1.5. Moses and Abraham in the Structure of the Sefirot

As already discussed in our commentary on Genesis, one element of correcting the Sefirot is establishing the proper interrelationships between them, so as to effect the integration of all the Sefirot into a single, unified system. This correction is carried out by the Patriarchs and other national leaders, each of whose personalities is associated with one or more of the Sefirot.

Each Sefirah is a manifestation of one of the directions of Divine control in the world. The function of each Sefirah is therefore positive, for it transmits Divine light to the world. But when a given Sefirah has no connection with the other Sefirot, which means that the given Sefirah makes itself absolute, feeling itself autonomous and regarding itself as primary, the destructive state of olam nekudim, a “world of [isolated] points” then arises. This leads to shevirat keilim, the “shattering of the vessels.” At that point, a process of tikkun, “correction, repair,” becomes necessary. In the course of that correction, the Sefirot cement their interrelationships, thus becoming a single, unified system.

In the system of the Sefirot, Moses as a personality corresponds to Netzach (“Victory, Eternity”). This extends Chesed (“Mercy”) – Abraham’s Sefirah – albeit at a more practical level of implementation. (In the Kabbalah, the more pragmatic and realizable attributes are said to be “lower.” However, this does not mean that those attributes are more primitive, but only that they are closer to realization.)

Chesed (“Mercy”) means striving to show mercy, a desire to bestow kindness on others[1]. Netzach, “Victory, Eternity” is the “pragmatization” of Chesed, the ability to demonstrate mercy in real life. Thus, Abraham promotes the ideas of the Divine teachings by offering them to others, while Moses passes those teachings to the Jewish people, sometimes even imposing them by force[2]. Although the direction of their aspirations coincides[3], at first, Moses did not have a sufficient connection with the Abrahamic covenant; he believed that it was possible to build the life of the nation on the basis of commandments and duties (Netzach) alone, but not ideals (Chesed). In order to advance the Divine idea in the world, this connection must be restored. Netzach can function correctly only when it realizes itself as a promoter of Chesed. For Moses, this connection between Netzach and Chesed is restored in the incident of his son’s circumcision at the inn, at night on the road to Egypt. And it is confirmed in its final form at Mount Sinai[4].

The difference between Abraham and Moses is also evident in their names. Abraham is the personification of majesty. His original name “Abram,” means av ram, “the exalted father.” Later he receives the name “Abraham,” which means “the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5). Thus, Abraham’s names testify to his essential greatness.

But the Torah calls Moses ben Amram, “the son of Amram” (6:20) (his father’s name was “Amram”), but it can also be understood as ben am ram, “the son of an exalted people.” Moses’ greatness is that of a son, and not the greatness of a “father of the nation,” as was Abraham’s. Moses’ own greatness derives from that of the people, although he is himself unaware of this at first.

Moses’ connection with the people, at first quite weak, gradually intensifies in the course of the Exodus. As it later turns out, however, Moses is connected specifically with the generation of Jews whom he led out of Egypt, but he cannot become the leader of the new generation who grew up over the forty years of wanderings in the wilderness. For this reason, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land.

[1] It would be incorrect to translate Chesed as “striving to perform good deeds.” Every one of the Sefirot, and not only Chesed, represents a Divine quality, which always includes striving to do good. Those qualities differ only in the manner that it is accomplished.

[2] Moses is prepared to impose God’s teachings on the people even through coercion, by killing all who were directly involved in worshipping the golden calf (to Abraham, this would have been unthinkable). Even the actual receiving of the Torah by the Jewish people was, in a certain sense, achieved through coercion (see note 74).

[3] They are both directed toward mercy, but Chesed and Netzach are located on the rightmost, “extraverted” branch of the Sefirot tree (the attributes appearing on the right side of the tree point outward, as distinguished from the “introverted” Sefirot on the left of the tree, which point inward).

[4] The connection between the giving of the Torah at Sinai and Abraham’s covenant will be discussed at various points later in this commentary, in the relevant chapters of the book of Exodus.


Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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