Also the divine name Elokim [related to bina, here in the Torah's opening verse] from the time that it is mentioned, brought out the next thirteen words in the Torah to surround Knesset Yisrael and to guard her.

And after this it [the name Elokim] is mentioned another time: "And the spirit of Elokim hovered..." (Gen. 1:2) Why is it mentioned another time? In order to give out five sepals to surround the rose. And these five are called "salvations", and they are five gates. And concerning this secret, it is written, "The cup of salvations shall I shall raise." (Psalms 116:13) - This is the cup of blessing. The cup of blessing is required to be upon five fingers and no more - just like the rose which rests on five sepals that are like the five fingers. And the rose - this is the cup of blessing. (Zohar I, Intro. pg 1)

In this and the following section of the introduction the Zohar delves briefly into the opening verses of the Torah. (Obviously the Zohar goes into much greater depth and exploration in its commentary on parashat Bereishit.) The immediate focus is on the creation of the Thirteen Paths of Mercy and the five loving-kindnesses (chasadim) through the enclothing of the words between each instance of the divine name "Elokim"and the frequency of the word "light". There is also the interplay between the creation of spiritual vessels and the divine flow into and out of them.

"Elokim…": Prior to understanding the Elokim-bina interplay, we must briefly preface an idea mentioned in the commentator's introduction. The interrelationships of divine names and sefirot must always be understood within a specific context…

Using a musical parable let us consider a note. In terms of one song or scale it possesses one type of sound and meaning. The very same note when heard in a different song or scale blends in a completely different way. So, too, the interrelationships of divine names and sefirot must always be understood within a specific context. In one place, a divine name will be linked to a particular sefira or symbolic representation. In another place the same divine name will be linked in a completely different way. Thus we learn how to attune our spiritual ear to hear the divine song of the world in terms of each specific aspect.

The name "Elokim" is sometimes used to mean a judge (see Ex. 22.7). Therefore, this divine name always identifies with the sefirot of the left side. The sefira of bina is eighth up in the structure. It therefore represents the source level of the days of Creation, which come from the seven lower sefirot. In this context, "Elokim" is explained by the Zohar as a creative force, hence the identification with bina.

Previously we stated that the Thirteen Paths originate from keter. Here we see that these thirteen paths arise from Elokim-bina, the creative force of these thirteen words. This is not contradictory because even though keter is the hidden source of these qualities, they can be revealed through a number of ways. Here, the first time that "Elokim"is mentioned, these thirteen paths shine from keter to malchut via bina.

"The next thirteen words…": These are: (1 and 2) "the Heavens", (3 and 4) "and the earth", (5) "and the earth", (6) "was", (7) "chaos", (8) "and void", (9) "and darkness", (10) "was upon", (11) "the face", (12) "of the abyss", (13) "and the spirit of…". (Gen. 1:2)

"In order to give out five sepals…": These correspond to five loving-kindnesses (in Hebrew, "chasadim") that bina produces to further protect the Shechina-malchut . These five derive from five of bina's ten sefirot, namely chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, and hod.

"And these five are called 'salvations'…": This is because they save her from the kelipot.

The need for malchut to have a second safeguard is because the kelipot attack in a variety of ways. This can be compared to an army base that is protected by walls, barricades and roadblocks. So, too, is malchut, so to speak, protected on all flanks. Chesed is the motion of expansion…

Chesed and gevura correspond to the right and left sides of the sefira structure. One way of explaining the chesed-gevura relationship is that chesed is the motion of expansion, such as light outward, whereas gevura is the motion of restriction, such as the restriction of that same light within a specific boundary. However, when judgment overextends its dominion over the light, the result is a complete concealment of holiness, which gives strength to the kelipot.

Thus the strength of the kelipot expresses itself in the effort to make the quality of judgment dominate over the quality of loving-kindness. This is one way that the kelipot wage war against the side of holiness.

What countermeasures are built into the system to prevent the victory of the kelipot? These are the Thirteen Paths of Mercy and the five loving-kindnesses, and this is how they work:

The Thirteen Paths give power to the light-loving-kindnesses of malchut , strengthening them over her judgments. This is called in Kabbala "sweetening the judgments". This saves malchut from the kelipot. If, however, the judgments are sometimes too strong to be sweetened, then these five loving-kindnesses come to the rescue. This can be compared to cinnamon which on its own is bitter (representing judgment). The proper amount of sugar (representing loving-kindness) will sweeten it. If however there is too much cinnamon, the sugar won't ameliorate it. You would then need to add honey to sweeten it. Therefore the five loving-kindnesses are called sepals because they protect malchut where the thirteen petals aren't enough. The rose protects its vulnerable inner parts with thirteen petals and an outer casing of five stronger petals…

Now the Zohar's analogy comes into full focus. The rose protects its vulnerable inner parts with thirteen petals and an outer casing of five stronger petals. In the same way the Thirteen Paths of Mercy and the five chasadim protect the balance of judgment and loving-kindness within malchut. It is this mechanism of balance which protects from the kelipot.

"…and they are five gates": Bina is the eighth sefira from the bottom. Thus it is one step above the natural world, which was created in seven days from the lower seven sefirot. Therefore the sefirot of bina are called "gates" because they are openings to the realm above.

"And concerning this secret it is written, 'the cup of salvations shall I raise.'":

The "cup of salvations" refers to the ritual cup of blessing which is filled up with wine, and over which benedictions are recited (e.g. for Kiddush, Havdala, etc.).

The allusion here is to the "cup" (i.e. "vessel") of malchut being raised up (i.e. protected by) the five fingers (chasadim). The cup, which is a vessel, is filled up with wine. Metaphorically malchut is filled up with the "wine" of the sefirot above. It is then raised signifying its being taken out of reach of the kelipot.

The Hebrew word for cup, "kos" has the numerical value of 86. This is the same numerical value as the divine name Elokim, which corresponds to malchut. The entire Zohar is from sod, and therefore learning it saves the soul…

As the Zohar is referring here to the cup of blessing filled with wine, it is worth mentioning that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for "wine", "yayin", is 70 - exactly the same as the Hebrew word for "secret", "sod". "Sod" is the deepest level of understanding Torah and corresponds to the Kabbala. Therefore, one who drinks this vintage wine merits salvation. The entire Zohar is from sod, and therefore learning it saves the soul. Indeed the Zohar teaches in reference to itself: "With this book they will go out of exile."

"…upon five fingers": The cup of blessing is held in the right hand, the side of loving-kindness. Its five fingers therefore represent the five loving-kindnesses.

"…and not more": This means without help from the left hand, which is the side of judgment.

"And the rose…": As mentioned above, the rose is likened to Knesset Yisrael, which in turn corresponds to malchut . The cup of blessing also corresponds to malchut.

[This series became the basis for the recently compiled "Zohar - translation and commentary" by Peretz Auerbach. Part One has just become available as an e-book.]