In the beginning of Parashat Devarim, Moses begins his farewell address to the Jewish people before his death. As part of this address, he rebukes them for having sinned. Although when they first left Egypt, G‑d was rushing them through the desert in order to enter the land of Israel as quickly as possible, their sins caused Him to prolong their stay in the desert for forty years. A sign of how fast they were originally traveling is the fact that, "it is eleven days [travel] from Horeb via Mt. Seir to Kadesh Barnea" (Deut. 1:2; see Rashi ad loc.) but they miraculously traversed this distance in three days.

The mystical interpretation of this verse is as follows:

[These eleven days] correspond to the seven primordial kings that died and the four backs of Abba and Imma.

As we know, the seven kings of Edom are the physical correlate to the seven lower sefirot of Tohu whose vessels shattered. This was the origin of evil, i.e. "separate-consciousness" as opposed to "divine consciousness". The lower worlds (Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya) were constructed out of the fragments of these vessels, and thus are realms of increasingly non-divine-oriented consciousness.

Eleven, however, indicates an excess, a…wasting of divine energy….

In the collapse of the world of Tohu, not only did the seven lower, emotional sefirot shatter. The sefirot of the intellect suffered a less drastic fall as well. As we have explained previously, the reason they did not shatter completely is because of the difference between intellect and emotion. Intellect, being more abstract, is not an experience of self-assertion as much as emotion is. The sefirot of the intellect, therefore, did not clash with each other to the extent that the sefirot of the emotions did. However, since the overall tone of the world of Tohu is one of self-assertion and self-orientation, the external, or "back" of the intellectual sefirot of chochma and bina did clash somewhat and in the process lose some of their intensity, or "fall". The reason why there are four "backs" of these two sefirot is because they exist both in their totally abstract forms (which evolve in the next world, Atzilut, into the partzufim of Abba and Imma) and their more "applied" forms (which evolve in Atzilut into the partzufim of Yisrael Saba and Tevuna).

Thus, we have a total of eleven fallen elements: the four partial collapses of the intellect and the seven total collapses of the emotions.

These [eleven fallen elements] are the source of these eleven days.

The number eleven is especially significant because it is one more than ten. Ten signifies holiness, the complete functioning unit of the ten sefirot. The array of ten sefirot is perfectly balanced and when operating as intended is the channel for the transmission and distribution of holiness (G‑d-consciousness) throughout reality.

Eleven, however, indicates and excess, a spillage, an over-doing or wasting of divine energy. To explain this we will digress briefly from this text and quote another passage from the Arizal's teachings: (Etz Chaim 11:10)

The significance of the eleven ingredients of the incense, the eleven goat-skin overhangings [of the Tabernacle], and the eleven curses in Parashat Ki Tavo [is as follows]:

There are ten kelipot of Nogah.

Kelipot are layers of evil. Nogah is the realm of evil that is "neutral", i.e. consciousness that is simply "non-Divine" as opposed to "anti-Divine".

They possess holy life-force, which enlivens them.

The divine life-force…hovers over their heads, and shines onto them from there….

In order for anything to exist, even evil, it must have some G‑dly life-force in it, i.e. some will from G‑d to keep it in existence. The difference, then, between evil and holiness is as follows:

As regards the ten holy sefirot, the [Divine] life-force [that enlivens them] is absorbed within them, and thus they are counted only as ten.

Since holiness is G‑d-consciousness, the holy sefirot are not an existential contradiction to G‑d's will, so G‑d's enlivening energy can become part of them.

But with regard to the kelipot, the [Divine] life-force [enlivening them] cannot be absorbed within them, because the holy does not mix with the profane. Rather, it hovers over their heads, and shines onto them from there. Together they are thus regarded as eleven [entities].

Since evil is by definition antithetical to G‑d-consciousness, it cannot "host" divine life-force.

This is the [mystical] meaning of [the statement of our sages]: "Whoever adds, detracts." (Sanhedrin 29a )

We return now to our original text.

[These eleven days] are "via Mt. Seir", this being the mystery of the kings of Edom.

The eleven fallen levels produce, as we have noted, the existence of evil in the lower worlds….

The eleven fallen levels produce, as we have noted, the existence of evil in the lower worlds ("lower" meaning "below Atzilut"). Mt. Seir is the abode of Esau, the wicked brother of Jacob, the progenitor of the kingdom of Edom. "Edom" in Hebrew means "red", and is thus associated with bloodshed and bloodlust, just as Esau chose to be a hunter rather than a farmer. Edom eventually produced the nation of Rome, which destroyed the holy Temple, decimated the Jewish people, and exiled them from their land.

These [eleven fallen levels also] give rise to the eleven overhangings of goat-skin.

The word "seir" in Hebrew means "goat". Although goats are kosher animals and were offered as sacrifices in the Temple, the Torah also makes reference to "goat-devils" (Lev. 17:7; Isaiah 13:21) associating the goat with evil. Thus, the eleven goat-skin overhangings in the Tabernacle signify the "shell" nature of evil. The shell is the inedible part of the nut or fruit, and must be discarded. On the other hand, the shell performs a vital function in that it protects the nut or fruit while it is growing, just as ego and selfishness help a child develop a necessary sense of self before he graduates to a mature consciousness of selflessness. Thus, the goat, again, has its place in the Temple, both as an offering and as a protective covering.

Now, in order that the "day" shine out of the night - i.e. that the [sparks of holiness inherent in evil be liberated through the] process of separation accomplished [by our proper use of physicality] - the Destruction had to take place.

The purpose of the creation of evil is so that these high-energy sparks of Tohu can be released from their non-holy context and made part of the holy order. Thus, holiness acquires an added energy and impetus that it does not possess otherwise. This is known as bringing "the lights of Tohu into the vessels of Tikun".

Thus, any descent in level is ultimately for the purpose of a subsequent ascent, in order to capitalize on the latent energy implicit in the lower level and harness it for goodness and holiness.

This is the mystical meaning of this verse: There are eleven "days" from "Horeb", meaning that issued from the dregs of the Destruction. As our sages said, that G‑d was building and destroying worlds [before He created our world].

The word "Horeb" ("Chorev" in Hebrew) means "destruction". The beginning of the verse thus means that the revelation ("days") of divinity we are striving to bring about is made possible by the eleven fallen levels of the destroyed world of Tohu.

These previous versions of the world were…created and then destroyed….

In the Midrash, we are told that the fact that the Torah records that G‑d pronounced this world "good" when He created it implies that He had been creating and destroying other "versions" of it before finally settling on this one, which He considered "good" relative to them. According to Kabbala, this does not mean (G‑d forbid) that G‑d had to go through various "tries" until He got it right; rather, these previous versions of the world were the preparatory stages of Creation (Akudim, Nekudim, Tohu, etc.) that were imperfect but necessary precursors to this world. They were created and then destroyed so that the ruins of their destruction would linger as the existential constituents of our present reality, giving it its potential for elevation to levels higher than its own origin.

The verse alludes to the fact that our redemption is dependent upon [the process of effecting] these "days" [i.e. revelations caused by the elevation of the sparks], as is known. For [the Redemption will not occur] until all the "souls" are released from the "body" of evil, and ascend every day into holiness.

Our sages state, "The son of David [meaning the Mashiach] will not come until all the souls have been emptied out of the Body, (Yevamot 62a) referring to the celestial storehouse of souls. (This is one reason why religious Jews seek to have as many children as possible.) Here, this phrase is being used allegorically, the "souls" meaning the sparks of holiness hidden within the coarse "body" of evil.

This is alluded to by the words "until Kadesh", meaning, until they ascend and become sanctified to come afterwards into this world as "weekday souls", as is known.

Kadesh means "holiness". [This sentence may mean that the sparks of holiness liberated by our involvement with the physical world become somehow embodied in the souls of the children conceived by marital relations conducted on weekdays (as opposed to on Shabbat). But I have to verify this. - Rabbi Wisnefsky]

The verse ends with the word "Barnea", indicating that these sparks wander back and forth all throughout the exile until their final elevation and redemption, may it be speedily, in our days.

The word "Barnea" is here allegorically interpreted to mean "one who wanders" (bar-na [v'nad]).

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim 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.