|The Arizal on the Torah
The large size green text is the direct translation of the Ari teachings.
Anger without Ego
(from parshat Pinchas)
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed
—anthologized and translated by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky
The portion of the Torah read this week begins with the story of Pinchas: "G-d spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, turned back My anger against the children of Israel by avenging My vengeance against them. I therefore did not destroy the children of Israel in My vengeance."
The idiom "vengeance" is mentioned three times in this verse. [The numerical value of the root of this word, kuf-nun-alef, is 151, and is derived in three ways:] The numerical value of the Divine Name Ekyeh, when spelled out using the letter hei is 151.
As explained previously, the Divine Names may be spelled out in various ways, depending on how the letters hei and vav are spelled. In the case of the Name Ekyeh (alef-hei-yud-hei), if the two letters hei are spelled out hei-hei, we have:
Spelling out (milui in Hebrew) signifies the fulfillment of latent potential, similar to the birth of a fetus hidden within the womb. Thus, in a certain sense, anger is the psychological fulfillment of the Name Ekyeh, and rectifying it involves tracing it back to its source in this Divine Name. This will be explained further on.
Furthermore, the numerical of the Name Ekyeh squared is also 151.
If we take the sum of the squares of each of the four letters that compose this Name, we have 12 + 52 + 102 + 52 = 1 + 25 + 100 + 25 = 151. This technique is called ribua perati ("individual squaring"), i.e., summing the squares of each letter that make up the word.
Squaring signifies maturation and development, similar to the way a child matures as he grows into an adult. This is because squaring a number makes that number inter-include all its constituent units. For example, the number five may be envisioned as a set of five points, named A through E. If five is squared, we have 25 points, or five A’s, five B’s, and so on:
Inter-inclusion is the characteristic of maturity, since maturity means being able to see all sides of an issue and grant validity to other people. In Kabbala, the maturation of the sefirot from individual points into partzufim is the process that marks the transition from the chaotic, unstable world of Tohu to the rectified world of Tikun.
Here again, anger is seen paradoxically seen to be the result of the maturation of the Name Ekyeh, and its rectification involves tracing it back to its source in this Divine Name.
Finally, the combined numerical values of the Names Elokim and Adni are 151.
Elokim: alef-lamed-hei-yud-mem (1+30+5+10+40 = 86); Adni: alef-nun-dalet-yud (1+50+4+10 = 65). 65+86 = 151. The Name Elokim signifies G-d’s attribute of judgment and severity, while the Name Adni signifies His attribute of authority and dominion (adon means master or ruler). When these two Divine attributes are combined, this also can produce anger, and thus the rectification of anger involves as well tracing it back to these two attributes in the soul, as will be explained further on.
These three aspects of vengeance are alluded to in the verse: "I descended to the garden of nuts." The numerical value of the word for "garden of" [ginat, gimel-nun-tav] is 453, which is 3 times 151.
The nut symbolizes in Kabbala the phenomenon of evil surrounding holiness, just as the shells of the nut surround the inner meat. Here, too, anger is a shell that must be discarded, and in so doing, one reveals the inner goodness of the soul.
* * *
This is the end of this passage in Shaar HaPesukim and its parallel passage in Likutei Torah. In Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, which contains (amongst other things) numerous remedies (tikunim) for various sins, these numerical equivalencies are discussed at greater length. Therefore, to help us understand this passage, we will quote from two passages from Shaar Ruach HaKodesh. The first is Remedy #13 (p. 18a in the standard editions, p. 50 in the Brandwein edition):
The following is a remedy for someone who gets angry.
Even though there is no explicit prohibition against anger in the Torah, it is nonetheless considered a most heinous sin, and the sages have even compared it to idolatry. This is because anger betrays at least a temporary lapse in the individual’s belief that G-d runs the world and is responsible for every occurrence in life. For if G-d is responsible for everything, and everything G-d does is good, how is it possible to get angry? It is only possible if the person feels, at least for that moment, that he knows better than G-d what should be happening, and this is a subtle form of idolatry: he is considering his own understanding of how the world should be running superior to G-d’s.
My master, of blessed memory, before he departed for the life of the world to come, wanted to teach all the members [of his following] a remedy for anger, but we did not merit to do it, since, because of our numerous sins, I forgot the full explanation. The gist of the matter, however, is this:
One should perform 151 fasts, corresponding to the numerical value of the word for "anger" [kaas, kaf-ayin-samech] plus 1 for the value of the word itself [the kolel].
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains in the Tanya that all the fasts prescribed in the works of Kabbala for rectifying various sins do not constitute the substance of repentance--which is sincere regret for past deeds and resolve not to repeat them. Rather, they are intended--once the individual has already repented and been forgiven for his sin--to purify the soul from the damage the sin caused and to reinstate the individual in G-d’s favor. Furthermore, these fasts are essentially not practicable today since our constitutions are much weaker than those of previous generations. Instead, we are to redeem these fasts by giving charity.
There are three types of vengeance alluded to in the story of Pinchas: "by avenging," "My vengeance," and "I did not destroy the children of Israel in My vengeance." During the morning prayers, one should meditate on the Divine Name Ekyeh as it is spelled out with the letter hei, the numerical value of which is 151. During the afternoon prayers, one should meditate on the Name Ekyeh squared, which also equals 151. During the evening prayers, one should meditate on the Divine Names Adni Elokim, the combined numerical values of which equal 151.
(I am not sure if he told us to do it this way or oppositely, that is, to meditate on what is said above regarding the evening prayers during the afternoon prayers and vice versa.)
The way this is done is as follows. We shall explain with regard to how one meditates during the morning prayers of the 151 fast days, and from this you will understand how to meditate during the other prayers. On the first fast day, you should meditate [during the morning prayers] on the letter alef. During the next thirty fast days, you should meditate [during the morning prayers] on the letter lamed [whose numerical value is 30], this being the second letter of the spelling-out of the letter alef [i.e., the first letter of the Name Ekyeh]. During the next eighty fast days, you should meditate [during the morning prayers] on the letter pei [whose numerical value is 80], this being the third letter of the spelling-out of the letter alef. In this way, you should meditate [on the remaining letters of the spelling-out of the Name Ekyeh] for the duration of the 151 fast days.
Schematically, this would look like this:
I do not remember which vowels to use when meditating on these Names.
Although every Name of G-d has its natural vocalization, these Names may be visualized as being vocalized with other vowels (since, after all, one does not pronounce these Names while meditating on them, but merely visualizes and contemplates them). In Kabbala, the vowels signify the light that fills the vessels (signified by the letters). By changing the vowels, then, one is filling the vessel with various types of light.
I also do not remember at which exact point in the prayers one is to perform these meditations. All I remember is that they are to be done during the prayers, as I said. If, however, one wishes to meditate on these ideas throughout the whole day, so much the better.
In order to assuage anger, it is also effective to meditate—when one becomes angry--on the Name Ekyeh spelled out with the letter hei. As mentioned above, the numerical value of this Name is the same as that of the word for "anger" [with the kolel].
From this remedy, we see that prayer is an integral part of the process of rectifying anger. Furthermore, all three aspects of anger must be addressed: the fulfillment of the Name Ekyeh, the maturation of the Name Ekyeh, and the combination of the Names Elokim and Adni.
We now turn to Remedy #15 (p. 18b in the standard editions, p. 50-52 in the Brandwein edition).
Here is another way to remove anger when it overtakes a person, beside the remedy mentioned previously. If a person meditates on what follows, the [aspect of the] evil inclination that causes anger will be nullified. It will therefore be effective [in eliminating anger]—unless, of course, the person willfully chooses to become angry.
Let us first explain what anger is. As we explained above, there are three types [and derivations] of vengeance [whose numerical value is 151]: the Name Ekyeh when spelled out with the letter hei, giving a numerical value of 151; the combined numerical values of the Names Adni and Elokim, which equal 151; and the square of the Name Ekyeh, which equals 151. All these equal the numerical value of the word for "anger" [kaas] plus 1 for the word as a whole.
We see from this that anger derives from the two Names Adni and Elokim, which signify the two types of courts: lenient and strict. When these two Names are combined, anger issues from them.
In other words, being judgmental (i.e., acting like a court) is the source of anger. The connection between anger and the Name Ekyeh will be discussed presently. The Name Elokim signifies strict judgment, and the Name Adni lenient judgment. In Kabbala, the Name Elokim is associated chiefly with the sefira of gevura and the Name Adni with the sefira of malchut. Judgment is obviously an essential aspect of both of these attributes. When allowed to get out of hand, however, it degenerates into anger.
This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "for I, G-d your G-d, am a jealous G-d."
The italicized "G-d" is the translation of the Name Havaya, which is read nowadays as the Name Adni. The non-italicized "G-d" immediately following is the translation of the Name Elokim. Thus, the combination of these two Names makes G-d "a jealous G-d," exacting vengeance.
For anger derives from these two Names, Adni and Elokim, whose combined numerical value is 151.
This is also alluded to in the verse: "For anger rests in the bosom of fools." The numerical value of the word for "in the bosom of" [becheik, beit-chet-yud-kuf] is 120, which is the number of permutations of the Name Elokim, from whence anger derives.
The Name Elokim comprises five letters (alef-lamed-hei-yud-mem), and five letters produce 120 permutations: 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120. The different permutations of this Name indicate all the various types of judgment.
Now, the word becheik comprises the letters of the word Yabok [yud-beit-kuf] together with the letter chet inserted in the middle.
The Yabok is a tributary of the Jordan river and was the scene of Jacob’s night-time encounter with the angel of Esau (Genesis 32:23-33). As such, it signifies the context of the struggle between good and evil.
The significance of this is that when the Name Havaya is joined to the Name Elokim the negativity of the Name Elokim is sweetened by the mercy of the Name Havaya. The combined numerical value of these Names is that of Yabok, 112.
Just as the Name Elokim is associated with G-d’s attribute of judgment, the Name Havaya is associated with His attribute of mercy. Judgment is not intrinsically negative, of course, since proper discernment is necessary in order to recognize good and evil and separate them. Only when judgment is allowed to overtake a person’s consciousness does it become a negative force, resulting eventually in anger. Therefore, care must always be taken to moderate and mitigate judgment with mercy.
This interplay between judgment and mercy may be seen as the struggle between Jacob and Esau’s angel (not Esau himself—for he is the personification of fallen judgment, i.e., anger and violence—but his "angel" or spiritual origin). They are both legitimate, but Jacob (mercy) must always retain the upper hand. This is why this struggle took place at the Yabok river, for as we said, the numerical value of Yabok is 112, the sum of the numerical values of the Name Havaya (26) and Elokim (86).
However, through anger, the individual introduces the letter chet into this word. The numerical value of chet is 8, alluding to the eight kings of who ruled the land of Edom. [By inserting them into the picture,] the individual causes the world to revert to chaos.
Edom is the kingdom of Esau, and thus signifies unmitigated judgment. As such, this kingdom and the eight kings who ruled it (Genesis 36:31-39) express the energy of the world of Tohu ("chaos"), the order of creation that preceded the rectified order of Tikun or Atzilut. In this world, the sefirot could not interact because they did not allow each other to enter each other’s vessels. In other words, they exhibited excessive severity, judgment, and self-centeredness. By exhibiting anger, the individual causes the world to regress to this level.
This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "And the querulous man alienates his friend."
The word used for "friend" in this verse (aluf) is the same as that for "chieftain," possibly alluding to the chieftains of Edom (Genesis 36:15-19). The meaning would then be that an angry person separates between people, regressing the world to the state of Tohu.
When the Name Havaya is thus separated from the Name Elokim, this produces the state of severe judgment, which in turn leads to anger. The root of this anger is in the 120 permutations of the Name Elokim, which is the numerical value of the word "in the bosom of," as we have noted.
This is also the meaning of what [the people] said to Aaron [when they asked him to make the golden calf]: "Arise, make us gods that will go before us." That is, they asked him to make the Name Elokim—which in the context of holiness is only one Name—expand into many gods, i.e., its 120 permutations. This is why the verb "that will go" in this verse is in the plural. "That will go" also means "that will extend," implying that the Name Elokim expands into its 120 permutations.
The Arizal will presently explain that the 120 permutations themselves are entirely within the realm of holiness, but they serve as the origin of the "other gods" that constitute idolatry and denial of the one G-d.
It is to this that the elder in the Zohar alludes when he explains the verse, "G‑d [Elokim] ruled over the nations": "the Name Elokim expands until other gods issue from it." This means that the Name Elokim expands into its 120 permutations, all of which are still in the realm of holiness, but [whatever expands] further than this becomes other gods, which are rooted in the said 120 permutations.
When the judgment of the Name Elokim is allowed to extend beyond its natural borders, i.e., when a person becomes overly judgmental, this becomes a recipe for idolatry. The person comes to deny the oneness of G‑d in the world, i.e., the fact that everything in the world is caused and directed directly by G-d. This subtle idolatry leads, as we said, to anger.
This is alluded to as well in the continuation of the story of the golden calf, when it is said: "they made for themselves a god of gold," the word "a god" being in the plural.
The word for "a god of" in this verse literally reads "gods of" [elokei].
Similarly, G-d told Moses, "they made themselves a molten calf." The numerical value of the word for "molten" [maseichah, mem-samech-chaf-hei] is 125, alluding to the 120 permutations of the 5 letters of the Name Elokim. Thus the word maseichah divides into two parts, mem-samech-chaf, the numerical value of which is 120, and hei, the numerical value of which is 5. This is also why the calf was made of 120 talents of gold, corresponding to the 120 permutations [or, according to another opinion, 125 talents of gold, correspond to] the numerical value of the word maseichah, as our sages have said.
This is also the mystical meaning of the commandment, "Do not make for yourselves molten gods." Do not allow the Name Elokim to expand to its 120 permutations—120 being the numerical value of the word for "molten"—so that these can serve as a source for the forces of evil, known as "other gods."
Now that we have explained the damage [caused by anger], we can explain the remedy. Since anger causes the Name Havaya to be dissociated from the Name Elokim, the remedy is to join them together again.
This is done as follows: During the morning, afternoon, and evening prayers, when reciting the first three blessings of the Amida, one should meditate on the following: When saying "Blessed are You, O G-d" during the first blessing (Avot), one should, when saying the Name Havaya, meditate on the spelling of this Name whose numerical value is 72, i.e., as it is spelled out using the letter yud. He should also intend [in his mind] to unite this Name with the Name Ekyeh as it is spelled out using the letter yud.
As we explained previously, there are four chief ways to spell out the Name Havaya; the numerical values of these spellings are 72, 63, 45, and 52. The first blessing of the Amida is called Avot ("fathers") since it mentions the forefathers of the Jewish people. The spelling whose numerical equivalent is 72 is associated with the sefira of chochma. The Name Ekyeh is associated with the sefirot of keter and (secondarily) bina. This means that when the keter-bina experience is allowed to fulfill itself, develop and mature (as signified by the spelling out and squaring of this Name) without the presence of chochma in the process, anger is likely to ensue. If, however, chochma is present, this serves to sweeten the fulfillment and maturity of keter and bina, ensuring that the process will not lead to anger.
We may explain this as follows: Keter, in its most immediate manifestation, is the will that drives the person to pursue his vision or idealism and make its imprint in the world. This will gives rise to an intellectual insight regarding how this vision can be expressed in a particular context, usually as a solution to a problem or challenge. This insight is called chochma ("wisdom"). It is then necessary to integrate this insight into the individuals pre-existing world-view and mode of thinking, in order for him to be able to hold on to the ephemeral and elusive insight he has just been graced with. This is the role of bina ("understanding" the insight).
In the process of processing the insight, however, bina must perforce give due consideration to the individual’s way of looking at the world, which he has developed throughout his lifetime. This carries with it the danger of reinforcing and bolstering his ego, as details of the insight validate his preconceptions. Man, being an egocentric creature, will naturally tend to emphasize those aspects of his new insight that validate his preconceptions and existing notions of the nature of reality, and tend to ignore those aspects of the insight that require him to re-evaluate or re-formulate his world-view.
It is therefore necessary for someone who has received an insight to try to re-experience the pristine vision of the insight at various points during the process of integrating it into his existing mental structures, particularly after the process has been completed. In this way, he can measure the extent to which his mental processing has remained true to the original vision of the insight. This process is called joining or unifying chochma and bina.
If a person neglects to do this, his insightful experience will only serve to aggrandize his ego, as we said, and this of course will lead him to anger, since anger is just a manifestation of the ego. (This is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word for "anger" [kaas, 150] is ten times that of the word for "haughtiness" [gaava, 15].)
Similarly, the will that engendered the insight in the first place is a self-oriented experience: "I want to solve this problem; I am bothered by this challenge." In contrast, receiving insight is a humbling experience, since one is privileged to experience a transcendent revelation that is obviously from a place of infinity beyond him. If, however, this transcendental experience is allowed to fade into distant memory, the egocentricity of the will goes unchecked.
Rooting out anger at its source, then, involves uniting the Name Havaya (specifically, the Name Havaya associated with chochma) with the Name Ekyeh.
When saying "Blessed are You, O G-d" during the second blessing (Gevurot), one should, when saying the Name Havaya, meditate on the spelling of this Name whose numerical value is 63. He should in addition intend to unite this Name with the Name Elokim. This he does by visualizing the Name Havaya vocalized with the vowels of the Name Elokim.
The Name Elokim has three vowels (chataf-segol, cholam, chirik). These should be envisioned as appearing together with the first three letters of the Name Havaya. The second blessing of the Amida is called Gevurot ("powers") since it discusses G-d’s power and strength. The Name Havaya whose numerical value is 63 is associated with the sefira of bina. Inasmuch as bina is the source of gevura, joining these two names in effect grants gevura an experience of its source, or returns gevura to its source in bina.
As we said above, bina is the analysis through which the insight of chochma is processed. This process entails evaluating one’s preconceived notions and way of thinking in light of the new insight, a process of judgment and severity, since old ideas that do not jibe with the new insight will have to be rejected. Thus, bina is the source of gevura. However, it is always necessary to keep gevura connected to its source in bina, so that it retains the "personality" of an objective arbitrator rather than degenerating into an arbitrary despot.
When saying "Blessed are You, O G-d" during the third blessing (Kedushat Hashem), one should, when saying the Name Havaya, meditate on the spelling of this Name whose numerical value is 45, i.e., as it is spelled out using the letter alef. He should in addition intend to unite this Name with the Name Adni.
The Name Havaya whose numerical value is 45 is associated with the concept of humility. The numerical value of the word for "what" (mah) is 45, and the question "what?" implies a humble admission that one does not know everything. Moses, the humblest man on earth, said of himself and his brother Aaron, "What are we?," i.e., "we are, or personify, the attribute of ‘what.’"
This attribute is the essential compliment and inner dimension of the attribute of malchut, sovereignty. This was exemplified by King David, the quintessential monarch, who declared of himself, "I shall be lowly in my own estimation."
Thus, in the second and third blessings of the Amida, he has connected the Name Havayah with the Names Elokim and Adni, which are the two powers of judgment from which anger is numerically derived, as we have said. In this way, he has sweetened them by associating them with the Name Havaya.
The way to prevent anger is thus to ensure that one’s power of judgment is always mitigated by mercy. The third blessing of the Amida is called Kedushat Hashem ("the holiness of G-d’s Name), for this is its subject.
In the first blessing of the Amida, he has also through his meditation sweetened the source of these two powers of judgment, that is, the Name Ekyeh, from which anger also is derived when it is spelled out with the letter hei, as we have mentioned. This Name is sweetened by the Name Havaya spelled out to equal 72. Thus, all three aspects of anger have been rectified: the root and its two branches.
In summary, then, we see that by tracing the root of vengeance (kuf-nun-alef) back to its origin in the Divine Names, we see how the perversions of Divine power that give rise to anger can be rectified and sweetened in their source. Evidently, Pinchas succeeded in doing this, for the result of his expressing rectified anger (i.e., anger devoid of any ego) was being granted membership in the priesthood. On the one hand, we see that the tribe of Levi was characterized by extreme zealousness for G-d. Levi and his brother Shimon took vengeance on the people of Shechem when they raped their sister, Dina. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the people worshipping the golden calf, he said, "Who is for G-d, come to me," and the entire tribe of Levi came to him and slew the idolaters. On the other hand, one of the chief functions of the priest, besides officiating at the Temple sacrificial rites, was to bless the people each day with peace. The passage describing this function of the priesthood contains 150 letters, signifying how by rectifying their innate attribute of zealous anger, they serve as conduits for peace and brotherhood for the whole people. Thus, G-d says of Pinchas, "Therefore, say that I hereby grant him My covenant of peace."
The Arizal makes another recommendation for insulating oneself from anger:
In addition, one should immerse in the mikveh twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays…. When he immerses, he should meditate on the fact that the numerical value of the word mikveh [mem-kuf-vav-hei, 151] is the same as that of the word for "anger" [kaas, 150 plus the kolel] and that of the Name Ekyeh spelled out with the letter hei . He should intend through these immersions that the anger that overcomes him be nullified, provided that he persists in immersing this way.
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally
from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem.
(Click on the footnote number to return to the text.)
 Numbers 25:10-11.
 Song of Songs 6:11.
 Zohar 1:27b, 2:182b, 3:179a, 234b; Zohar Chadash 21a; Tikunei Zohar 56; Mishneh Torah, Deiot 2:3; see Shabbat 105b, Nedarim 22b, Igeret HaKodesh 25.
 Igeret HaTeshuva 1-3. Rabbi Shneur Zalman does allow a person to complete a limited number of fasts, but the Rebbe has said that even these fasts are no longer applicable.
 Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9.
 Ecclesiastes 7:9.
 Proverbs 16:29.
 Exodus 32:1.
 Psalms 47:9.
 Exodus 32:31.
 Ibid. 32:8.
 Shemot Rabba 42:8; Zohar 2:198b, 3:79a.
 Exodus 34:17.
 Numbers 12:3.
 Exodus 16:7,8.
 2 Samuel 6:22.
 Genesis 34.
 Exodus 32:26-28.
 Numbers 6:22-27.
 Ibid. 25:12.
Receive future postings directly in your e-mail
Ascent of Safed