Mitzvotecha 182a-183b).]

In Nekudim: The sefirot undergo further concealment and become more concretized. Chochma, wisdom, in this stage can be called a wisdom that is knowable. They are now divided into ten. They are "nikudim", meaning mere "dots" in Hebrew; each sefira is discrete, lacking the full configuration and amalgamation of the other sefirot within it. The disunity in the world of Nekudim brought about the 'shattering of the vessels'…

In this stage each sefira can be compared to an individual letter of a word independent from its identity as a part of the whole word. The disunity in the world of Nekudim brought about the "shattering of the vessels", i.e., the dispersion of its energy and its descent into physical reality. Thus it is also known as the world of Tohu, Chaos.

In Berudim: The ten discrete sefirot are united and share energies. This is also known as the world of Tikun, Correction. An amalgamated sefira is called a "partzuf", a "face". So Chochma in the world of Berudim is called partzuf Abba, the face of Father.

The unity of Berudim, however, does not compare to the level of unity of Akudim, where the sefirot are literally one and exist within one vessel. In Berudim, by contrast, each sefira has its own vessel. Nevertheless, because of its unity, it elicits a lofty supernal light from the Infinite One, for the Infinite One is drawn forth specifically in a place of unity and collaboration. Thus male and female are blessed when they are united. Similarly, a quorum of ten draws forth the Divine presence as opposed to when each of them is alone (Tzemach Tzedek's gloss).

This unity is brought about through the divine name "MaH". "Mah" means "what?" - as in Moses' statement "and what are we?", i.e. "we are naught". Thus MaH, or "what", symbolizes selflessness. And it is selflessness and nullification to the Infinite that creates unity.

Divine Names

Three of the seven divine names that must not be erased permeate different sefirot (Kitvei Arizal and Pardes):

E-l is in chesed (kindness),

Elo-him is in gevura (strength)

Havayah (Y-H-V-H) is in Tiferet (harmony)

This distinction is true only in the vessels of the sefirot. The light of all the sefirot, however, is Havayah. And in tiferet, "harmony", even the vessels are of Havayah.

(Lights and vessels can be understood by a simple analogy of the power of sight and the eye. The power of sight is the light, the eye is the vessel. Intellect is the light; the brain is the vessel etc.) The purpose of Torah is to create unity and peace…

[Translator's Note: Havayah means "Hayah hoveh v'yihiyeh k'echad", "He was, is and will be as One", i.e., transcendent from time.]

Havayah embodies the transcendent light of G‑d, which, as mentioned, finds a home in unity. So although the world of Tikun in general is a world of unity, it is tiferet, in the middle column, that creates this unity. Thus Jacob, who embodies tiferet, drew forth the three levels of Akudim, Nekudim and Berudim, i.e., he channeled the sublime energy of Akudim even into Berudim by way of the name of MaH.

Torah is called the "Torah of Havayah". This is because the purpose of Torah is to create unity and peace - peace above and peace below, generating the revelation of the Infinite Light by unifying and harmonizing the sefirot and supernal chambers.

This unity is brought about through self-nullification, which is the foundation of the entire Torah - to nullify the "yesh" (meaning "something" in Hebrew) to arrive at "ayin" (meaning "nothingness").

Backstage Pass

The Generation of the Dispersion sought to gain physical beneficence from on high, though they were undeserving. They wished to receive sustenance from the name Havayah; however, they did not want to submit themselves and nullify their egos to the divine will and thus deserved no better than sustenance received from the back of Elo-him. They did not wish to follow the rules as they exist in the world of Tikun. They desired to reach beyond the world of Tikun to the world of Akudim, whence they could derive sublime sustenance without curbing their egos and desires and submitting to the rules of Tikun, the world of structure.

This they would achieve, through unity, the secret of Akudim. The world of Tikun is compared to the fully matured tree…One cannot build a house from fruits nor eat branches…

[Although Rabbi Schneur Zalman does not state it clearly, it seems that what is meant is as follows:

Elsewhere Rabbi Schneur Zalman uses the example of a seed, which contains within it the potential for the entire tree, i.e. branches, leaves, fruits, including the pit and peel of the fruit; every aspect of the tree is contained within the seed in an undefined form that will eventually take on a concrete existence. While in that indistinct form, the part of the seed that ultimately becomes the branch can theoretically become the fruit, while the part that becomes the fruit can become the branch. On that level all is interchangeable. By contrast, once the branch becomes a branch and the fruit becomes a fruit, there's no turning back.

Similarly, in the early, spiritual stages of Creation (Akudim and Nikudim), when all exists in potential form, everything is interchangeable. But the world of Tikun is compared to the fully matured tree. Here a branch is a branch and a fruit is a fruit. One cannot build a house from fruits nor eat branches.

The same is true in the realm of Torah. In the pre-Tikun worlds, the laws of Torah are not set. In Tikun, the world of structure and order, the tree is fully grown - the tefillin must be a certain shape and size, Shabbat begins at a very specific moment etc.

The Generation of the Dispersion sought to bypass the rules of Tikun, i.e. to live without the restraints it demands.]

Hence the verses read as follows:

"Let us make for us a name…", i.e. "let us draw from the name of Havayah".

"…lest we become dispersed", i.e. "lest we receive from the lower level, the back of Elo-him".

They wished to build a tower whose peak would reach the heavens as a sign of unity between them. They were shepherds; this one went this way and his fellow in the other direction. The tower would be a place that they could all see and come to regroup and reunite, as explained by Ibn Ezra.

G‑d therefore could not allow it since through unity they indeed would be able to elicit the lofty light. Then, G‑d forbid, they would channel the waters that flow from the House of G‑d to the House of the Seat (meaning the lavatory).

Disunity among the wicked is good for them and good for the world…

This is similar to when G‑d did not want Adam to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever after he had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. Because he had internalized knowledge of evil, he would be eternalizing it by eating of the Tree of Life (Tzemach Tzedek's gloss). He therefore mixed up their languages and disrupted their unity, since disunity among the wicked is good for them and good for the world, while unity among the righteous is good for them and good for the world.

Indeed, peace is the vessel for blessing.


From the Kehot Chumash, produced by Chabad of California with an interpolated translation and commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. Copyright (c) 2008 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved. For personal use only. The full volume is available for purchase at Kehotonline.
Rabbi Yosef Marcus is director of the Chabad center in S. Mateo, California, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is a translator of Judaic texts and a contributor to several websites including:, and He can be reached via his website
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