The divine name Tzeva-ot does not appear in the Five Books of Moses. From the day G‑d created the world, says the Talmud, no one called Him by the name Tzeva-ot until the barren Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet, came along and called Him so. (Berachot 31b) "Said G‑d to Hannah: Your son (Samuel) is destined to begin his prophecies with this name." (Midrash Shmuel 2)
Primarily, this name is used by the later prophets, especially Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi, who all prophesied toward the end of the First Temple era and at the beginning of the Exile. Most of their prophecies utilize this name ("So said the Master of Legions - Havayah Tzeva-ot").
This name never appears alone. It is always prefaced by another name, as in Havayah Tzeva-ot, the Master of Legions. Thus its sacredness is the subject of debate in the Talmud. According to Rabbi Yose, an opinion rejected by the Talmud, it is not sacred and can be erased, since it refers to the Jewish people (as in the "legions" or "masses" of the Jewish people). Torah Law, however, follows the opinion that it is one of seven sacred names of G‑d and must not be erased if written down. (see Shavuot 35b)
Why the controversy behind this name and why was it not used by Moses in the Torah?
Behold it is known that the essence of the Infinite Light is beyond any type of description. …the essence of the Infinite Light is beyond any type of description…
The characteristics attributed to G‑d by the prophets and the sages, such as wisdom, mercy, etc., are not appropriate at all for His essence, for He is far removed from any such characterization. Wisdom, which is the highest attribute for a created being, is as removed from Him as is physical reality.
Nevertheless, the prophets and sages use these terms - for in what we perceive as His greatness, lies His humility. (see Megilla 31a) In other words, when He lowers Himself to be enclothed in the attributes of wisdom, kindness etc., we can comprehend Him and sense His greatness. Each name describes the lowering of the divine essence into another one of the attributes…
(In reality, though, what we perceive as His greatness is not His essence but a manifestation and degradation thereof. For example, when a sage speaks to a common person without adapting his thoughts to the level of his listener, his greatness will be lost on his listener who will hear nothing but gibberish. Conversely, when he lowers himself and adapts his thoughts so that they can be perceived by the commoner, his greatness is seen; but it is a degraded form of his sagacity that is apprehended.)
Hence the divine names. Each name describes the lowering of the divine essence into another one of the attributes. E-l refers to chesed (kindness), Elokim to gevura (severity), Ado-nai to malchut (majesty), etc. The name Havayah is the inner being of each name, i.e. it is the force that draws the divine light into the specific attribute. Havayah, therefore, is often combined with the other names, as in Havayah Elokim, Havayah Tzeva-ot, etc.
The divine names, excluding Tzeva-ot, refer to G‑d as He is manifest in the world of Atzilut, the world of Oneness. Tzeva-ot refers to G‑d as He is manifest in the lower worlds…
Tzeva-ot refers to G‑d as He is manifest in the lower worlds, the worlds of Separateness. Tzeva-ot contains the word tzava, meaning "army" or "host", and ot, meaning "sign". This name, then, refers to G‑d, the Sign, as He is manifest in the myriad hosts of creatures of the lower worlds.
In Zohar and the writings of the Arizal, Tzeva-ot is associated with the sefirot of netzach and hod, since their function is not for Atzilut itself but to facilitate the influx to the lower worlds. As is known, netzach and hod are referred to as "kidneys that advise", i.e., they are "processors", processing, for example, a thought, before it can be transmitted from father to son or from teacher to student. (See Tanya 4:15 p. 124b)
(In his "notes" on the Zohar, (2:284) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak comments: Tzeva-ot can be divided into two words with an alef between them - tzadik beit, alef, vav tav. The alef consists of an upper yud and a lower yud connected by a vav. According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the first two letters of Tzeva-ot with the upper yud of the alef represent netzach, while the lower yud of the alef with the letters vav and tav, represent hod. The two parts of the word - netzach and hod - are united by the vav of the alef. He also points out that when spelled out this way (as above): tzadik beit, yud, vav, yud vav tav - Tzeva-ot equals 524, which is the number of chapters in the Talmud, as well as the numeric equivalent of "Talmud Bavli.")
Thus Tzeva-ot is not mentioned in the Torah but only by the prophets. For Moses our teacher was a soul of Atzilut and operated in that reality. The Torah that he purveyed, which is called by his name, (Malachi 3:22) also describes the Atzilut reality. So Tzeva-ot, which refers to G‑d's manifestation in the lower worlds, is not appropriate for Moses and his Torah.
Similarly, Moses' wars were fought by G‑d himself "G‑d will wage war for you". (Ex. 14:14) Joshua's wars, however, were fought by "the commander of G‑d's army" (referring the name Tzeva-ot), who says "now I have come," but not before, during the times of Moses. (Bereishit Rabba 97:3; Zohar 3:286b)
[Note: Once, when Joshua was in Jericho, he looked up and noticed a man standing before him, with his sword unsheathed in his hand. Yehoshua went over to him and asked, "'Do you belong to us or to our enemies?' 'No', answered the man, 'I am the commander of G‑d's army (sar tzva Hashem). Now I have come to you'." See Joshua 5:13-5]
For Moses' face is compared to the sun, while Joshua's is compared to the moon (Bereishit Rabba 75:1). Thus the exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea took place in an openly miraculous manner that went entirely beyond the dictates of nature. This was the level of Havayah - Atzilut. With Joshua's wars, though they, too, were miraculous, natural means were employed there as well. (Thus it was inappropriate for Moses to send spies for intelligence gathering, while it was appropriate for Joshua to do so). The prophets…draw the wisdom of the Torah down to the level of their generations…
Hence the necessity for the prophecies of the prophets: to draw the wisdom of the Torah down to the level of their generations of Jews. The Torah of Moses did not speak to these new generations. Man and Torah remained separate entities. It was the task of the prophets to bring Torah to the lower worlds so that it would address the people on their level.
Thus it is only through the prophets that the name Tzeva-ot is introduced, since they lived at a time when the Jewish people affected the union of G‑dliness within even the lower worlds, their reality.
Adapted from Torah Ohr, Bo, Bi'Etzem 5747, and Bosi LiGani 5740
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