In the beginning of parashat Re'eh, the Jewish people were commanded to: "place the blessing on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Eval" when they cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel. (Deut. 11:29)

The discussion of how to do this does not take place in that passage but rather is postponed until the portion of the Torah read this week, when the Jewish people are told:

When you cross the Jordan, the following [tribes] will stand on Mt. Gerizim to [face the Levites when they] bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. The following [tribes] will stand on Mt. Eval [to face the Levites when they pronounce] the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali." (Ibid. 27:12-13)

There follow a list of the eleven curses the Levites are to pronounce. The blessings are not mentioned explicitly but according to the Sages they were simply the inverse of the curses.

I have already taught you about the eleven ingredients of the incense, the eleven goat wool coverings [of the Tabernacle] and the eleven curses of parashat Ki Tavo.

What is conspicuous here is the number eleven. Since the divine energy that creates and sustains the world is organized into a structure of ten sefirot (and the Sefer Yetzirah is particular about this number: "ten and not eleven; ten and not nine"), it follows that ten as a number signifies the complete, balanced, and holy order of powers. The number eleven, in contrast, is seen to indicate destructive excess, an egotistic tendency to one-up the divine system. In the words of the Sages: "whoever adds detracts" (Sanhedrin 29a ). It therefore signifies evil and curse.

The Tabernacle was covered with three curtains: one made of ten curtains fastened together, each woven of a mixture of various materials; one made of eleven goat skins fastened together, and one of tachash skins (the tachash was a multi-colored animal that does not exist nowadays).

Just as there are ten holy sefirot, there are ten sefirot of evil….

Their significance is that just as there are ten holy sefirot, there are ten sefirot of evil.

Since evil is a perversion of holiness, it follows that for every shade of holiness (expressed in the ten sefirot), there is a corresponding shade of evil.

In addition, there is within [the ten holy sefirot] a spark of holiness that sustains them. This is the mystical meaning of the verse "and His kingship rules over all" (Psalms 103:19).

The common denominator of all ten sefirot is that they are expressions of G‑d's sovereignty over Creation. This is the basis for their mutual inter-inclusion and harmonious co-functioning.

[The same is true for the ten evil sefirot] with the following difference: The ten holy sefirot are composed of "essences" and "vessels".

The vessel of a sefira is its identity, or the particular divine power it manifests….

The essence of a sefira is the divine energy that powers it; the vessel of a sefira is its identity, or the particular divine power it manifests. The more familiar terminology for "essence" in this context is "light". Here the light is called the "essence", since it is of course the divine power that makes the sefira into an instrument or a "useful" tool in the hand of G‑d; the vessel or particular identity of the power being manifest is relatively incidental.

Now [in the case of the ten holy sefirot,] the essence - which is the life force that sustains the sefirot - is absorbed and hidden with them. Thus, it is written in the Zohar, "He and that which He enlivens [i.e. the 'lights'] are one; He and that which He causes [i.e. the 'vessels'] are one." (Tikunei Zohar, introduction, 3b) This is why their number is only ten; they are the ten overhanging curtains of the Tabernacle.

Holiness is characterized by submission to G‑d's will, and submission to G‑d's will enables an entity to coexist with its opposite (if it is G‑d's will that this occur). Here, although essence and expression are opposite in nature, the lights and vessels can coexist together so long as they both submit to the divine scheme. This submission to divine will is expressed by there being only ten sefirot, the number of balance and containment. The ten curtains that form the inner covering of the Tabernacle, closest to the holiness of the ark and the other vessels, express this submission.

But in the case of the ten evil sefirot, the holy life force cannot be absorbed inside them, for the holy does not mix with the profane. Rather, it hovers above them and enlivens them from afar. Therefore their number is eleven.

Since the evil sefirot express rebellion against the divine will, there can be no reconciliation between essence and expression. Furthermore, the essence cannot enter the vessel since the essence is obeying G‑d's will (since it is only by virtue of G‑d's will that evil can exist or have any power) while the vessel is not (as we said, the vessel is an expression of rebellion against G‑d's will).

Therefore, the life force (the "essence" or "light"), rather than being counted as an aspect of the ten sefirot, is counted as an entity on its own.

As is explained in the Zohar regarding the eleven [goat-wool] coverings, this is because "whoever adds detracts". We have explained this idea in that context as well. This is the mystical significance of all three elevens mentioned above.

We will now explain these eleven curses [individually]. The first, "Cursed be he who makes a graven or molten image" (Deut. 27:15), corresponds to the evil known as Arich Anpin of kelipa. Therefore it is said about [this image that the one who makes it that] "he puts it in hiding." This refers mystically to the hidden realms of Creation, for Arich Anpin hides and is clothed within the world of Atzilut, as is known.

Kelipa ("shell") is a synonym for evil, and in the present context a particularly apt one, since evil is here described as the phenomenon of divine energy surrounding its powers rather than entering them to fuse with them.

Idolatry is the expression of the will within the soul to break off the yoke of the kingdom of heaven in the false hope of independence….

Idolatry is obviously the general, overall statement of rebellion against G‑d, and is therefore considered the keter of evil. Keter, and specifically the partzuf of Arich Anpin, corresponds to the psychological power of will; idolatry is the expression of the will within the soul to break off "the yoke of the kingdom of heaven" in the false hope of independence. This is because idolatry is not a religion in the sense that it is the submission of the individual or community to the will of the deity; it is rather an attempt to harness and manipulate the spiritual power inherent within Creation for one's own purposes.

Atzilut in this context signifies the array of conscious powers of the soul (intellect, emotion, and expression). The will permeates, informs, and runs these powers in a "hidden" (subconscious) fashion, behind the scenes, as it were. Hence the importance of aligning the will with holiness rather than delusions of selfhood.

For this reason there are thirteen words in this verse until and including the word "in hiding"; these correspond to the Thirteen Rectifications of the Beard of Arich Anpin.

The actual curse in this verse is exactly thirteen words. The number thirteen signifies the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy, the expression of G‑d's good will and willingness to forgive sin. The bodily correlation of this mercy is the beard, which is seen as a way the head can be channeled down into the lower parts of the body directly.

As we have explained previously, the normal flow of divine beneficence into reality is patterned after the flow of a new idea or insight from the super-conscious mind (keter) into the conscious mind (chochma, bina, and daat) and from there, through the neck into the torso (signifying the emotions) and on out into expression (mouth, hands, feet, and sexual organs). When a person sins, however, this normal flow has been sabotaged such that there is blockage along the way, most typically in that the power of insight cannot properly affect the emotions - leaving the person frustrated and unable to grow, develop, or express himself spiritually. It is therefore necessary for the normal flow to be bypassed or overridden, and this is the dynamic of forgiveness. In such a case, a small but highly concentrated flow of inspiration emerges from the mind - not through the standard channel of orderly processing, signified by the neck, but through the hairs of the beard. As we have also explained previously, hair signifies a very diminished form of life force: it is constantly growing, but can be cut without causing pain. The beard thus signifies G‑d's attribute of mercy. Elsewhere, the Arizal describes the thirteen "rectifications", or "locations", of the beard, and how each one corresponds to one of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

The second curse, "Cursed be he who insults his father or his mother" (Ibid. 16), corresponds to [the two partzufim of] Abba and Imma.

The next five curses correspond to the first five sefirot of Zeir Anpin: keter, chochma, bina, chesed, and gevura.

The Arizal does not explain the correspondences between these curses and sefirot.

The next, "Cursed be he who has relations with his sister", corresponds to tiferet of Zeir Anpin, for the head of Nukva begins at this level, opposite the chest [of Zeir Anpin], as is known. She [in addition to being his bride] is Zeir Anpin's sister, but this is so only when she is situated at this level, not when she is otherwise. For it is only in this case that they can cling together consummately.

Nukva…personifies a totally different thrust in the divine plan, that of disseminating the Divine idea without and throughout Creation….

As we have explained previously, both Zeir Anpin and his feminine counterpart, Nukva of Zeir Anpin, originate in Imma, and they are therefore considered "brother and sister". However, they are also intended to mate, and in this context are called "bride and groom" or "prince and princess". As we have also explained, their proper coupling occurs when the intellect (head) of Nukva (expression and actualization) is at the level of the chest (emotions) of Zeir Anpin (inspiration and divine idea). If Nukva were to be the same height as Zeir Anpin, this would mean that her intellect receives directly from his intellect, and this would be counter-productive, for she personifies a totally different thrust in the divine plan, that of disseminating the Divine idea without and throughout Creation. It is thus crucial that her intellect receive from the emotions of Zeir Anpin, the level at which his intellect has been over-staged by the emotion response, the desire to relate the idea of the intellect to the outside world.

To summarize:



Cursed be he who makes a graven or molten image, abhorred by G‑d, a craftsman's handiwork, and puts it in hiding.

Arich Anpin

Cursed be he who insults his father or mother.

Abba and Imma

Cursed be he who moves his neighbor's boundary line marker [a form of stealing].

keter of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who misdirects a blind person on his way.

chochma of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who perverts the judgment of a stranger, orphan, or widow.

bina of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who has relations with his father's wife.

chesed of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who has relations with any beast.

gevura of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who has relations with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or of his mother.

tiferet of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who has relations with his mother-in-law.

netzach of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who strikes his neighbor in secret.

hod of Zeir Anpin

Cursed be he who accepts a bribe to put an innocent person to death.

yesod of Zeir Anpin


* * *

Further on in this portion of the Torah, Moses describes the results of the people abandoning their covenant with G‑d. This passage, known as the "the reproof" (tochacha) (Ibid. 28:15-68) consists of exactly 98 curses.

[These curses] are all a punishment for the blemished caused in [the sefira of] yesod. This is the mystical meaning of the phrase "a sword avenging the vengeance of the covenant" (Lev. 26:28).

All sins are ultimately sins of misdirected sexuality….

This whole passage is referred to by the Torah itself as a "covenant" (in Hebrew, "brit"). (Deut. 28:69) Simply stated, a covenant or pact is an agreement between two parties sealed by the clause that if the pact is abrogated there will be consequences. The existence of consequences cements the relationship and makes it serious (or "real") for the parties involved.

As we have explained previously, the sefira of yesod is where all the powers of the preceding sefirot coalesce into a concentrated essence (the seed or semen), which is then meant to be transmitted, via malchut/Nukva to outer reality as the "birth" of a new reality or way of living. All these powers, from the initial insight on, are a gift of G‑d that He gives us in order for us to use for positive, wholesome, and holy purposes. It is therefore crucial that this seminal message, or energy, be channeled through the proper medium, that of malchut. For malchut, being the personification of G‑d's will "to have a home in the lower realms", is totally directed and dedicated toward using the energy of yesod for the holy purpose of increasing the awareness of G‑d's presence in the world. If a person chooses not to direct his energy into malchut, but instead to divert it into non-holy channels, he is betraying his covenant with G‑d. He is taking his G‑d-given gifts (whether his vital seed or any other gifts, resources, or talents he possesses) and using them for self-indulgent or egocentric ends.

This explains why the commandment of circumcision specifically is called "brit", "covenant". (After all, the whole Torah is G‑d's covenant with the Jewish people.) This also explains why the Arizal here says that the consequences detailed by the Torah for abrogating its observance can all be seen as the result of betraying the covenant of yesod. In other words, all sins are ultimately sins of misdirected sexuality, and the specific sin of misdirected sexuality in a sense contains within it all other sins.

The verse about the sword avenging the vengeance of the covenant is taken from the parallel rebuke-passage in the book of Leviticus, 26:14-45.

Now, the [organ of procreation, the physical manifestation of] yesod, is likened to a bow that shoots arrows [of semen]. We see this with regard to [halachic discussions regarding whether or not a particular discharge of semen can be considered potent. The] seed [is not considered potent if when discharged it does not] shoot like an arrow.

The simile of ejaculation and shooting an arrow is found in Biblical verses as well. (See Rashi on Gen. 21:16, 49:24, 49:25)

The target [of the "arrows" of Zeir Anpin] is [the partzuf] Rachel.

As we said, the only legitimate "target" for yesod is malchut, personified in the narrow sense by one's wife or in the broader sense by the holiness of the vessel as evinced in its being a vehicle for the dissemination of the G‑d-idea throughout reality.

Therefore, when the Jewish people sinned and thereby caused the holy arrows to be disassociated [from their rightful "target"], the consequence was that ["G‑d shot them at them;] a sudden arrow was their wounds." (Psalms 64:8)

This verse applies normally to those who "have sharpened their tongue like the sword, and aimed their arrow - a bitter word - to shoot the innocent in secret." (Ibid. 4-5) Here, since the community abuses their arrows, the power of yesod, they bring upon themselves retribution in kind.

These are the 98 curses in this passage.

The numerical value of the word for "arrow" (in Hebrew, "cheitz", spelled chet-tzadik) is 98.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HePesukim, Likutei Torah, and Sefer HaLikutim, Parashat Ki Tavo; 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.