And Aaron and the elders of Israel came to eat bread before Elo-him… (Ex. 18:12)

The interaction between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, begs for explanation. Why does Moses bow to Jethro, the priest of Midian? And why does he show such affection for him, kissing him, etc.

The answer is that Jethro's soul transcends that of Moses. It is written in Likutei Torah [in the Writings of the Ari] that the soul of Jethro stems from the realm of Cain, while Moses stems from Abel. [That Jethro stems from Cain is actually written in the Zohar (1:28b), which cites the verse "And the sons of the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses…." (Judges 1:16); Jethro is referred to as a Kenite, which the Zohar interprets as a soul of the realm of Cain.] The sons of Elo-him…were drawn after corporeal desires because of their lofty source…

The realm of Cain is much loftier than that of Abel. As it is written in Shaar HaGilgulim ("The Gate of Incarnations" chapters 23, 26, et al), all souls of the realm of Cain are extremely lofty souls. Thus Moses, who is of the realm of Abel, bows to Jethro.

Now Cain is the realm the sefira of gevura. His name is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word for "rock", "sela" (160), and indeed it is written: "[Balaam saw the Kenite and said:] '…set in a rock (sela) is your nest [in Hebrew, "kinecha"]'" (Num. 24:21) - an allusion to Cain.

It is therefore written that with Jethro they ate bread "before Elo-him." This is because "Elo-him" is the name that embodies gevura.

Similarly, the "sons of Elo-him" refer to the lofty souls of the realm of Cain. Of them it is written, And the sons of Elo-him saw the daughters of man that they were good…and they took for themselves wives…. (Gen. 6:2) This cannot refer only to the two angels Shemchazai and Azael who fell from heaven (see Rashi on Num. 28:33), since the verse seems to imply that there were many sons of Elo-him who took many of the daughters of earth. They were drawn after corporeal desires because of their lofty source. As the Talmud states (Sukka 52a, end): "The greater the man the greater his temptation." Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination is greater than his fellow's…

[The Talmud relates the following: The sage Abaye once overheard a man say to a woman, "Let us rise early and set out on the way". Abaye said to himself, "I will go and keep them from sin". He followed them for a distance of three Persian miles. When they parted, he heard one say to the other, "Our paths are far apart; but the company would have been pleasant". Abaye said: "If it were 'my enemy' [a euphemism for himself], I would not have been able to control myself". He went and leaned against a door bolt and was distressed. A certain old man came and told him: "Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination is greater than his fellow's." According to some opinions, this statement was made by Elijah the Prophet (see Tosafot Chullin 6a).]

This follows the principle that whatever is highest falls lowest. This is because Adam's sin of the Tree of Knowledge caused the blending of good and evil. This occurred in such a way that beings with a large level of goodness gained a proportionately large and powerful measure of evil.

And so it is in each generation. There are many souls from the realm of Cain, which are much loftier than those of Abel. When they fall, their drive for evil is far greater. "According to the camel is the load" (Ketubot 67a).

Shaar Hagilgulim lists various ancient souls including the sages of the Mishna and the Talmud and designates them as stemming either from Cain or Abel. There are in fact signs by which to recognize the roots of souls. It is written in Shaar Hakavanot ["The Gate of Meditations"], one who is wrapped in a tallit from right to left and left to right is from the realm of Abel. And one whose nature and custom is to fold the two sides of his tallis on his two shoulders is from the realm of Cain. (It was the Baal Shem Tov's custom to fold his talit on his shoulder, and perhaps he was from the realm of Cain.) (Shaar Hakavanot: See Pri Etz Chaim, Shaar Hakriat Shema 3; Mishnat Chasidim, Mesechet Tefilat Haberia 3:3-4)

This idea of recognizing the roots of souls is also alluded to by Jethro when he advises Moses to appoint judges over the nation. Jethro said, "and you shall look about…" [in Hebrew, "vi'atah techzeh"]. I.e., in choosing the judges Moses should follow the signs described in the Zohar regarding the furrows of the forehead, similar to the above differences between the souls of the realm of Cain and those of Abel. This should suffice for he that understands. The character of man is revealed in the hair, the forehead, the eyes, the lips, the features of the face…

[On the words of Jethro to Moses "and you shall look about and choose out of all the people able men…" the Zohar (II:70a) presents a lengthy exposition on the idea that a person's physical features reveal his nature. "The character of man is revealed in the hair, the forehead, the eyes, the lips, the features of the face, the lines of the hands, and even the ears." For many pages the Zohar describes different hair types, foreheads, eyes, and the personalities that they represent, as well as a discourse on palmistry. A description of one type of forehead reads as follows [translation follows the Soncino version]:

"A large rounded forehead indicates one who is open-minded and generally gifted. He can acquire any kind of knowledge, even without a teacher. … He can infer great things from small; hence he is rightly called discerning. He is detached from the things of this world… He is tenderhearted. His forehead is deeply furrowed by two wrinkles, set high upon his brow, one over each eye. His forehead also has three long lines, and between his eyes is the double vertical furrow, which signifies deep thought. He is always concerned with realities and not with appearances, because he does not care what men say about him… So much for the mystery connected with the study of the forehead."] Jethro merited that his descendants became great Torah scholars…

Hence, And Aaron and the elders of Israel came to eat bread before Elo-him (Ex. 18:12), which is the level of gevura, the root of Cain, referring to the root of the soul of Jethro, who is of the "sons of Elo-him," as explained.

[Because of his connection to gevura, severity and judgment,] Jethro merited to study the laws of judges and to implement the use of many judges to help Moses. In addition, his offspring sat on the Sanhedrin and were great tzadikim and ascetics, as alluded to in Scripture (I Chronicles 2:55).

[The Talmud records that because of his good deeds - his hospitality towards Moses in telling his daughters (Ex. 2:20), "call him and let him eat bread" (Sanhedrin 104a), or the fact that he protested Pharaoh's decision to throw the Jewish children into the Nile, or that he ran away from Egypt (ibid. 106a) - Jethro merited that his descendants became great Torah scholars and sat on the Sanhedrin. The Talmud points to the verse in Chronicles as support for the above assertion.]

In the future, when the mixture of good and evil will be sifted and the realm of Cain will be purified of all waste, it will be above that of Abel, as gold surpasses silver, as explained elsewhere. This should suffice for he that understands.

Adapted by Yosef Marcus from Maamarei Admor Hazaken Haketzarim p. 47

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