In the portion of the Torah read this week, G‑d tells the Jewish people to battle the Midianites in vengeance for their assault chronicled at the end of parashat Balak. The Jews slew all the males in battle, and Moses instructed them further to slay all the male children and the females who had reached sexual maturity. G‑d then told Moses:

…count the booty that was captured, man and beast, and divide the booty equally between those who took the war upon them and went out to do battle and the rest of the community. You shall then take a levy for G‑d: from the half-share of the soldiers who engaged in the campaign you shall take one item in five hundred - of persons, oxen, donkeys, and sheep - and give them to Elazar the priest as a contribution to G‑d. [In addition] from the half-share of the other Israelites you shall take one portion of every fifty persons, cattle, donkeys, and sheep - all the animals - and give them to the Levites, who attend to the duties of G‑d's Tabernacle. (Num. 31:25-30)

We must answer the following questions on this passage:

  1. Since G‑d said: "divide the booty equally", why did He then say "from the half-share of the soldiers…you shall take…and give them to Eleazar" when it would have been clear enough just to say "from the warriors…you shall take…and give them to Eleazar" without mentioning again that their portion was a half-share?

  2. In the first case [i.e. that of the half-share of the soldiers] it is written: "one item in five-hundred", while in the second [i.e. that of the civilians] it is written "one portion of every fifty". Why the difference in expression?

  3. Why, in fact, did G‑d give Eleazar one in five hundred [i.e. two tenths of a percent] and the Levites one in fifty [i.e. two percent]?

  4. Why, in describing the half-share of the civilians, is the expression "all the animals" added?

  5. Why is the expression "levy" [in Hebrew, "meches"] used 1 only in describing the half-share of the soldiers?

The exoteric answer to these questions is those who counted the half-share of the soldiers were not required to do so precisely.

As we will see, the expression "precisely" here does not mean that an exact count was not taken of the soldiers' portion; it simply means that their contribution was taken from the overall total of their half-share rather than separated out as the counting was being done.

They simply rounded off how many thousands of cattle there were [after the counting had been done] and calculated the levy accordingly. This is why the expression "levy" is used only with regard to the soldiers' half.

The term "levy" [in Hebrew, "meches"] is appropriate for a portion taken from an overall sum. This was done, as we will see, only with the soldiers' half-share, and not with that of the civilians.

This is also why it is written: "from the half-share of the soldiers…": this expression implies that the levy is to be taken from the general sum of the half-share, rounded off.

In the case of the civilians' half-share, however, they had to count every item in detail, i.e. one by one. As they counted, every fiftieth item became the contribution to the Levites. [In other words] this was done similar to the way tithes in general were required to be given the Levites, as it is written, "As to the tithe of the herd or the flock: of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth will be holy unto G‑d" (Lev. 27:32). This is why the expression "one portion of every fifty" is used.

These two letters hei…are expressions of judgment and severity…

The Hebrew word for "portion", "achuz", literally means "that which is grabbed", evoking the image of the one counting via physically setting aside every fiftieth animal as they were passed in front of him to be counted. Thus, the contributions were taken from the respective half-shares of the soldiers and the civilians in totally different ways: the half-share of the soldiers was counted, the sum was rounded off to the nearest thousand, and then the proper number of girls or animals was separated accordingly. In contrast, every fiftieth girl or animal was separated from the half-share of the civilians as it was being counted.

This difference accounts for the difference of expressions used in the commandments regarding the two half-shares. Still, we have only answered questions 1, 2, and 5 of the five above questions.

The esoteric explanation of the above, however, is the same as the mystical explanation of our Sages' statement that "[walking with] wide steps diminishes a man's eyesight by one five-hundredth" (Berachot 43b; Shabbat 113b). This statement of our Sages can be understood based on what is written in the Zohar (III:203b) regarding how [malchut] extends her step outward. As we have explained on this passage (Shaar Maamarei Rashbi, ad loc) this refers to when Nukva of Zeir Anpin and Zeir Anpin were together in the womb of their mother.

Both Zeir Anpin and its Nukva are "children" of Abba and Imma, and here it is evident that they are in a sense "twins" in that Imma was pregnant with both of them at the same time. This phase in their development is alluded to in the first hei of the name Havayah, which as we know corresponds to the sefira of bina or its partzuf, Imma. The hei may be viewed as composed of a dalet (the top and right "leg") and a small vav (the left, detached "leg"). Since the numerical value of the letter vav is 6, this small vav may be taken as an allusion to the six sefirot from chesed to yesod - i.e. Zeir Anpin - as they exist in utero within Imma. However, the Zohar tells us, at a certain point this vav "grows" a projection at its lower extremity that extends outward. (The hei thus takes on the appearance somewhat of the letter tav, except that the left leg is of course still detached from the top and right leg.) This projection outward is the source of malchut - i.e. Nukva - within the womb of Imma. This projection at the "foot" of the vav is considered an outward "step."

There are, however, two instances of this phenomenon. The first is when [Nukva] is born and emerges out of [the womb of Imma, i.e.] the first hei [of the name Havayah]. The second is when [Nukva] goes out [of the world of Atzilut], i.e. at the lower extremity of the [small] vav within the second hei [of the name Havayah].

The name Havayah depicts, as we have explained previously, the entire array of partzufim in the world of Atzilut. But, as we know, malchut (or its partzuf, Nukva) descends out of the world of Atzilut in order to create and then rectify the lower worlds. This aspect of malchut is represented graphically as the projection out of the left leg (the small vav) of the second hei.

These two letters hei form one yud, inasmuch as they both originate from Abba, the yud [of the name Havayah].

The numerical value of hei is 5, so the hei of bina plus the hei of malchut equals 10, the numerical value of the letter yud. The two letters hei of the name Havayah may thus be seen as lower manifestations of the yud. Bina can be considered to be a by-product of chochma in that the subject matter of understanding is the initial insight of chochma. Malchut is considered a product of chochma in that expression is implicit in the insight. In contrast, the middot (out of which are formed the partzuf of Zeir Anpin, represented by the vav in the name Havayah) are more directly a result of bina rather than a manifestation of chochma; the emotional response is elicited only when the full intellectual development of the idea in bina has occurred.

Since they are both [expressions of] judgment and severity, they are called "the booty that is captured".

As we have explained previously, bina is primarily a process of evaluating, judging, accepting and rejecting. The person's previous way of thinking has to be evaluated in light of the new insight, and those aspects of his previous way of thinking that do not fit in with his new, higher perception of the truth have to be rejected, often painfully and ruthlessly.

Since they are divided into two letters hei, they were commanded to divide the booty in two….

Similarly, malchut is, as we have discussed previously, constructed out of the gevura-aspects of the sefirot that precede it. This is because in order to express an idea through thought, speech, or action, there must be first a large amount of censoring and selecting. This is true in both directions: the infinite idea and its infinite implications, applications, and ramifications cannot all be expressed since expression is finite. In addition, in order to express the idea properly, the proper words or actions (e.g., colors on a canvas or notes in a musical composition) must be carefully selected. The improper choice of words, etc. can vastly distort the meaning. Therefore, the person must be very selective at this point.

Thus, in the context both of bina and malchut, the mental structures and thought-, speech-, and action-patterns chosen are called the "booty" of the war in which all unworthy pretenders to the role of vehicles of intellection or expression are eliminated.

And since they are divided into two letters hei, they were commanded to divide the booty in two: half for the upper [i.e. first] hei and half for the lower [i.e. second] hei.

Now, it is known that the kings of Edom emerged from the upper hei, Imma, which is termed "the land of Edom", as is known. These kings, who are called the "soldiers", died because of the extreme amount of gevura and war in them, as is known.

The Arizal is here referring to the world of Tohu. As we have explained previously, this world collapsed because the sefirot that composed it were immature and could not properly interact; they were effectively at "war" with each other. This realm of Creation is called "Edom", and its sefirot are called "the kings of Edom since Edom is the kingdom of Esau, the perpetually immature, wild twin of the mature and holy Jacob.

Although we usually conceive of the four letters of the name Havayah as signifying the total array of partzufim of the world of Atzilut, in other contexts these letters are conceived of as depicting a much broader span of Creation. As we have mentioned on an earlier occasion, the four ways the name Havayah can be spelled out - yielding the four numerical values of 72, 63, 45 and 52 - may themselves be aligned with the four letters of this name:


associated sefira

associated value
of spelling of the
Name Havayah








the middot





In this scheme, each spelling of the name Havayah produces a corresponding stage of Creation. The spelling whose numerical value is 72 produces the level that precedes the world of Tohu; that whose numerical value is 63 produces the world of Tohu; that whose numerical value is 45 produces the masculine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut; and that whose numerical value is 52 produces the feminine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut. It is to this scheme that the Arizal refers when he says here that the kings of Edom issued from the upper hei.

In contrast, the other aspects of judgment and severity, which issue from the lower hei, are called "the community". They inform the lower court, and they are more fragranced and sweetened. It is known that the lower court is called "the community," as it is written, "G‑d stands in the community of G‑d". (Psalms 82:1)

The gevura of bina is much more severe than that of malchut. In simple terms, this is because it is much more crucial to be selective and critical at the conceptual stage of the creative process than it is at the expressive stage. An error at the conceptual stage will have severe repercussions all down the chain of development. In contrast, if the conceptual stage was passed properly, a lot more latitude can be given to the final means of expression. Since the conceptual integrity of the process has been so zealously guarded, the strength and intensity of the concept will be able to shine through a much wider range of expression.

Thus, the upper judicial "court" of bina must be much stricter than the lower "court" of malchut.

The verse quoted from Psalms refers to the rabbinical court; we are taught that G‑d's presence is found, guiding the judgment and giving His approval to the decisions of the judges. The name used for the first "G‑d" in this verse is "Elo-him", the attribute of divine justice. The "community of G‑d" refers to the court.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse "You shall divide the booty equally between those who took the war upon them and went out to do battle and the rest of the community."

The two letters hei of the name Havayah split between them the "booty" they snatch from the yud. The first hei is indicated in this verse by the soldiers and the second by the civilians.

Now, there are always only five states of gevura, i.e. from chesed to hod, as is known. These five states of gevura pour into yesod, which is therefore termed "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"]. Their numerical value is 50, since when they are there below [in yesod] each sub-divides into ten [sub-sub-sefirot].

The sub-sefirot of gevura of the five sefirot of chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, and hod descend into yesod and from there are passed to malchut, this being how the partzuf of Nukva is constructed. In the verses "To You, O G‑d, is the greatness, and the power [gevura], and the beauty [tiferet], and the eternity [netzach], and the glory [hod]. For all [in Hebrew, 'kol'] that is in heaven and on earth [is Yours]. Yours, O G‑d, is the kingship [in Hebrew, 'mamlacha', from the word ' malchut']…" (Chronicles I, 29:10-12), the word "all" ["kol"] signifies yesod. This is because, as we said, yesod binds the flow of the preceding five sefirot, in our case the sub-sefirot of gevura within them. The numerical value of this word [spelled kuf-lamed] is 50. This alludes to the sub-division of these 5 states of gevura each into a full array of 10 sefirot.

In contrast, when [these states of gevura] are above, in Imma, the upper hei, each sub-divides into one hundred [sub-sub-sub-sefirot], giving 500.

Their consciousness is nonetheless far more expansive than it will be when they are 'born'….

Although while in utero within Imma the partzufim of Zeir Anpin and Nukva are not fully developed, their consciousness is nonetheless far more expansive than it will be when they are "born" and emerge from the womb. This is because Imma is abstract intellect, while Zeir Anpin and Nukva are merely the emotional reactions and expression of this intellect. Thus, the sub-sefirot of the sefirot which will form Zeir Anpin (chesed to yesod) exist in the womb of Imma in a higher level of differentiation and complexity, indicating their superior intensity of intellect there. Each sub-sefira divides into ten sub-sub-sefirot, and then these ten further sub-divided into a hundred sub-sub-sub-sefirot.

This is why the portion taken from the soldiers is one five-hundredth and that taken from the civilians is one-fiftieth.

The soldiers personify the states of gevura within the womb of bina, while the civilians personify the states of gevura within yesod, on their way to malchut. We have now answered question #3 above.

Now, malchut is referred to "the wide step", as we mentioned.

Malchut is the projection at the lower end of the small vav (which indicates Zeir Anpin) of the hei. Since this projection extends outward, it is called the "wide step" outward from the hei.

This wide step "diminishes man's eyesight by one five-hundredth". "Man" refers to Zeir Anpin. He is considered the husband of malchut, for she receives her light and beneficence from the above-mentioned soldiers from him and through him. This occurs when they are both above, within [the womb of] Imma.

As we said, the five states of gevura in the sefirot of Zeir Anpin as it exists in utero within Imma each undergo two tenfold iterations, giving 5x10x10=500 sub-states. Thus, Zeir Anpin at this stage may be said to possess 500 parts of life-force, or "eyesight". Malchut at this stage receives one portion of these 500, and may thus be said to reduce Zeir Anpin's life-force or eyesight by one five-hundredth.

At this stage, malchut is called "Nefesh", based on what we have explained elsewhere, that while she is there she possesses only the name Havayah spelled out with the letter hei, which is called "Nefesh".

The numerical value of the name Havayah spelled out with the letter hei is 52 (yud-vav-dalet hei-hei vav-vav hei-hei, 10+6+4 + 5+5 + 6+6 + 5+5 = 52). As we saw above, this spelling-out corresponds to the sefira of malchut.

Now, the four letters of G‑d's name Havayah also correspond to the five levels of the soul:


associated sefira

associated value of spelling of the name Havayah

level of the soul

upper tip of the yud













the middot







Thus, the name Havayah whose numerical value is 52 is associated with the soul-level of Nefesh.

This is why it is written [with regard to the portion taken from the soldiers], "one item in five hundred".

The word used for "item" in this verse is "Nefesh". We have thus answered now question #2 above.

This is also why this portion is given to Eleazar the priest, as it is written, "give them to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to G‑d". The priest is the personification of chesed, which serves to develop this portion into a full-fledged "contribution to G‑d" in the sense of something separated. (See Zohar III:77b)

We have explained previously that the Priests express the divine attribute of loving-kindness (chesed) while the Levites express the attribute of severity (gevura). By giving this embryonic version of malchut to chesed, the love Zeir Anpin showers on it causes it to grow and develop until, at birth, it emerges as an independent partzuf and not just an appendage sticking out of the lower extremity of Zeir Anpin. (This process is obviously re-enacted in the way Eve is created out of Adam in the garden of Eden.)

The word used in this verse for "contribution" is "teruma", which literally means "a portion lifted up and out of the mass from which it is taken". Thus, giving the one-five-hundredth to Eleazar signifies the making of malchut into an independent entity of Zeir Anpin.

In contrast, [at the later stage of her development,] when [malchut] is depicted as the "wide step" protruding from the lower hei, she does not take anything from the soldiers [i.e. the states of gevura within the womb of Imma]. She takes only from her husband, Zeir Anpin, who is called "Israel", as in the mystical meaning of the verse: "before there reigned any king over the children of Israel". (Gen. 36:31)

Once malchut has emerged and is developing as partzuf in her own right, her development does not depend on any influx from her in utero origins within Imma. Both she and Zeir Anpin have severed themselves from the world of intellect and are now developing their own personalities as emotions and expression, respectively. At this stage, malchut (in the process of becoming the fully-developed Nukva of Zeir Anpin) is developed out of Zeir Anpin, the emotions.

The verse quoted here refers to the account of the primordial kings of Edom/Tohu. This world existed prior to the maturation stage of partzufim. The partzuf of Zeir Anpin is called "Israel".

She therefore takes only one fiftieth, since she receives her influx from yesod [of Zeir Anpin], which is alluded to by the word "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"], whose numerical value is 50.

It is therefore written here "one portion," for she clings to and depends upon at this point the lower extremity of the letter vav, i.e. yesod [of Zeir Anpin]. This is in contrast to the stage [in utero] described above, when malchut is receiving her life-force from the soldiers.

This is the continuation of the mystical answer to question #2. As above, the word for "portion" here ("achuz") literally means "that which is grabbed", evoking the image of malchut hanging on to the yesod of Zeir Anpin in order to receive all the influx necessary for her growth and development.

This is why the portion [taken from the civilians] is given to the Levites. They are the legions of malchut, the supernal choristers, as is known.

While the priests performed their duties in the Temple silently, the Levites composed the orchestra and choir. They thus expressed the emotions that accompanied the sacrificial service. As such, they were obviously instruments of malchut, the sefira of expression.

Let us now complete the explanation of the statement of our Sages regarding how walking with wide steps diminishes a person's eyesight by one five-hundredth. They go on to say that this lacking is restored when he makes Kiddush on Shabbat evening. The mystical explanation of this is as follows: On Friday, Zeir Anpin was producing demons, spirits and succubae, as is known, but when the day was sanctified and it became Shabbat evening, he ceased producing forces of evil and coupled with malchut. It was then that his eyesight returned to him.

We are taught that the forces of evil - the "demons," etc. - were created in the last moments on Friday just before Shabbat. In other words, they were created from the final, lowest and weakest energies of Creation, after G‑d's creative power had been "spent", so to speak, in creating the holiness of the world. It is for this reason we are instructed to begin Shabbat every week early, for in this way we cut off the source of the power of evil before it has a chance to propagate.

Adam did not copulate on Friday with Eve at all, but with Lilith, a precursor of his true wife….

Adam and Eve were created on Friday. The usual explanation of the primordial sin is that Adam and Eve engaged in sexual relations before they were intended to, that is, they copulated on Friday afternoon instead of waiting for the holy day of Shabbat. By engaging in marital relations outside of the context of holiness, they "profaned" them, i.e. approached them from the perspective of personal gratification, and thus actualized the world's latent potential of egocentricity and evil.

However, in certain sources, it is said that Adam did not copulate on Friday with Eve at all, but with Lilith, a precursor of his true wife. She was the personification of egocentricity, as exemplified by the fact that she insisted on being on top of Adam during their copulation. She thus introduced the element of self-awareness into the sublime experience of marital relations, and the offspring of their union was the various forces of evil that spread throughout Creation. On Shabbat, Adam engaged in marital relations with his true wife, Eve.

Adam is the earthly personification of Zeir Anpin and Eve the personification of the Nukva of Zeir Anpin, so this whole episode reflects the spiritual process of Creation. As we said, on Friday Zeir Anpin will produce forces of evil unless we begin Shabbat earlier than the moment it technically begins in order to cut off these forces. Shabbat itself, especially the holy union of husband and wife (reflecting the union of G‑d and Israel, Zeir Anpin and Nukva) also serves to cut off the source of life-force of the forces of evil. By coupling with his mate, Nukva, Zeir Anpin is in a sense reuniting with the one-five-hundredth of his life-force she took from him in order to emerge as an independent partzuf from the womb of Imma. Thus, by sanctifying Shabbat, his "eyesight" is restored.

It could also be that the Arizal is here alluding to the statement of our Sages that improper issue of semen (i.e. other than to one's wife, and then only when she is permitted to him) diminishes a person's eyesight. Focusing on women other than one's wife is a misuse of the power of sight, and misusing one's G‑d-given powers weakens them. By focusing one's love and sexuality intensely on one's spouse, which, as we said, is the essence of Shabbat - the reunion of the Divine and earthly couple - one rectifies his power of eyesight, and its power is restored.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah, parashat Matot; 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.