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86. And They Built Store-Cities

I heard from my father, Shevat 3, January 31, 1941

The writing says (Exodus 1): “And they built for Pharaoh store-cities [1] Pithom and Raamses.” We should ask, “Pithom and Raamses means that they are beautiful cities, while the words Arei Miskenot imply poverty and meagerness, and they also imply danger?” And we must also understand what Abraham the Patriarch asked, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it” (Genesis 15; 8)? What did the Creator reply? It is written, “And He said unto Abram: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years.”

The literal meaning is hard to understand, since the question was that he wanted guarantees on the inheritance, and there is no apparent guarantee in the Creator’s answer, that your seed will be in exile, which means that this was a sufficient answer for him. Moreover, we see that when Abraham had a long argument with the Creator regarding the people of Sodom, he kept saying “perhaps.” Here, however, when the Creator said that his seed will be in exile, he immediately received it as a sufficient answer, and did not argue and said, “perhaps?” Instead, he accepted it as a guarantee on the inheritance of the land.

We must understand this answer, and we must also understand what the meaning is that the Zohar interprets about the text, “Pharaoh drew nigh,” saying that he drew them toward repentance. Can it be that evil Pharaoh would want to bring them closer to repentance?

In order to understand all that, we must understand what our sages said ( Sukkah, 52; 71): “Rabbi Yehuda says: At the end of days, the Creator brings the evil inclination and slaughters it before the righteous and before the wicked. To the righteous it seems like a high mountain, and to the wicked it seems as a thread of a hair’s breadth. These cry and those cry. The righteous cry, saying ‘How could we conquer such a high mountain?’ and the wicked cry, saying ‘How could we not conquer this thread of a hair’s breadth?’’”

This verse is perplexing through and through:

  1. If the evil inclination has already been slaughtered, how are there still wicked?

  2. Why do the righteous cry? Quite the contrary, they should have been happy!

  3. How can there be two opinions in reality when they have both arrived at the state of truth? This verse speaks of the end of days, which is certainly a state of truth, so how can there be such a difference in reality between a thread of a hair’s breadth and a high mountain?

He explains this with the words of our sages (there): “Rabbi Assi says: ‘In the beginning, the evil inclination seems like spider-web, and in the end, it seems like cart-ropes,’ for it is said, ‘Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope’ (Isaiah 5).”

There is a great rule we must know. Our work, which was given to us so as to be a basis for faith above reason, is not because we are unworthy of a high degree. Hence, this was given to us so as to take it all in a vessel of faith. It appears to us as ignominy and worthlessness, and we are anxious for the time when we can rid ourselves of this burden, called “faith above reason.” However, it is a great and very important degree, whose sublimity is immeasurable.

The reason it appears to us as ignominy is because of the will to receive in us. Thus, we must discern a Rosh (Head) and a Guf (Body) in the will to receive. The Rosh is called knowing, and the Guf is called receiving. Because of that, we consider everything that is against knowing as low and beastly.

Now we can interpret what Abraham the Patriarch asked, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” How would it be possible for them to accept the burden of faith, since it is against reason, and who can go against reason? Thus, how will they come to be granted the Light of faith, since perfection depends on that alone?

The Creator answered him, “Know of a surety etc. that they will be in exile.” This means that He had prepared a Klipa (shell), which is the evil inclination, an evil person, Pharaoh king of Egypt. The letters of the word Pharaoh are like the letters of the word Oref [2] (back of the neck).

The Ari wrote ( Shaar HaKavanot for Pesach) that Pharaoh is considered the Oref of Egypt[3]. He would suck out the abundance that comes to the lower ones with his question (Exodus 5; 2), “Who is the Lord that I should hearken unto His voice?” By this very question, they are at the hands of the Klipot (shells), as the RAMBAM says ( Hilchot Deot), regarding not turning to idol gods, that with this approach alone, meaning with the very question, the prohibition on turning to them is already broken.

The evil inclination wishes to suck abundance from the Kedusha (Sanctity). Thus, what does it do to suck abundance from the Kedusha? The writing tells us, “and Pharaoh drew nigh.” The Zohar interprets that he brought them nigh to repentance. It asks: How can we say that Pharaoh brought them close to repentance, if the conduct of the Klipot is to turn one away from the Creator?

We must understand this by what is written in the Zohar (“Introduction to the Zohar” and the Sulam Commentary): “Transgression is concealed within you, like the serpent that strikes and hides its head inside its body.” Also, in the Sulam: “Like, etc. Since that transgression is concealed, the force of the serpent that strikes the people of the world and brings death to the world is still in full power and cannot be revoked. It is like a serpent that bites a human and immediately brings its head to its body, and then it is impossible to kill it.”

There is yet another saying in the Zohar, that the serpent bows its head and strikes with its tail. This means that sometimes it lets one take upon himself the burden of faith above reason, which is the bowing of the head, but it strikes with tail. The tail can be interpreted as the end, that it bowed its head so as to ultimately receive in order to receive. In other words, it first gave one permission to accept faith so that afterwards it would take everything into its own authority, for the Klipa knows that there is no way to receive abundance except through Kedusha.

This is the meaning of Pharaoh bringing them near. It is explained that he deliberately brought Israel to repentance, so as to afterwards take everything from them into his own authority. This is why the Ari wrote that Pharaoh sucked all the abundance that came down to the lower ones. He sucked from the Oref and from the throat, which is considered the head of the body, meaning it would take everything in its vessels of reception.

This is the meaning of “And they built Arei Miskenot,” meaning that this was for Israel. In other words, all their work during the exile was taken into Pharaoh’s custody, and Israel remained poor. We should also interpret Miskenot from the word Sakana (danger), meaning that they were in great danger of remaining in that state for the rest of their lives. However, to Pharaoh, the work of Israel was Pithom and Raamses, meaning very beautiful cities.

Thus, the meaning of “And they built Arei Miskenot,” (to Israel), and Pithom and Raamses, to Pharaoh. This is because all the work of Israel fell into the Klipot, and they saw no blessing in their work.

When they prevailed in their work in faith and bestowal, they did see fertility; and the moment they fell into knowing and receiving, they immediately fell into the hands of the Klipa of Pharaoh. Finally, they came to a determined resolution that the work must be in faith above reason and bestowal.

However, they saw that they were unable to come out of Pharaoh’s power by themselves. This is why it is written, “And the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage,” since they were afraid that they might stay in exile for all time. Then, “their cry came up unto God,” and they were awarded exodus from the exile in Egypt.

It turns out that before they saw the situation, that they are in the hands of the Klipot, and were hurting and afraid that they would remain there forever, they had no need for the Creator’s help from vessels of reception, if the shortcoming and detriment caused by them is unfelt, which is all that obstructs them from cleaving to the Creator. This is because otherwise one has a higher regard to work in the form of knowledge and reception, and faith is considered lowness. They choose knowledge and reception, since this is what man’s exterior mind necessitates.

Hence, they were given the exile to feel that they do not progress toward nearness to the Creator, and all their work sinks in the Klipa of Egypt. Finally, they saw that they have no other choice but to resolve to a work of lowness, which is faith above reason, and yearn for bestowal. Otherwise they feel that they are in the dominion of the evil inclination.

It turns out that the faith that they have taken upon themselves was because they saw that otherwise they would have no counsel, and hence agreed to a work of ignominy. This is considered “conditional work,” when they have accepted this work so they do not fall into the net of the Klipot. This is why they had taken this work upon themselves.

However, if the reason is revoked, the love for this work is revoked, too. In other words, if the evil inclination is cancelled, and there is no one that brings them thoughts of not turning to idol gods, then the love for the work in ignominy is revoked.

Now we can understand what our sages wrote: “In the beginning, the evil inclination seems like spider-web, and in the end, it seems like cart-ropes.” We know that there is a discernment of “coercive,” “mistaken,” and “deliberate.” The will to receive that is imprinted in man is considered “coercive,” since one cannot revoke it, and it is therefore not considered a sin, but a misdeed, as it is written, “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity.” It cannot be rejected or hated, since he does not feel that it will be a sin.

However, afterwards, it turns out like “sin, as it were with cart-ropes,” and the Klipot were then made of this will to receive, which have a complete structure, as it is written, “God hath made even one as well as the other.” This is where the evil inclination comes from, meaning everything comes out of this thread.

Since it already showed itself to be a sin, then everyone knows to guard themselves from this thread, and they understand that there is no other counsel if they want to enter Kedusha, except to resolve to work in lowness, meaning faith and bestowal. Otherwise they see that they are under the authority of the Klipa of Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

It follows that the benefit in the exile was the feeling that the will to receive is a sin, and this is the reason to decide that there is no other counsel but to try and acquire vessels of bestowal. This is also the meaning of the Creator’s answer to Abraham the Patriarch about his request for guarantees for the inheritance of the land: “Know of a surety that thy seed etc. and they shall afflict them etc.” Through the exile they would come to discover that the thread is a sin, and then they would accept the real work of detaching themselves from the sin.

This is the meaning of what Rabbi Yehuda said, that in the future death shall be swallowed up forever, meaning the Creator will slaughter the evil inclination, and all that will be left of it is but the tiny thread, which is not even felt as a sin. (The thread which is like a hair’s breadth is something that cannot be seen in the eye.)

Yet, some evil and righteous do remain, and they all want to cleave to Him. The wicked have not yet corrected their thread, when the evil inclination still existed, and they could feel that it is a sin. Now, however, when there is no evil inclination, all that is left is but the tiny thread, and they have no reason to make them turn their vessels of reception into vessels of bestowal, since a thread of a hair’s breadth is unfelt. But nevertheless, they cannot yet cleave to Him because there is disparity of form there, and He and I cannot dwell in the same abode.

Their correction is to be dust under the feet of the righteous. This means that since the evil inclination has been cancelled, the righteous have no reason to have to go with faith above reason. Hence, since they have no reason, who would make them?

They see that the wicked are left with the thread and did not correct the thread while there was evil inclination; and it was the time to correct it since then the will to receive was evidently a sin, whereas now it does not seem like sin, but like a thread. Hence, if there is no reason, there is no place to correct.

Yet, there is also no place for adhesion, since the disparity of form remains, and all their correction is that the righteous walk on them. This means that they now see that there is no fear from the net of the Klipot, since the evil inclination has been slaughtered.

Thus, why do they now have to work in faith above reason? Now they see that the wicked cannot reach adhesion because they now have no reason, meaning an evil inclination that will be distinguished as a sin, yet they remain outside for there is still disparity of form. Hence, when the righteous see this, they understand how good it was for them that they had a reason to work in bestowal.

They thought they were engaged in bestowal only because of the evil inclination, but they see that the sin they saw was for their own good. In other words, this is the real work, and it is not because of fear of falling into the hands of the Klipot that they do this work. The evidence for that is that they see that the wicked who did not correct the thread, and now have no reason to, and remain outside, and cannot come to adhesion with the Creator.

It follows that the righteous receive the strength to go from strength to strength through the wicked, and the wicked have become dust under the feet of the righteous, and the righteous walk on the discernments that remain as wicked.

Hence, in retrospect, this work specifically is important. And it is not because of necessity, as they first thought, while there was evil inclination. Now they see that even without the evil inclination it is worthwhile to work in bestowal and faith.

Regarding “these cry and those cry,” it is known that weeping is Katnut (smallness, infancy), VAK. There is a differentiation between GAR and VAK. Mochin de VAK (Light of VAK) illuminate from the past, meaning they take sustenance from what they have been through. Mochin de GAR, however, shine in the present by uniting the Zivug (spiritual coupling).

This is the meaning of the righteous crying and saying, “How could we conquer such a high mountain?” Now they see what was prior to the slaughtering of the evil inclination, that its dominion was indeed great, as it is written, “God hath made even one as well as the other.” They received great mercy by the Creator, who gave them the power to defeat the war against the inclination, and they now rejoice in the miracle that they had then, meaning in the past. This is called Mochin de Katnut.

The wicked cry because now there is no way for them to cleave to Him, even though they now see that it is only a tiny thread. But since there is no evil inclination, they have no reason to turn the vessels of reception to bestowal; they can only see that they are on the outside; this is why they cry.

However, their correction is in becoming dust under the feet of the righteous. In other words, by the righteous seeing that now there is no evil inclination, the wicked still cannot attain adhesion. Thus, they say about their thoughts that they had followed the path of bestowal only because of the evil inclination, they see that this is the actual vessel. This means that even if there hadn’t been an evil inclination, still this path is true, and that the path of faith is a wonderful path.

Now we understand why wicked remain after the slaughtering of the evil inclination; it is so that they become dust under the feet of the righteous. If wicked had not remained, there would not be anyone to show this great thing, that the path of faith is not because of conditional love. Meaning, it is not because of the evil inclination that the path of faith should be followed, but this is unconditional love, since now there is no longer any evil inclination, and still, only through faith can adhesion with the Creator be acquired.

I heard on another occasion: The reason we specifically need faith is the pride in us. It is then difficult for us to accept faith. Meaning, although faith is a sublime and wonderful degree, which the lower one cannot attain and understand its preciousness and sublimity, it is only because of our pride, meaning the will to receive. We imagine it as low and beastly, and for that reason we were given the evil person.

I heard another time: We see that when we do not want to accept faith, we fall from our state. We rise and fall every time, until we resolve that there is no other counsel but to set faith permanently. This was in order to receive faith, and this is “And they built Arei Miskenot” (for Israel), for Pharaoh.

[1] Translator’s note: the word combination "store-cities" is not used in Hebrew, but the words Arei Miskenot, implying poverty and (phonetically) danger.

[2] In Hebrew.

[3] The Ari divides the Hebrew word for Egypt – Mitzraim – into two words: Metzar Yam, meaning Narrow Sea.

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