In this week's Torah reading, G‑d gives the Ten Commandments, the second of which reads:

"You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them and you shall not serve them, for I, Havayah, your G‑d, am a jealous G‑d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those that hate Me, but doing kindness to the two thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Ex. 20:3-6)

All souls are composed of good and evil, due to the sin of Adam, as we have explained.

When Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, good and evil became intermingled in his soul (and in reality in general). Prior to this, the difference between good and evil was clear, and man's soul contained no admixture of evil, meaning that his perception was totally clear and unclouded by subjective ego.

There are those whose souls are mostly evil and contain only a little good, and there are those in whom the opposite is the case….

But [this is true for every soul] in accordance with its level. There are those [whose souls] are mostly evil and contain only a little good, and there are those in whom the opposite is the case. There are many gradations within this spectrum, but "there is no righteous person on earth that does good and never sins" (Eccl. 7:20), for everyone is composed of [both] good and evil, as we have said.

One who is mostly evil is termed "wicked", and one who is the opposite is termed "righteous".

Now, regarding a wicked person, every incarnation [his soul] undergoes in order to be refined increases the [proportion of] evil [in his soul] beyond what it was in his previous incarnation. Therefore, the refinement process [of wicked people] is completed [relatively] quickly, i.e. in only four "generations".

Each incarnation is called a "generation". The purpose of reincarnation in this context is to let the wicked person run the course of his wicked path, so the refinement and separation of good from evil can be accomplished.

Thus, the good in them is separated out and is given to one who is worthy of it, becoming part of the root of [this latter person's] soul, as our sages said, "If he merits, he takes both his portion and his fellow's portion in the Garden of Eden" (Chagigah 15a), and [only] the complete evil remains in him, all of which is pure refuse. He [thus] is doomed to destruction, and has no hope whatsoever, since he [no longer] possesses any spark of goodness.

G‑d…lets them be reincarnated up to 2000 times….

But of those who are mostly good, i.e. righteous people, the inverse is true. Each time they are reincarnated, they become purer than they were the previous time. But since perforce, they must commit some new sin in each incarnation, they must be reincarnated [many times] until they fulfill all 613 commandments and correct all the sins they committed in their previous lifetimes. Therefore, the number of incarnations they must undergo gets drawn out, up to 2,000. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation (Ex. 34:7), meaning that G‑d leads them through up to four incarnations. In the second incarnation they are termed the "children" of the first incarnation, [and so forth]. [By the end of the process] they require no more rectification at all.

This means that the good in them has been totally extracted and given to someone worthy of it.

But all this applies only to "those who hate Me", i.e. to those who are completely wicked. For the righteous,1 even though they sin, G‑d does them this kindness, that he lets them be reincarnated up to 2000 times. It is to this that the verse, "[but doing kindness to the two thousandth generation of] those who love Me and keep My commandments" refers.

The Arizal will now explain the significance of the number 2000 in this context.

Regarding these two thousand [generations], their significance is found in what we explained in Shaar Ruach HaKodesh (and Shaar HaYechudim 3; Shaar HaKavanot, introduction to the discourses on Rosh HaShanah 90b - regarding a specific meditation based on the verse Ex. 34:7 - "preserving kindness unto two thousand generations"). We explained there that "the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19; Psalms 68:23), i.e. the realm of evil, draw sustenance from two divine names that both begin with the letter alef, namely: Ado-nai and Elokim, which are the forces of the sources of judgment.

Ado-nai and Elokim are associated with the sefirot of malchut and bina, respectively.

Bina is the principle of judgment in the intellect, which sifts through the implications, applications, and ramifications of the insight of chochma, evaluating them in terms of the mind's existing mentality and deciding which of them should be accepted or rejected (as illusions), and which aspects of the existing mentality have to be revised or discarded in wake of the new insight.

Malchut is sovereignty, or the power to rule over the lower world that is born out of this sefira. Creating and sustaining a lower world is a process of limitation of the preceding world.

When, because of ego, judgment is taken beyond its useful limit, it becomes intolerance or anger, which produces evil results.

The word "alef", in addition to being the name of the first letter of the alphabet, means "thousand". Thus, the two alef's that begin these two divine names can be seen as two thousands. In the phrase "preserving kindness unto two thousand generations", the word for "two thousand generations" ["alafim"] literally means "thousands". Thus, the two "thousands" alluded to by the two alef's that begin these two names refer to the 2000 generations of which we have spoken.

In holiness, their manifestation is called "the thousands" and is referred to in the phrase "preserving kindness unto two thousand generations". The righteous are judged from these names.

In evil, their manifestation is called "the depths of the sea" or "appallingly [in Hebrew, 'pelaim']". The descent of the completely wicked there [to be destroyed] in evil is referred to in the verse "and she sank appallingly" (Lamentations 1:9), the opposite of "thousands".

"Pelaim" is spelled: pei-lamed-alef-yud-mem.

The word for "thousands" ["alafim"] is spelled alef-lamed-pei-yud-mem.

Most people who choose to defy the Torah's definition of good do so out of ignorance or socially ingrained prejudice….

The yud-mem that ends these two words is a suffix that makes the word the masculine-plural. Thus, the main, first three letters of these two words are the inverse of each other. The opposite of the holy two alef's is the adverb "appallingly", which describes the descent of the completely wicked person into destruction.

It should be noted that the Arizal here has said a few times that what he describes as happening to the wicked happens only to the "completely wicked". That is, the whole four-incarnation process that serves to rid the wicked person of any residual good so that he can be destroyed completely only begins once a person has already exercised his free will and chosen the path of explicit evil. This is the person described in ch. 11 of Tanya as the "completely wicked person", "who never regrets and to whom thoughts of repentence never occur…for the evil in his soul is all that remains, inasmuch as it has so overcome the good that [the good] has departed from within him and only hovers over him from above", so to speak. Having exercised his free choice to do only evil, the wicked person is simply led down the path he has chosen.

In the Final Redemption, no one will be left behind….

So it is clear that such a person is rare, indeed, and it could be argued that such people don't even exist nowadays, since most people who choose to defy the Torah's definition of good do so out of ignorance or socially ingrained prejudice against religiosity. Even in the classic case of a "completely wicked person", however, the situation is not so absolute. The classic case of a person who chose wickedness and was punished by being made to choose more wickedness was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. But even in his case, the Rebbe points out that had he exerted himself to choose good, repent, and overcome G‑d's decree against him, he could have. Even in the extreme case described in the Tanya, the "completely wicked person" still has some connection to goodness that "hovers over him from above" and is therefore in some way accessable to him.

It could be that, since the process the Arizal describes here only takes four incarnations, that such evil people have alreadly all been dealt with and are an extinct species, so to speak. Finally, we are taught that in the Final Redemption, no one will be left behind, as it is written, "…who makes plans so that no one may be kept banished." (Samuel II 14:14)

This article is continued in Part 2 (click here).

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]