The portion of the Torah read this week includes the laws of damages.

"When two people have an argument and one hits the other with a stone or his fist…."
"If an ox gores a man or a woman…."
"If a man opens a pit or digs a pit and doesn't cover it…."
"If a man lets his cattle ruin a field or vineyard, whether by letting it walk or graze in
[someone] else's field…."
"If a fire breaks out and sets fire to thorns, devouring a stack of grain, standing grain, or a field…."
(Ex. 21-22)

The word for "destroyer" [maveh] alludes to two names [of G‑d]: the 42-letter Name and the Name of 72.

The 42-letter name is found in the initials of the liturgical poem Ana B'koach. (Siddur Tehillat Hashem, p. 22)

The "Name of 72" is the name Havayah spelled out such that its numerical value is 72:

yud-vav-dalet, hei-yud, vav-yud-vav, hei-yud = (10 + 6 +4) + (5 + 10) + (6 + 10 + 6) + (5 + 10) = 72.

Maveh: mem-beit-ayin-hei = 40 + 2 + 70 + 5 = 42 + 75.

The discrepancy between 75 and 72 is now explained:

The remainder from 75 indicates tiferet, which blends the right and left [axes].

Tiferet is the third sefira of the emotions, the synthesis of the preceding two (chesed and gevura), and thus may be rightly alluded to by the number 3, the difference between 75 and 72.

The numerical value of the word for "pit" ["bor"] is the same as that of four of the letters that make up the name Abraham, leaving out the mem, which signifies water, for this "pit is empty, it has no water." (Gen. 37:24)

"Bor" is spelled beit-reish-vav = 2 + 200 + 6 = 208.

Abraham ("Avraham") is spelled alef-beit-reish-hei-mem. Leaving out the mem, we have 1 + 2 + 200 + 5 = 208.

Mem signifies water since it is phonetically related to the word for water, mayim. The form of the mem also represents the enclosing womb. The flood lasted 40 days, the numerical value of mem.

The Fire corresponds to malchut, for it is the great fire that ate and devoured everything, this being the mystical meaning of the turquoise fire [that descends from heaven to devour the sacrifices]. (Zohar 3:29b)

The word for "turquoise" ("techeilet") is related to the word for "devour" ("kilayon", or "mechaleh"). Malchut, the Shechina, would descend from heaven in the form of a fire and devour the sacrifices on the altar. In Chasidut, this is explained as the fiery enthusiasm of the divine soul (a spark of the Shechina) that, when ignited by appropriate meditation, can consume the individual's animalistic tendencies, purifying his animal soul and making it fit for serving G‑d.

The four categories of damages in evil are opposite the Four Fathers in holiness…

The numerical value of the word for "and the fire" [in Hebrew, "vehahever", 288] alludes to the Name of 72 and the number 216, [alluding to the three primary emotions] comprised within malchut below.

VeHaHever" is spelled vav-hei-hei-beit-ayin-reish = 6 + 5 +5 + 2 + 70 + 200 = 288 = 72 + 216."

216 is three times 72, alluding to the presence of the three primary emotions (all being a continuation of chesed, whose numerical value is 72) in malchut.

Chesed: chet-samech-dalet = 8 + 60 + 4 = 72.

Thus, the four categories of damages in evil are opposite the Four Fathers in holiness, for "G‑d also created the one opposite the other." (Eccles. 7:14)


category of damage















According to the opinion that the "destroyer" is the tooth [of a grazing animal], which is sometimes revealed and sometimes concealed, it manifests the 32 Paths [of Wisdom] reflected in the 32 teeth of the supernal mouth. These obstruct the tongue, which manifests the higher tiferet. Corresponding to this below, in the realm of evil, is G‑d's statement: "I shall destroy [in Hebrew, 'biarti'] the house of Jeroboam, as one completely sweeps away ['yeva'eir'] dung." (Kings I, 14:10)

The word for "destroyer" ("maveh") is seen to be related to the word for "sought out" ("nivu"), indicating something that is usually hidden but occasionally revealed, such as teeth. (Obadiah 1:6)

G‑d created the world through "32 paths of wisdom" (Sefer Yetzira 1:1) (often understood as the 10 sefirot and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet). Just as chochma is the contraction of infinite intellect into a finite flash of insight that can revitalize a person's mind, the teeth break down food into digestible particles that can be of use to the body. Evil teeth, however, obstruct speech. Although tiferet is generally associated with the heart or torso, in the context of the mouth it is associated with the tongue. (Etz Chaim 25:2)

In the verse cited, the root emphasized (beit-ayin-reish) is the same as the one the Torah uses in the verse describing damage caused by a grazing animal. Thus, all agree that the "destroyer" corresponds to tiferet; they argue only over whether it manifests its upper or lower facet.

The one who maintains that the destroyer is man understands the word "hever" to refer to the lower half of tiferet, whereas the one who maintains that the destroyer is the Tooth understands the word "hever" to refer to the upper half of tiferet.

The Ox, [as we said,] alludes to gevura, and the attribute of gevura is very strong, as it is written, "Who can articulate the powers of G‑d?" (Psalms 106:2) These powers are channeled through the three sefirot of gevura, hod, and malchut. Accordingly, the general principle of the "Ox" sub-divides into three sub-principles: the horn, the tooth, and the foot. The initials of the words for these three spell the word for "lie" ["sheker"], for they are, after all, forms of evil.

Hod is situated directly under gevura on the schema of sefirot, indicating that it is a lower manifestation of gevura. Malchut is the channel for all the sefirot, but it has a special affinity for gevura since, as we have explained previously, malchut is constructed out of the aspects of gevura of the other sefirot.

The totality of the evil of the Ox is falsehood.

We now proceed to analyze the three derivatives of the Ox.

The "horn" corresponds to malchut, as [we see] in the blowing of the horn in the Jubilee year.

The jubilee comes at the end of seven periods of seven years, and malchut is the seventh of the midot. Thus, the horn is common to both of them. Also, malchut is expression and communication, and the horn is a musical instrument. The evil horn, however, is goring. Perhaps this includes speech used as a weapon.

The "foot" corresponds to hod, which corresponds to the thighs, the two supports [of the body].

The two legs correspond to netzach and hod.

The "tooth" corresponds to gevura itself, this being the mystery of the 32 times the name Elo-him is mentioned in the account of Creation. This is the principle of gevura, corresponding to the 32 teeth.

G‑d is referred to exclusively by the name Elo-him in the account of Creation, and this name is mentioned exactly 32 times in the course of this section of the Torah. As we said above, the 32 teeth manifest the 32 Pathways of Wisdom. Both the contraction that produces chochma and the grinding action of the teeth are acts of gevura, limitation and severity.


sub-category of ox








When an ox causes damage with its tooth or foot in public domain, its owner is not held responsible, since it is expected to graze and walk around, and people should therefore be careful about leaving their things about in a public domain. If, however, the ox roams into someone's premises other than its owner's and there causes damage, its owner is liable for the full value of the damage caused.

In contrast, if an ox causes damage in the public or private domain with its horn, by goring, its owner is liable for half the value of the damage done. Since we do not expect an ox to gore unprovoked, the owner cannot be held fully responsible no matter where it causes damage. (Baba Kama 2:5)

damage caused by

in public domain

in private domain



full damages



full damages


half damages

half damages

The Arizal will now discuss the mystical implications of these laws.

Now, these three lower, evil categories sometimes cause a blemish in holiness, i.e. in the holy sparks of malchut [of Atzilut]. This [is a damage caused in] the private domain.

The three lower worlds allegorically are the public domain

The world of Atzilut is the allegory for the "private domain", since the consciousness of Atzilut is that Creation has only one owner, G‑d. The three lower worlds allegorically are the "public domain", since the consciousness dominant in these worlds is that there is such a thing as independent existence.

At other times, they cause a blemish in levels below it, i.e. in the realm of impurity itself, which receives its life force through the "other gods." This [is damage caused in] the public domain.

"Impurity" is the self-awareness that exists in the lower worlds. The "other gods" are the angels and other channels through which divine energy flows into these worlds. It is the fact that they are not created and informed "directly" from G‑d that leaves room for "creature-consciousness", i.e. self-awareness.

When the damage is caused by the horn, i.e. the evil opposite malchut, it cannot cause damage to malchut [completely] or to anything below it, but [rather can damage] only its lower half, i.e. its netzach-hod-yesod. This is the mystical meaning of King David's words: "Do not bring me up in the middle of my days," (Psalms 102:25) for the damage caused by the horn - which corresponds to malchut - reaches only up to that level.

King David was a manifestation of the sefira of malchut.

For the same reason Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, "What is your question and what is your desire, up to half the kingdom?" (Esther 5:3, 6, 7:2)

Queen Esther was another manifestation of the sefira of malchut. King Ahasuerus here signifies the evil of the horn. "Half the kingdom" means, mystically, "half of malchut".

For the evil of the horn - which corresponds to malchut - reaches only that high. He meant to say: "If you desire the attribute of malchut," which in its entirety is called "what" - this being the meaning of [his words:] "what is your question…" - then, "up to half of malchut" - for that is the extent of evil's rule, as we have said - "it shall be done," meaning: evil shall be removed from [the upper] half of malchut.

Therefore, damage by the horn obligates its owner to pay only half the value of the damage, corresponding to [its dominion over] half of malchut.

This, however, is true only when the blemish does not persist, but is repeated only twice or at most three times. (Baba Kama 2:4) These three [times] correspond to netzach-hod-yesod [of malchut]. This is why [such an ox] is called an "unblemished" [in Hebrew, "tam"] one, as in the verse, "My dove, My unblemished one," (Songs 5:2, 6:9) who, only when able to unite with and be adorned with these three [sefirot], can be called "unblemished".

The verse cited depicts G‑d calling His beloved Jewish people His "unblemished one". Even though they have sinned, He considers their sins not serious enough to compromise their inherent purity, just as a limited number of times an ox gores does not disqualify it from being considered "unblemished".

Jacob, her husband, is called "an unblemished man"; (Gen. 25:27) thus, [male] unblemished-ness is [in tiferet,] above netzach-hod-yesod. When tiferet - the "unblemished man" - unites with these three, the word for "truth" ["emet"] is formed. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Give truth to Jacob" (Micah 7:20), for "Jacob is the unblemished man, dwelling in these tents." (Gen. 25:27)

Jacob signifies tiferet, as we know (or here, tiferet of malchut).

"Tam" is spelled tav-mem. "Emet" is spelled alef-mem-tav. The difference between these two words is thus the letter alef, whose numerical value is 1, signifying the one sefira of tiferet that unites with the lower three of netzach-hod-yesod, which in this context represent the female. Thus, the union of the unblemished male and female produces enduring "truth".

…the opposite of Divine life is synonymous with self-absorption and ego…

However, when the blemish persists, due to the sins of the generation, and is repeated four times, the ox becomes classified as an aggressive one, and the blemish spreads to all [the sub-sefirot of malchut], and the ox's owner has to pay full damages.

Once an ox has proven itself to be aggressive by having gored three times, its owner must assume responsibility for its actions and pay full damages when it causes damage.

These evils are situated in the realm of death. Therefore, the word for "unblemished" ["tam"] is formed from two of the letters used to spell the word for "death" ["mavet"], and the word for "aggressive" ["mu'ad"] also possesses two letters used to spell the word for "death".

"Mavet" is spelled mem-vav-tav. "Tam" is spelled tav-mem. "Mu'ad" is spelled mem-vav-ayin-dalet. "Death", the opposite of Divine life, is synonymous with self-absorption and ego.

But as long as the damage has not extended beyond these three [i.e. netzach-hod-yesod of malchut], it is called "half of the kingdom".

When we combine the mem-vav from the word for "death" with the word for "until" [in Hebrew, "ad"], we have the word for "aggressive" ["mu'ad"]. For the word "until" alludes to tiferet, as in the verse, "until the desires of the ancient hills". (Gen. 49:26) When the blemish occurs the fourth time, [evil] reaches the tiferet [of Nukva]. Then the letters mem-vav combine with the letters ayin-dalet [which signify tiferet], and the ox becomes "mu'ad".

Tiferet here, although strictly referring to tiferet of malchut (malchut being the Nukva of Atzilut), also refers to the partzuf of Zeir Anpin, as if the sub-sefirot of Nukva are arranged as sub-partzufim.

The word for "until" ("ad") is seen to be related to the word for "gathering" ("va'ad"), and therefore signifies Zeir Anpin, the partzuf formed by the gathering together of the six middot (six being the numerical value of the letter vav that is added to "ad" to form "va'ad"). The "ancient hills" signify bina and malchut (Imma and Nukva): Imma desires to impart its blessing on Zeir Anpin and Nukva desires to cohabit with it. Mystically, this verse thus reads, "Tiferet [ad] is the desire of the ancient hills [Imma and Nukva]." (Zohar I:50a)

There are five aspects of the Horn, [two being aspects of] the main category and [three being] its derivatives. [The two aspects of the main category] are: goring and pushing; [the three derivatives are:] biting, laying down, and kicking. These five correspond to the five states of gevura in malchut. [References are, respectively, Bava Kama 2:5; Y. Shabbat 47a; Y. Bava Kama 2a; cf. Tosefta, Bava Kama 1:6-7]

Since the aspects of evil opposite gevura and hod - i.e. the Tooth and the Foot - are on a higher level than the aspects of evil opposite malchut [i.e. the Horn], they cannot cause damage in the public domain [the earthly manifestation of the levels] below [malchut of Atzilut], i.e. malchut of Beriya. They are therefore not liable for damage they cause there, since that is their natural abode and natural behavior.

Malchut of any world is the "field" or "domain" of that world. Thus, while in a general sense we speak of all the three lower worlds being the "public domain", in particular, this refers to the malchuts of these worlds.

These forms of evil originate as corruptions of the three channels of gevura of Atzilut

As will be explained presently, the three aspects of the Ox (the Tooth, the Foot, and the Horn), in addition to corresponding to gevura, hod, and malchut of Atzilut, correspond to the three lower worlds, as well. In other words, these forms of evil originate as corruptions of the three channels of gevura of Atzilut, but "settle" in the three gradations of creature-consciousness, i.e. the three worlds. Since the Tooth and the Foot originate in the higher two of the three gevura-channels of Atzilut, they "settle" in Beriya and Yetzira. Since this is their natural abode, whatever harm they do there cannot be considered exceptional damage, just as an ox grazing or trampling things in the public domain cannot be considered exceptional damage.

In contrast, the Horn, which is a lower form of evil, does not naturally ascend even to this level, whereas these [other two] abide there naturally. This is because the three [sub-categories of the Ox] correspond to [the three lower worlds,] Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya, and, specifically, the Horn corresponds to the world of Asiya. It therefore causes damage when it ascends higher than its natural abode. The Tooth and the Foot, however, correspond to Beriya and Yetzira [respectively], and thus it is their nature [to roam about in the public domain].


sub-category of ox

origin in Atzilut











When an ox gores, thus, it goes out of the bounds of its natural behavior. This is the equivalent of creature consciousness ascending into Nukva of Atzilut - outside its normal abode of the three lower worlds - and causing damage there. Or, perhaps the intention is that Asiya is a lower level even than the "public domain", i.e. the realm of evil, where it is natural for an ox to gore. When the goring ox gores in Beriya or Yetzira, however, the more docile "public domains", it is exhibiting behavior out of context for this relatively safe environment, and therefore its owner is liable, at least for half the value of its damages.

But when they [the Tooth and the Foot] ascend to cause damage in the domain of the plaintiff, i.e. in malchut [of Atzilut], they will cause damage (G‑d forbid) in its entirety. They therefore [make their owner] liable for [paying] full damages.

Since they originate above malchut, they have more power to cause damage than the horn does.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Ta'amei HaMitzvot, Parashat Mishpatim; 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.