The Secrets of Judah’s Name and Marital Relationships

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All Jews today are named after the tribe of Judah. There are many important secrets of the Torah concealed in Judah’s name, and in this article, we will look at how the secret of the relationship between a husband and wife is concealed within.

In the Torah portion of  Shemot that we will read next week, Judah appears as the 15th word in the parashah. 15 is the value of “Acknowledgment” (הוֹד). It is also the value of the first two letters of God’s essential four-letter Name, Havayah (י-הוה), which are yud and hei (י-ה), pronounced usually as Kah. The Kabbalah taught by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, is based in large measure on four ways in which the letters of God’s essential Name can be “filled” – written in full. These are:


Filling Value Name of filling World Letter of Havayah
יוד הי ויו הי 72 ab (עב) Emanation (Atzilut) Yud
יוד הי ואו הי 63 sag (סג) Creation (Beri’ah) Hei
יוד הא ואו הא 45 mah (מה) Formation (Yetzirah) Vav
יוד הה וו הה 52 ban (בן) Action (Assiyah) Hei


Now, the Arizal notes that Judah’s name, as it is spelled in the Torah (יְהוּדָה), permutes to form the ban-style filling of the two initial letters—yud and hei—of Havayah: יוד הה. In all, these two letters can be filled in four different ways, as follows:


filling letters
ab (עב) יוד הי
sag (סג) יוד הי
mah (מה) יוד הא
ban (בן) יוד הה


Judah is the only one of the tribes whose name contains all four letters of Havayah (and in order). Another interesting point is that given the way that Judah is written in Hebrew, if we would not know that it is the name of a man, we would think that it was the name of a woman. This also ties Judah with the sefirah of kingdom, the most feminine of the sefirot. Thus, Judah has the most feminine name of all the tribes, very similar in its structure to Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

Judah was given the power of unification (לְיַחֵד יִחוּדִים).[1] All unification is between masculine and feminine. Since he himself is a male with a feminine name, he is an example of his own power of unification. Looking more closely at his name, יהודה, we see that the letter dalet (ד) appears after the first three letters of Havayah (יהו), followed by the letter hei (ה). The inner meaning of this is that the first three letters give to the dalet in order that it be transformed it into a hei.

We find that there are many people who do not write the name Yehudah with a hei at the end because of its sanctity (all 4 letters of Havayah appear in order). Instead, they end it with the letter alef, like so: יהודא. In this case, it is another (the mah) filling of the same two‐letter holy Name (יוד הא), as above. The letters that are the third way to fill yud and hei, using the ab‐filling, are יוד הי, which permutes to spell “Jew” (יְהוּדִי).

[All of our people are now called Jews, after the tribe of Judah. The sages tell us that a Jew, by definition, is one who denounces false worship (עבודה זרה) of God. So, this must be the essential character trait of Judah—the willingness to sacrifice himself to denounce false worship of God. Particularly because of his fight against the molech (a form of idolatry), Judah merits being the king and to be the one who brings the entire people together under the God of Israel.]

Note that the fourth filling, the sag‐filling of this Name, yudhei, is indistinguishable from the ab‐filling. It too is written יוד הי. For this reason, in some Kabbalistic texts, only three fillings appear 1) יוד הי, then 2) יוד הא, and finally, 3) יוד הה. The sum of their values together is 91, which is the value of the unification of the two Names Havayah and Adni (י-הוה א-דני) and a very important meditation for the word “Amen” (אָמֵן). Still, if we do explicitly add the fourth, sag‐filling, then the total value will be 126 and this is the value of the 6 possible permutations of the three unique letters of Havayah (יהו): יהו הוי ויה יוה היו והי.[2]

Four Levels of Divine Presence in a Marriage

This leads us to an important chapter in our teachings about marital harmony, which we usually refer to by the idiom “the Divine Presence between them” (שְׁכִינָה בֵּינֵיהֶם).[3] We already talked about how Judah brings unity and harmony. We see this already in his birth. Leah was not Jacob’s favorite wife, and the Torah even tells us that she felt as though her husband hated her. In choosing a name for each of her first three children, Leah expressed her pain and anguish. Reuben means, “God has seen my plight.” Shimon means, “God has heard my pain.” Levi expresses her wish that “From now on, may my husband be my companion.” But, when Judah is born the bitterness is gone and she calls him by this name explaining, “This time I give thanks to God” (as noted, Judah stems from the same root as thanksgiving”). Judah changes everything. When he is born, Leah seems to have attained a state of harmony, without any worries. Then the Torah tells us, “And she stopped giving birth.” Implying that to attain marital harmony with Jacob, she no longer needed to give birth to any more children.

Sometimes, people read this verse as implying something negative happened—she could no longer bear children—but the deeper meaning is that she no longer needed to bear children for her husband to love her. She was now inspired and no longer required more children to attain the marital harmony she was looking for. Her later need to have more children came from an entirely different place. To have her last two children she had to feel some other form of lack that was not related to her first four births.

The Holy Name of Marital Harmony

Where do we see that Judah is indeed the essence of marital harmony?[4] As we saw, Judah’s name is the filling of the holy two-letter Name, Kah (י-ה). The whole topic of “the Divine Presence between them” is learned from the saying of Rabbi Akiva,

If a man and woman merit, the Divine Presence dwells between them. But if they do not, then fire consumes them.

How does Rabbi Akiva learn this? When we take the words for “man” (אִישׁ) and “woman” (אִשָּׁה) we see that they have two letters in common and two letters that are different. The two common letters are אש, which spell “fire” (אֵשׁ) and the two different letters are יה, which form God’s Name Kah, whose fillings we have been considering with respect to Judah. Now, if the man and woman merit, through their actions and the quality of their relationship and care for one another, the yud (י) and the hei (ה) unify and create the holy Name Kah, representing the Divine Presence. But if they do not, then the remaining letters, which spell “fire,” consume them and their marriage. Indeed, the words “man” and “woman” each contain the word “fire,” and these two instances of “fire” correspond to the burning of carnal and physical cravings and the burning rage of anger. The combination of carnal cravings and anger can be catastrophic as indicated by their sum: the value of “cravings” (תַּאֲוָה) is 412 and the value of “anger” (כַּעַס) is 150 so together, they equal 562, which is the value of the seventh of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery”[5] (לֹא תִּנְאָף).

Four Levels of Marital Harmony

We now turn back to the positive side of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching. When a man and woman merit, the Divine Presence dwells between them. But since we have already seen that there are four possible fillings (only three of which are unique) for the holy Name Kah that represents the Divine Presence and creates marital harmony, it follows that each of these fillings represents a different type or level of marital harmony. The more attuned a couple is to their marriage and the more ability they have to study Torah, the more they can pay attention to which level of harmony they are presently at. Incidentally, in the pre‐Arizal Kabbalah, it is explained that meditating on letters alone is like the Workings of Creation (מַעֲשֵׂה בְּרֵאשִׁית), but meditation or contemplation of letter fillings is like the Workings of the Chariot (מַעֲשֵׂה מֶרְכָּבָה), a much higher and more advanced level of understanding reality. The word chariot in Hebrew also means “constructing” or “putting together.” So, if all you are interested in is generic marital harmony, you can make do with studying the two letters yud and hei alone. But, if you are interested in marital harmony that comes from the Workings of the Divine Chariot, you need to meditate on the four possible fillings of these two letters.

Before looking at what type of marital harmony each of the four fillings of Yud-Hei represents, let us consider the phrase Rabbi Akiva used to describe “marital harmony” (שְׁכִינָה בֵּינֵיהֶם). Its value is 502, which is also the value of the sag‐filling of the word “Jew” (יְהוּדִי) or the value of יוד ואו דלת הי יוד. As we saw, the letters of “Jew” (יְהוּדִי) are themselves the second sag filling of Kah (יוד הי). This does not mean that only the sag‐filling is related to marital harmony, only that there is something special about it in this respect.[6]

The Husband’s Role As Captured by the Yud’s Filling

The four possible fillings of the Name Kah (YudHei) that we saw earlier also correspond to the sefirot and the partzufim in the following manner:


filling letters sefirah Partzuf
ab (עב) יוד הי wisdom (chochmah) Abba (Father)
sag (סג) יוד הי understanding (binah) Ima (Mother)
mah (מה) יוד הא beauty (tiferet) Ze’er Anpin (Small countenance)
ban (בן) יוד הה kingdom (malchut) Nukva (Female)


To understand what type of marital harmony each filling represents, we need to note that the man contributes the letter yud (י) to the holy Name Kah and the woman contributes the letter hei (ה). The first point we see about the four fillings is that the filling of the male letter, the yud, is always the same—it is always a vav and a dalet added to the root yud: יוד. This would seem to imply that the level of marital harmony attained does not depend on the husband.[7] In other words, to attain the various levels of marital harmony, the husband always has to do the same thing represented by these two letters, vav (ו) and dalet (ד).

The letter yud represents a state of being aloof; it represents a dimensionless point, suspended in mid-air, like a person who is so disconnected that he does not even leave an imprint on his wife and his home. The husband cannot remain in this state, toward which he has a natural tendency,   indefinitely. Instead, he must expand and descend through the two letters vav and dalet. As the sages say, “Descend a level and marry a woman”[8] (נְחֵית דַּרְגָּא נְסֵיב אִיתְּתָא). The dalet thus represents his wife, and the vav represents the descent, or drawing himself down (as it always does in Chassidut), like lowering a pail into a well. So, the image we get from the filling of the letter yud, the husband’s contribution to marital harmony is that the initial yud transforms into the vav by lengthening itself, by descending, and then can connect with the dalet. Indeed, this is always the case.[9]

The Woman’s Attitude and Role as Captured by the Hei’s Filling

The corollary of this analysis is that the level of marital harmony the couple have varies depending on the wife. As the sages say, “Everything is from the woman.”[10]

The second point is to differentiate between the first two fillings, the ab and sag fillings, which seem identical. The differential is how the woman sees her husband. If she wants to take her essence and include it within his, that is the ab filling (יוד הי). In Kabbalah, this is known as the union of the supernal father and mother, where the supernal mother is enclothed within the supernal father (the hei, ה, within the yud, י). What is the ideal husband’s essential point? Selflessness! If the woman wants to annul her being and be included within her husband’s, then that is the filling of ab. This is also known in Kabbalah as “the understanding within wisdom” (in the words of Sefer Yetzirah, “Understand in wisdom”). In a sense, the woman feels the seminal point of insight that her husband has—since nullification leads to insight—and wants to be included in him by annulling herself to this insight.

On the other hand, if the woman wants to include her husband’s essence in herself, that is the sag filling (again, יוד הי). In this case, the woman does not wish to be nullified within her husband’s essence, but rather to take that essential point, called his steadfastness, his ability to remain steady and calm and to imbue herself with it. This is the feeling a woman has when she wants to take the seed of her husband and to be impregnated by it (the yud, י, within the hei, ה).

There is a story about the Alter Rebbe’s wife, who once said to her friends, “meiner zogt” meaning, “mine says,” referring to her husband as “mine.” This sense of ownership over her husband is not an objectification, but rather illustrates her yearning for her husband’s essence.

Let us illustrate this yearning with a story that appears in the midrash:[11]

A Jewish woman was married for many years but had not had children. Her husband decided therefore to divorce her, so he went to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, of blessed memory, who told him that just as they celebrated their marriage with joy, so they should celebrate its termination with joy.

The husband prepared a great feast, at the height of which he asked his wife to choose whatever of his possessions she desired, assuring her that he would not refuse her wish.

And what did she do? She served him so much wine that he got drunk and went to sleep, and then told her servants to take him on his bed into her bedroom.

The following morning, when he awoke and found himself in her home, he asked her why he had been brought there—wasn’t it clear that he intended to divorce her? She replied: “Didn’t you tell me that I could take whatever I wanted? Well, I desire neither gold, nor silver, nor precious gems, nor pearls; all I want is you. You yourself are the sole object of my desire.”

When the husband heard this, he again became enamored of his wife, and took her back.

And in this merit, the Holy Blessed One granted them children.

Even though they did not have children until then, the new yearning that the woman had for her husband was enough that the tzaddik, Rabbi Shimon, could bless them to have children.

In the mah filling (יוד הא), the woman’s letter hei is filled with an alef (א). In the Zohar, the form of the alef is likened to the form of the human being. Thus, at this level, the wife’s intent is to reproduce her husband’s form in their children. This is a very straightforward interpretation. She wants to play her part in her husband’s mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply.”[12] This is what the Torah notes[13] is the revealed reason that men and women marry in the first place—they want to reproduce, to make a family.

So now, we come to the ban‐filling (יוד הה), the filling that spells Judah (יְהוּדָה). The Arizal explains that the ban‐filling of Havayah (יוד הה וו הה) is the secret of the “Cave of the Patriarchs,” the cave in Hebron where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, which in the Torah is called the “Doubled Cave.” There are many explanations for this name, but what is important for our purposes is that in the ban‐filling of Havayah, each letter is actually doubled (even the yud is filled as יוד, where the filling letters וד have the same numerical value as the root letter, י). The first three fillings were relatively easier to understand, this one is a bit more difficult. It seems as if the wife is simply duplicating herself. At first this sounds like the sense that a woman who is not yet married would have about marriage—marriage is about finding myself in my husband. How can such a feeling lead to marital harmony?

What a Woman Wants for Her Husband

Another possible explanation would be that the woman seeks to have only daughters with her husband, but this too is not a good enough explanation.

To understand the significance of the ban‐filling, we must recall that this filling corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom. Let us start by making an observation. Most women are not interested and would rather have no part in their husband becoming the ruler, the king, over the entire world. The sages say that “one who lives without a wife lives without a protective wall.”[14] Normally, the woman’s role is to protect her husband, and this includes ensuring that his imagination does not get the better of him, to dissuade him if he decides to seek positions and status that are simply too big for him. A woman who protects her husband encourages him to be close to his home, to make an honorable living, to set time for studying Torah, to be a talmid chacham. Normally a woman is not pleased (to say the least) if her husband decides to enter politics and she does her best to keep him from doing so.

But there is such a thing as a real king and a real queen.

There are of course superficial women, the type who would send their husbands into politics in order to bask in the limelight. Such women seek fame and honor and are willing to sacrifice their husbands (and themselves) for it. But we are talking about a holy woman. How can a woman who is holy, who is modest, who wants her husband to be modest – how can such a woman and her husband assume the role of king and queen? If we would argue that the husband of such a woman should simply ignore her if his calling is indeed in politics, then what of the Zohar’s statement that a king without a queen is neither a king nor is he great? The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe quoted this in his discourse at his daughter and  son‐in‐law the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wedding.[15] In holiness, there cannot be a king without a queen; everything depends on the wife.

The nature of the woman of holiness. The woman who can be a true queen is the woman who endorses her husband’s sovereignty and  encourages it. Most women cannot bear to share their husband with others. But there is a woman who is of such great stature and has so much self‐confidence that she can (subconsciously) encourage others to develop a relationship that is the duplicate of her own with her husband. Of course, it goes without saying that we do not mean to say that she will let anyone else marry her husband—duplicating her relationship encompasses her spiritual and emotional relationship but not its physical aspects. For her husband to be the king, she has to project every other aspect of her relationship with her husband, the king, so that it can inspire and be shared by every one of his subjects.

So, we explain that the duplication of the wife means that she sees the bigger picture. She realizes that her husband can be king only if her relationship with him can be duplicated and shared by others. She is the feminine kingdom, the kingdom of the world of Emanation, who acts to duplicate her relationship with her husband, the Ze’er Anpin of Emanation upon all the worlds below emanation. This is how the kingdom of emanation works in Kabbalah. It takes the relationship it has with its husband, the Ze’er Anpin of the world of Emanation and duplicates it for all the creatures that inhabit the three lower worlds, Creation, Formation, and Action. Relative to the king, all the subjects are feminine, because the king is meant to provide for everyone. So it is only thanks to the queen that the subjects know how to relate to their king in the first place. For them, she provides the example of how to relate to the king properly, how to respect and honor him in the right way (and how to get along with him). When all is said and done, she is responsible for making the rest of the world follow her husband.

Again, the ban‐filling is not an alef or a yud, which would indicate something other than herself, but rather a hei—her letter. The ban‐filling implies that she fills reality with herself, in the sense of her loving relationship with her husband, the king.

For the woman who enjoys this type of marital harmony, the power of the relationship is so strong that she finds that she can figuratively make room for the rest of the world in her own home. In practice, different subjects will adopt different types of relationships with the king (relationships in which they see the king as either their sovereign, their father, or their husband[16]), but all will ultimately be inspired by the queen’s harmony with the king. A woman who can inspire the entire world in this way—while at the same time protecting the king, her husband, from false self-aggrandizement and from ill‐willed suitors—merits to affect the verse, “A king in his beauty shall your eyes see.”[17]

Incidentally, when we look at the history of the early kingship in the Jewish people, we can say that the reason that David was able to eventually take the kingdom from Saul was because all the women fell in love with David, a fact that is readily apparent after David’s victory over Goliath.[18] In practice, David was only allowed to have 18 wives, and in our present day, when we are limited to marrying only one woman the king will of course have only one wife. Still, when we look at this phrase numerically, “one wife” (אִשָּׁה אַחַת) is equal to “everything” (הַכֹּל) times “one” (אֶחָד), implying that it has always been that one particular wife who inspires everything, i.e., all the king’s subjects, to become one. We noted earlier that for King David, his one special wife was Bathsheba.

So far, we have found a first-level explanation of the significance of the fillings of the yud and the hei. In a follow-up to this article, we will explore a second-level interpretation, which takes into account that the husband’s approach to marital harmony is affected by his wife’s.

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[1]. See HaYom Yom for the 18th of Tevet.

[2]. See in length in‐0501.php.

[3]. This is the title of Harav Ginsburgh’s first book on marriage in Hebrew, selections from

which make up the main body of The Mystery of Marriage.

[4]. Marital harmony or more literally “peace in the home” (שְׁלוֹם בַּיִת) is equal to the union of David (דָּוִד) and Bathsheba (בַּת שֶׁבַע). The initial letters of their names (Bathsheba is two words in Hebrew) spell the word “honey” (דְּבַשׁ), and the Arizal adds that “honey” is equal to “woman” (אִשָּׁה). From their union emerged Solomon and the Mashiach is the pedigree of both David and Solomon.

[5]. Exodus 20:13.

[6]. The soul root of Rabbi Akiva, the author of the saying about the Divine Presence dwelling between a man and a woman, is itself in the sag‐filling of Havayah, the filling that corresponds to the Mother Principle. So, it is only natural that he used the phrase that equals the second sag‐filling of Kah (YudHei).

[7]. This is the first level of our analysis. In the second part of this article, we will see how the meaning of the yud’s filling changes based on the woman’s filling.

[8]. Yevamot 63a.

[9]. This analysis bears directly on marital counseling. One of the staples of marital counseling is to help the husband understand that he needs to come down. He needs to descend. “You have to meet your wife where she is.” As explained in length elsewhere, men suffer from a natural state of egotism far more than women and egotism must be broken if there is hope that the husband connect with his wife.

[10]. Bereishit Rabbah 17:7.

[11]. See also The Mystery of Marriage, p. 87.

[12]. Genesis 1:28.

[13]. Ibid. 2:24.

[14]. Yevamot 62b.

[15]. Sefer Hama’amarim Kuntresim, vol. 1, p. 20a, Lecha Dodi.

[16]. These three types of relationship with the king are of course a metaphor for the three types of relationships we have with the Almighty, as our father, as our king, and as our husband. They are discussed in depth and length in the first article of our Hebrew volume, Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li.

[17]. Isaiah 33:17.

[18]. See 1 Samuel 18:6-8.

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