We must understand why, with regard to the seven [Canaanite] nations, G‑d commanded us "you shall leave no soul alive", whereas with regard to Seir, Moab, and Ammon, He commanded us not to attack them.

In the book of Genesis, G‑d promises to Abraham the land of Canaan, which comprises the territory of ten nations: the Kenites, the Kenizites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Refaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. (Gen. 15:19-21) The first three were synonymous with the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites.

We will inherit the land of the other three nations in the future….

In the time of Moses, however, whenever the Torah lists the peoples of Canaan whose land G‑d will give to the Jewish people, only the last seven of these ten are mentioned. Thus, our sages note, G‑d only gave the latter seven nations to the Jews in the time of Moses, and we will inherit the land of the other three nations in the future, when Mashiach comes. (Bereishit Rabba 44:23) The Jewish people are commanded to entirely wipe out these seven nations: "Of the cities of these peoples whom G‑d is giving you to inherit, you shall leave no soul alive. Rather, you must wipe them out: the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, as G‑d has commanded you." (Deut. 20:16-17)

In the portion of the Torah read this week, Moses reviews the journeys on which he led the Jewish people on their way to the threshold of the Land of Israel. They were told by G‑d not to wage war against the descendents of Esau, who inhabited Mt. Seir (ibid. 2:2-8) or to wage war against Moab (ibid. 2:9) or Ammon. (ibid. 2:17-19) In contrast, they were commanded to fight and conquer the two Amorite kings, Sichon (ibid. 2:24-25,31) and Og (ibid. 3:2).

The seven nations are the earthly manifestations of the seven evils….

The explanation is that the seven nations are [the earthly manifestations of] the seven evils, i.e. the vessels that broke. Thus, all the holiness [that was originally in them] has left them.

In the world of Tohu, which collapsed, the full breakage of the vessels occurred only in the seven lower sefirot, from chesed to malchut. When the vessels of these sefirot broke, they could contain nothing of the holy "lights" that had been in them. These lights therefore left the vessels, and the broken vessels fell into the lower worlds, becoming the source of all the egocentricity and evil of these worlds.

[Some of] the holiness remained, however, in first three [sefirot]. The [earthly manifestations of these sefirot] were the Kenites, the Kenizites, and the Kadmonites.

In the first three sefirot of Tohu, the vessels were more spiritual than they were in the lower seven sefirot. This is simply because emotions, the lower seven sefirot, are much more subjective than intellect or super-intellect (the first three sefirot). Therefore, even though there was no inter-inclusion amongst the sefirot in the world of Tohu (this being the reason why the vessels broke, as we have explained previously), this was not so crucial in the case of the first three sefirot. Their essential natures were not as self-assertive and exclusive of other natures, as were those of the seven lower sefirot.

Since the shattered fragments of the emotions (middot) of Tohu are embedded in our world, we can refine them and elevate them. This we do whenever we refine our animal natures, and the completion of this process will usher in the Messianic Era. Since, however, the intellect and super-intellect of Tohu did not break and did not become embedded in the existential fabric of our order of existence, we cannot refine it.

In the [messianic] future, the holiness will completely depart [these sefirot], and thus we will then be commanded to "leave no soul alive" of them, as well.

The elevation and refinement of the intellect and super-intellect of Tohu will occur only in the messianic future, when we will be able to eliminate the negative aspects of these sefirot as well.

These [three nations] are synonymous with Seir, Ammon, and Moab. Seir alludes to the first [sefira, keter], as it is written, "and the he-goat [in Hebrew, "seir"] is the king…" (Daniel 8:21)

"Keter" literally means "crown" and is thus the sign of kingship. Seir, the southernmost of the three kingdoms on the far side of the Jordan, thus signifies keter, or the super-intellect, of Tohu.

Moab means "from the father" [in Hebrew, "mei-av"] and thus alludes to chochma.

Emotions…possess their own roots and origins within the pre-conscious mind….

Lot's daughter conceived her son by her own father. When she named him, she expressed this in the name she gave him, since Moab means "from the father". The people of Moab descended from this incestuous union. Abba ("father") is the partzuf of chochma and thus this nation alludes to the chochma of Tohu. Moab was situated immediately north of the kingdom of Seir, and the Jewish people, traveling northward from the Sinai desert, encountered them immediately after their encounter with the Edomites in Seir.

[The name] Ammon [permutes to spell] "noam" [which means "pleasantness"], alluding to bina.

The insight of chochma, since it is abstracted from any contextual relationship to the individual's way of thinking, is not accompanied by any sense of conscious pleasure or joy. (There is a sublime, only semi-conscious sense of pleasure, but it is as abstract and ephemeral as the insight itself.) This occurs only when the insight is integrated into the existing mental structure, which is the function of bina. The new, higher perception of reality that is produced engenders a sensation of pleasure and happiness. In a similar fashion, we are taught that the liquid that corresponds to chochma is water, while that which corresponds to bina is wine.

Ammon was situated immediately north of Moab, and the Jewish people passed by their land immediately after they passed by the kingdom of Moab.

Now, Seir is Edom (See Gen. 32:4, 36:9; Deut. 2:5). The seven kings who ruled there were not from that land, they just ruled over it. This is indicated by the fact that each one is mentioned together with the country he came from, since they themselves were not from Edom.

We just identified Seir with keter of Tohu, which did not break. Yet the "seven kings of Edom" are always identified with the seven lower sefirot of Tohu, which did break. The Arizal solves this by saying that the "seven kings of Edom" ruled in that country but were not actually from it. Thus, Edom itself does indeed signify keter of Tohu. The fact that foreign kings occupied the territory of Edom before its kingdom was properly established would indicate the strong connection between the super-intellect (or subconscious) and the emotions. As we are taught in Chasidut, although the emotions are revealed and guided by the intellect, they possess their own roots and origins within the pre-conscious mind (i.e. keter).

Now, when the Torah describes how the Jewish people were not to wage war against Ammon and Moab, it points out that these lands were formerly occupied by the Refaim. Thus, it might be assumed that their territory was indeed part of that of the seven nations the Jews were meant to conquer in Moses' time, since, as we pointed out above, the Refaim were one of these seven. The Torah, however, points out that this is not the case, and that G‑d gave these territories of the Refaim to other parts of Abraham's family, i.e. the nations descended from the sons of Lot (Ammon and Moab).

In the course of this discussion, the Torah makes mention of the fact that the Refaim who formerly occupied the land of Moab were also called Eimites (Deut. 2:10-11), and those who formerly occupied the land of Ammon were also called Zamzumites (Deut. 2:20).

The Zamzumites personified the evil portion of chochma [of Tohu] that was removed, as it is written, "as he schemed" [in Hebrew, "zamam"] (Deut. 19:19). The Mixed Multitude is [spiritually] derived from them, as well as anyone who has evil thoughts or fancies.

The name "Zamzumites" is etymologically related to the word for "scheme" ["zamam"]. They thus personified the fallen, corrupt version or use of insight, i.e. scheming and plotting evil.

We said above that Ammon signified the bina of Tohu. So, either the Arizal here means to include the Eimites together with his mention of the Zamzumites as former inhabitants of the lands associated with the intellect of Tohu, or he is referring to the process of how chochma enters and informs bina, i.e. that the Zamzumites actually hail from chochma but they settled the land of bina.

The mitzva of circumcision is intended to sever the Jew from his egocentric, material orientation….

In any case, this perversion of intellect is the source of all evil thoughts and fancies, as well as of the distorted way of thinking associated with the Mixed Multitude. The Mixed Multitude were the Egyptian converts that accompanied the Jewish people on their exodus from Egypt. Since their motives for conversion were not pure (they were impressed by the victory of the Jews over the Egyptians rather than the merits of monotheism over idolatry), they were the cause of much of the suffering the Jews underwent in their desert trek. The first and most heinous of these instances was that of the Golden Calf, which was in essence a warped vision of the role of Moses as the intermediate between G‑d and Israel.

The fact that these nations (Edom, Moab, and Ammon) were not to be engaged in conflict indicates, as we said, that until Mashiach comes we do not possess the power to rectify the wild, unrectified intellect and super-intellect of Tohu. We are thus taught in Chasidut that when untoward thoughts enter our minds, we must not attempt to elevate them or refine them, but simply push them away and bypass them, just as we passed by the lands of these nations without engaging in any conflict. We are bidden to rectify our emotions, however (as signified by the seven Canaanite nations), by utilizing our intellects to meditate and contemplate life in such a way that engenders proper emotions and emotional responses.

The Arizal now turns to discuss the two nations that Moses and the Jewish people were allowed and even bidden to conquer. These were actually two branches of one kingdom, that of the Amorites, which, as we saw above, were one of the seven nations.

[The name] "Sichon" is etymologically related to the word for "young donkey" ["sayach"] (See Rosh HaShanah 3a). [He personified] the type of evil identified with the donkey, which is also identified with the foreskin over the [organ of] circumcision.

The Hebrew word for "donkey", "chamor", is related to the word for "material" ("chomer") and "materialism" ("chumriut"). Sichon is thus the personification of gross materialism, or the desire for sensual gratification.

The mitzva of circumcision is intended to sever the Jew from his egocentric, material orientation and thereby prepare him and make his suitable for the pursuit of spirituality and holiness. As is explained in Chasidut, the presence of the foreskin renders sexual relations more immediately personally gratifying, but desensitizes the individual to the experience of his wife. Sexual relations thus remain an essentially narcissistic experience. The removal of the foreskin puts the individual more directly in contact with his wife, and thus he shares her experience as well. This, of course, serves to spiritualize and therefore augment the sensual experience in ways not possible in the narrow, egocentric context.

The removal of the foreskin, i.e. the propensity toward gross, self-oriented materialism, thus sensitizes the individual to the presence of an other person, and ultimately, readies him for encounter with the ultimate Other, G‑d.

Og, in contrast, [personified the type of evil] identified with the mucous membrane which covers the [organ of] circumcision. As it is written, "he drew a circle" ["ag ugah"] (Taanit 23a) This is a particularly difficult form of evil [to deal with] inasmuch as it is very close to holiness.

The olive tree signifies the sefira of yesod….

The name "Og" (spelled ayin-gimel) is etymologically related to the root ayin-vav-gimel or ayin-gimel-gimel, which means, "to form a circle". Thus, it refers to the mucous membrane which encircles the glans of the penis underneath the foreskin, and which must also be peeled back as part of the rite of circumcision. The removal of the foreskin is called "mila" (meaning "cutting") and the removal of the mucous membrane is called "pria"(meaning "peeling" back).

This membrane is obviously much more subtle and delicate than the coarse foreskin. It therefore embodies a much more abstract, delicate form of evil that is therefore much more difficult to root out than the usual, coarse evil. In Chasidut it is explained that the foreskin signifies the evil that exists in the outer dimension of the heart, while the mucous membrane signifies the evil that exists in the inner dimension of the heart. The evil of the outer dimension of the heart is the individual's gross lust for material and sensual forms of pleasure and gratification.

These two kings [Sichon and Og] were the kings of the Amorites. This kingdom personified the sefira of yesod, as it is written, "two and three berries on the head of the uppermost bough". (Isaiah 17:6; Sanhedrin 95b )

The preceding phrase reads: "Only gleanings shall be left of it, as when one beats an olive tree: two or three berries on the topmost branch…" The olive tree signifies the sefira of yesod. The condensed essence of any thing is considered the "oil" of that thing, and yesod is the condensed essence of the preceding five sefirot, as we have explained previously. Yesod is associated in human anatomy with the male organ of procreation, and man's vital seed is considered his condensed essence, capable of reproducing him. Thus, the two Amorite kings, Sichon and Og, personify the two layers covering the sefira of yesod that must be eliminated in order for the Jewish people (and each individual Jew) to reveal their innate sensitivity to each other as well as to G‑d, and thus be prepared to enter the holy Land of Israel.

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