[This is the first installment of a series.]

The portion of the Torah read this week begins:

"And G‑d said to Abram, 'Go forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you [there] into a great nation'…" (Gen. 12:1-2)

The Ari develops the following:

As we have explained in our exposition on the partzuf of Nukvah, it has existed in various states of development and union with Zeir Anpin from the time the world was created until the destruction of the Second Temple.

Although Zeir Anpin and Nukvah are undergoing constant changes regarding their stage and state of development and union, these changes occur in the context of specific time cycles or progressions. There is, for example, the daily cycle, the weekly cycle, the monthly cycle, and the yearly cycle, etc. All the changing natures of these times, which occasion the various religious observances associated with them (prayer, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, holidays, etc.) are caused by the changing states of development and coupling of these partzufim.

Zeir Anpin is the male and Nukvah is the female; their coupling produces "offspring" in the form of the divine beneficence that grants existence and proper functioning of reality. The more developed and unified they are, the more the world (and all worlds) are in a state of heightened spiritual consciousness and harmonious, productive functioning.

The Arizal will now discuss the dynamics of the development and relationship of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah in the context of history.

We will now discuss whether or not Zeir Anpin and Nukvah coupled before the era of the Patriarchs, or during their era.

Before Abraham was born, Zeir Anpin and Nukvah did not couple, for in those days, Zeir Anpin was in the "nursing"-stage and still consisted only of the six extremities; [mature] intellect had not yet entered it. And as is known, the drop of "male water" [i.e. semen] can be elicited only from the mind. Therefore there was until then no coupling of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah.

[A related article: Stages of the Soul.]

As Rabbi Wolf Ashkenazi points out, the Arizal is here referring to face-to-face coupling, since in order for the world to exist there has to be at least some type of coupling, however superficial, between Zeir Anpin and Nukvah. By way of analogy: if a married couple are not attuned to each other (let's say, because they are distracted by the exigencies of their careers/occupations) and their love for each other is very suppressed, they can still continue to keep their household running on "automatic pilot", communicating on only the most superficial level. But life in this house during this period will certainly be dull, dreary, and even somewhat oppressive. When their consciousness "matures" and they turn to each other in order to relate on a deeper level, the effect of this heightened type of relationship will spill over into all the element that make up life in their home. Only when a certain amount of brains has been acquired does a person become fertile…

In any case, while Abraham, i.e. Zeir Anpin, remained in the "nursing" stage, i.e. selfishly connected to Imma, he was concerned only with its own maturation process. (As we have seen previously, there are three stages of consciousness: fetal-consciousness, nursing-consciousness, and intellectual-consciousness.) The six "extremities" are the six sefirot from chesed to yesod, which, as we know, are the raw material out of which the partzuf of Zeir Anpin is built. Its metamorphosis from these six, separate sefirot into a full-fledged partzuf is marked by its acquisition of "brains", i.e. mature intellect in the form of the sub-sefirot of chochmah, bina, and daat. The intellect is what allows for a perspective higher than total self-orientation; it is prepared to acknowledge the existence and value of other beings.

Thus, only when a certain amount of "brains" has been acquired does a person become fertile. Sexual maturity is the indication of a deeper process, that of at least potential mental maturity, through which the individual should be prepared to behave in an intellectually and emotionally mature way toward another human being. (On an allegorical level, all interactions are "sexual" in nature.) Specifically, the presence of a "female" (i.e. recipient) to receive and reproduce his seminal essence can only inspire a person to couple with that "female" if he is mature enough to sense the value of propagating himself (or his ideas) for the benefit of the outside world.

(Of course, on the absolutely physical level, all this ideal conceptualization of sexuality is subordinated to the G‑d-implanted nature of male-female "mating" instincts necessary for the survival of the species. Still, from the way things operate on an animal-physical level we can deduce, especially with the help of the Torah's insights, the way things are supposed to work spiritually.) When Abraham was born, there started to be above an arousal toward the supernal coupling of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah

When Abraham was born, there started to be above an arousal toward the supernal coupling [of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah]. This is why he was named "Abram", for this name alludes to the coupling of yesod of Zeir Anpin, known as the "limb" [in Hebrew, "eiver"] with the yesod of its Nukvah, known as the final mem.

As the Midrash relates, Abraham was blessed from a very young age with the ability to see through the sham of idolatry that was prevalent in his time, and with a concomitant urge to seek the truth about the world and its relationship with G‑d. Inasmuch as our actions in this world can and do influence the dynamics of the upper worlds, this "consciousness-raising" prepared the way for reunion of G‑d and His creation, respectively personified in the partzufim of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah.

Abram is spelled alef-beit-reish-mem. The first three letters spell the word for "limb", and the last letter is a final mem. The "limb" refers to the male sexual organ, which corresponds to the yesod of Zeir Anpin, and the final, closed mem refers to the virginal female sexual organ. Abram's name thus alluded to the union of these two principles.

Nonetheless, the supernal coupling did not actually occur until Abraham went to the Land of Israel; only then was he able to effect the supernal coupling.

This, of course, is because the spiritual nature of the Land of Israel is conducive to G‑d consciousness, and Abraham was only able to achieve the level of consciousness required to influence the dynamics of the partzufim once he was there.

This is the mystical meaning of G‑d's command to Abraham: "Go forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you, and I will make you [there] into a great nation…." When he went to the Land of Israel, he caused Zeir Anpin to develop and mature into the level of "intellectual"-consciousness. It can then couple with its Nukvah.

Our sages state, "The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise." Thus, the maturation of consciousness that the Land of Israel induces in an individual is specifically that of intellect.

It follows that until this mature mentality entered Zeir Anpin, the partzuf of Leah was not revealed. This is because Leah emerges [from Zeir Anpin] only as a radiance of his mentality, as is know. Therefore, [until then,] all that was revealed was [the partzuf of] Rachel, which is known as "the lower land".

Jacob's two wives, Leah and Rachel, personify the two partzufim that develop as the Nukvah, or feminine correlate, of Zeir Anpin. Specifically, we know that Malchut in general is the principle of expression or medium, as opposed to Zeir Anpin, which is the content of the expression or the message within the medium. We also know that there are three modes of expression: thought, speech, and action. But action - in terms of consciousness - is more removed from the person than are his thought and speech.

Thought and speech are literally expressions of the idea in the person's head, voiced either in mental thought patterns or vocal words. Action is not as literal; I can perhaps deduce your ideas and philosophies from what you do, and to that extent your action is an expression of your idea, but it is not nearly as literal and exact as are thought and speech. (Action of course has its own advantage over thought and speech and is in some ways more eloquent, but that does not change the fact that it is less literal than the higher forms of expression.) Leah is the partzuf of thought, while Rachel is the partzuf of speech…

This difference between thought and speech on the one hand and action on the other is seen in the form of the letter hei, which signifies expression: the connected upper and right lines correspond to thought and speech while the disconnected left line corresponds to action.

In any case, thought and speech are the two initial and primary forms of expression, and malchut develops a separate partzuf for each. Leah is the partzuf of thought, while Rachel is the partzuf of speech. Abraham, evidently, could appreciate or achieve the divine consciousness that is "spoken" into the world, but could not relate to divine "thought" until he reached the Land of Israel. Only then did he achieve mental consciousness of G‑d, and this produced "thought".

Thus, the meaning of "Go forth from your land" is [that Abraham is to ascend higher than the consciousness of the "lower land", i.e. the partzuf of] Rachel.

Since Abraham's ascent occurs on the left axis [of the sefira-tree], it is said of him, "Go forth from your land," meaning the sefira of netzach at the bottom of this axis, which is close to malchut, which is called "your land," [as stated].

Each of the three patriarchs personified one of the three axes of the array of sefirot. Abraham personified the axis of chesed, loving-kindness.

left axis

center axis

right axis


1. keter


3. bina


2. chochmah




5. gevura


4. chesed


6. tiferet


8. hod


7. netzach


9. yesod


10. malchut


The lowest station on this axis is the sefira of netzach.

This structural array of the sefirot enables us to understand certain aspects of their inter-relationships. We note that there are three triads here, chochmah-bina-daat, chesed-gevura-tiferet, and netzach-hod-yesod. The role played by each "right-member", "left-member", and "center-member" of these triads is similar to the corresponding member in the other triads. In our case, chochmah, chesed, and netzach are all right-members, or "male" principles relative to their respective left-members. In this sense, netzach can be considered a projection of chesed onto the plane of active relationship; chesed can be considered a projection of chochmah onto the plane of emotion, and so forth.

He ascended to chesed, which is referred to in this verse as "your birthplace". [Chesed is called "birthplace"] because any drop of fertile seed is from chesed, which is "hidden in the mouth of Imma," as is known. In Abraham's time, the principle maturation of intellect occurred in the brain of chochmah

Although we said above that intellect is prerequisite for procreation, this does not of course negate the additional necessity for attraction, or ideally, love. In fact, if the intellect is functioning properly and there are no obstructions, it will naturally produce the emotional response appropriate to the intellectual understanding (Imma). In this case, the appreciation for the rectification of reality accomplished by "being fruitful and multiplying" one's divine self throughout reality, and the essential role played by the "female" in this process will bring the individual to appreciate, be attracted to, and love the "female".

He then ascended further from "your birthplace," i.e. chesed, to chochmah, which is referred to in this verse as "your father's house" because chochmah is the father of Abraham, who personifies chesed.

Chochma is situated directly above chesed on the sefira-tree since it is the source of chesed. Just as chochmah is the male-principle of the intellect, chesed is the male-principle of the emotions.

Once Zeir Anpin's mentality of chochmah has been developed, Abraham is commanded to "go…to the land that I will show you". This refers to Leah, the "supernal land", which only then becomes visible and revealed, and not before the development of the intellect, as mentioned.

Now, as we explained elsewhere, the coupling [of Zeir Anpin and Nukvah] that occurs on Rosh Chodesh is only at the level of netzach, that which occurs on Rosh HaShanah is only at the level of gevura, and similarly with regard to the other festivals, each one being different from the next. It was similar in the days of the Patriarchs.

Just like there are different types of coupling between the partzufim throughout the cycle of the year, so too, there was a progression in the level and type of sefirotic coupling that occurred parallel to the development of G‑d consciousness in the patriarchal family.

For in Abraham's time, the principle maturation of intellect occurred in the brain of chochmah, which is juxtaposed to chesed, which is personified by Abraham. Therefore, all the [supernal] coupling that occurred in his time was only in a manner of chesed. This is the mystical meaning of the statement, "I will make you into a great nation" [i.e. only you, chesed], for the maturation [i.e. becoming great] occurred in his times only in the brain of chochmah. Abraham and Isaac…each personified necessary stages in the development of the idea of the Jewish people…

Afterwards, in the time of Isaac, the brain of bina matured, for it is on the left axis, juxtaposed to gevura, which is personified by Isaac. Therefore, all the [supernal] coupling that occurred in his time was only in a manner of gevura.

Finally, in the time of Jacob, the brain of daat was rectified, and then all three brains were fully mature, and there was complete coupling and reproduction. This is the mystical meaning of our sages' statement that Jacob's "bed was perfect", meaning that the [supernal] coupling that occurred in his time was a complete expression of all three aspects of the intellect.

Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac was worthy to become one of the forefathers of the Jewish people, but Ishmael was not. He personified a fallen version of his father's chesed. This false chesed is the desire to please other people for egocentric ends, or excessive indulgence in the delights of this world. Similarly, Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob was worthy to continue the line, but Esau personified a fallen version of Isaac's gevura. This fallen gevura is the violence and murder. In contrast, all of Jacob's sons were considered worthy to carry on the line and serve as ancestors of the Jewish people. This is the simple meaning of the Sages' statement that "his bed was perfect".

Kabbalistically, the reason Abraham and Isaac produced unworthy offspring was because of their own psychological imbalances. These imbalances did not imply any error on their part, since each personified necessary stages in the development of the idea of the Jewish people, but their consequences were nonetheless such as they were.

For the second section of this presentation, The Love of Abraham, please click here.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim; 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.