Darkness before light
Though in another article1 we noted that the three missions in Vayishlach, Beshalach, andShlach were failures and that the conclusion is that some things should be done directly, not through an emissary, this does not mean that they were a complete waste and it would have been better if they would have never occurred. Instead, each of these missions, with its failed result, was a necessary stage in achieving the final goal. This is similar to the way that the sages say we should view our own sins: “A person does not understand the intricacies of ahalachah [a law] until he transgresses it.” The Zohar goes even another step forward by stating that failure before success is the natural way in which the world was created, first darkness (“And the earth was dark…”) and then light (“And God said: ‘Let there be light!’”). In Kabbalistic language this is reflected in the precession of the World of Chaos (עולם התהו ) to the World of Rectification (עולם התקון ).
Regarding the first mission—Jacob sending emissaries to placate his brother Esau—though the emissaries did not completely calm Esau they certainly weakened his anger at Jacob (and certainly did not make him angrier than he was before they came). When Jacob finally did encounter Esau, Esau had already been softened somewhat, making it easier for Jacob to part in peace with his brother.
In Kabbalistic terminology, Esau corresponds to the World of Chaos. The Arizal learnt about the existence of the World of Chaos and its shattering from a passage in our parshah.2 This passage describes the early lineage of the Edomite kings, the descendants of Esau.
Thus, the two encounters with Esau (the emissaries’ and Jacob’s) correspond to the rectification of the two Worlds of Chaos described in the Arizal’s teachings. The Arizal identifies three main stages of emanation of sefirot from Adam Kadmon called Akudim,Nekudim, and Berudim. The first lights that formed the World of Akudim were unsteady, but were controlled so that they did not lead to the utter devastation of that world. Thus, the chaotic nature of the World of Akudim is considered stable chaos.3 But, the second emanation of lights that formed the World of Nekudim created an unstable state that shattered and broke the vessels of that world without any chance for control. Thus, the emissaries meeting with Esau reflected the stable but as yet not fully rectified state of the World of Akudim, stable chaos. After the emissaries returned, Jacob sent various gifts before him so that Esau would receive them before meeting him and be further placated. As explained in Chassidut, these gifts represent the raising of feminine waters all the way to the World of Nekudim, the state of unstable chaos. Finally, when Jacob himself met Esau he bowed down before him seven times, symbolizing the self-nullification and submission, which create the stable state of the World of Berudim, the World of Rectification.
Regarding the second mission that appears in parshat Beshalach, the sages remark that if the Jewish people would have remained even one additional moment in the spiritual defilement of Egypt they would have fallen into the fiftieth gate of putrescence and God would have had nobody to take out of Egypt. Therefore, God (Pharaoh-above) had to chase them out without delay, even though they had not yet attained an inner freedom from Egypt that would have permitted them to become a people truly free of mundane limitations and therefore needing to subject their physical needs. This failure can be likened to a thin crack in God’s will to completely free and redeem the Jewish people, it is extremely minute, since the end result will not be different, it will only take longer and require additional spiritual work on our part.
From a Kabbalistic perspective, this failure is hinted to in the small blemish that was created in the sefirah of crown of the World of Chaos. As is explained in length in the Arizal’s teachings,4 the fall of the World of Chaos affected each of its sefirot differently. The seven lower sefirot (including knowledge, because victory and acknowledgment are considered one) fell and broke entirely, causing them what is likened to instant death. But, the sefirot of understanding and wisdom were not affected as much—only their backside fell, which is why they are described as having become null (not died). The sefirah of crown was affected the least of all and only the backside of its sefirot of nehi (victory, acknowledgment, and foundation) fell, which is described as merely a blemish in the crown. This blemish was cleared with the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and specifically when God said “I” (אנכי ).
Finally, we come to Moshe Rabbeinu’s mission. Moshe’s motivation, as explained earlier, was to instill the spies with his own (higher) consciousness and through them to integrate it into the entire Jewish people, but this did not happen. Moshe’s sefirah of knowledge did not enter enough into the spies own consciousness and ultimately the failure of the mission caused us to this day to mourn on the 9th day of Av. Nonetheless, as already mentioned, Moshe began the task of elevating the consciousness of the entire people to his own, a process that continues with what is known as the extension of Moshe in each generation, and will culminate with the coming of the Mashiach. The extension of Moshe in every generation since then refers to the different spiritual leaders that we have had throughout the generations that have done everything in their power to teach us knowledge of God. Indeed, as the sages say, Moshe himself will be the (soul of the) Mashiach. The Mashiach will succeed in perfectly uniting the sefirah of knowledge of Moshe Rabbeinu (higher knowledge) with the sefirah of knowledge of the rest of the Jewish people (lower knowledge). This unification is hinted to in the verse: “For God is a God of [two types of] knowledge, and his actions are not [read: are] weighed.”5
This failure is the one most clearly connected to the shattering of the World of Chaos as the complete death (i.e., shattering and falling of all the lights) of the seven lower sefirot began with the sefirah of knowledge. The Arizal learnt this from the name of the first king of Edom (see above) who ruled and then died: Bela ben Be’or.6 The name Bela is related to the name Bilam, the prophet who was brought by Balak to curse the Jewish people. The sages say that though there has never been another Jewish prophet equal to Moshe, but that among the nations of the world there was: Bilam. Thus, Bilam is Moshe’s arch nemesis. Where Moshe represents the rectified consciousness of higher knowledge, Bilam represents the most shattered and chaotic state of consciousness—the sefirah of knowledge in the World of Chaos. Again, it will be the Mashiach who will succeed in reuniting the rectified higher knowledge of Moshe, with the already rectified consciousness of lower knowledge that all Jews possess.
2. Genesis 36:31-39.
3. Mathematics and science today recognize two different types of chaos, stable and unstable. See James Gleick’s wonderful description in Chaos.
4. See Etz Chayim 8:6 and 9:2.
5. 1 Samuel 2:3.
6. Genesis 36:32.