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Spanning Heaven and Earth

Part I: Hevron and the 7 levels

Simcha Baer Isaiah Cox1 Zev Hall

Today, nobody yearns to be buried in Hebron, in Maras Hamachepela. It is as if the idea escapes us, as if it is
outside the range of the possible. Jews want to be buried in Israel, but as much as we desire to be among the
most esteemed of our forefathers, nobody is buried in Maras HaMachpela, among the greatest of all: our
original forefathers and matriarchs.

On the contrary, we have a sense that Maras HaMachpelah is already perfect: the addition of a David or Moshe
or Aharon would be senseless. Their absence is not felt; Machpelah is a set piece. But what makes this place so
complete; what compels us to understand that Machpelah needs no improvement, no additional legacy?

Part of the answer is that Maras HaMachpela represents a phase of Jewish development, the critical pieces
necessary to have a relationship between Man and G-d. But as we can see from the lives of great Jews who
have lived after those who are buried in Machpelah (think of David or Moshe or Rabbi Akiva), the mission of
Jews is to develop upon the basic framework or foundation that was established by our forefathers – to grow
the relationship between Man and his Creator, and to spread its knowledge and acceptance to all of mankind.

But if this is true, we need to better understand why those buried at Maras HaMachpelah are so clearly the links
between Man and G-d. And to do this, we need to go back to creation itself, and to start with the first acts of

R. Jehudah said: There are two firmaments, as it is written [Deut. x. 14]: "Behold, to the
Lord thy God belong the heavens and the heavens of the heavens." Resh Lakish said, they
are seven, viz.: Vilon, Rakia, Shchakim, Zvul, Maon, Makhon, Aravos.2
Judaism is full of numbers: numbers of festivals, the different levels of holiness, or of purity and impurity. One
recurring and common number is, of course, the number Seven. Seven is the number of the days of creation
(and hence of Shabbos), of the days of the agricultural festivals of Pesach and Succos. Seven represents the
number of the natural world.

But the Torah also tells us that Seven is not just the number of the natural world. It is also reflected in the
world above us, in shamayim. The Gemara in Chagigah (12b) notes that there are seven levels in Shamayim. But
what of it? Names like ma’one and shechakim are not common parlance. Our is a pragmatic faith; we do not
regularly study heaven because it appears that there are limits to what we can know.

But appearances can be deceiving. There is actually quite a lot we can know about shamayim, because it is, in
fact, the mirror of the earth we occupy – both in a physical and in a spiritual sense. G-d created both the earth
and the sky in the same event, creating a dualism that pervades our every sense: man and woman, light and
dark, taharah and tumah, good and evil, the gashmius of Esav and the ruchniyus of Yaakov. And it is clear that
man’s role, or at least the role of the Jew, is to effect a proper reunification, to use the ruchniyus, spirituality, of
Yaakov to elevate the physical, materialistic, world of Esav. In other words, Hashem made the world in two
pieces, and it is the task of Jews to work to unify those pieces in holiness. We can know this to be true because
we have a precedent to follow – the four couples buried in Hebron who show us the way.

Hebron is known to be an exceptional place. Not only is it the first piece of the land of Israel documented to
be purchased by Jews, but it is especially beloved by the midrash, which waxes poetic when discussing Hevron.
Hevron is not just any old place. Chevron is where the Techias Hameisim will commence.3 The Anakim, b’nei

1 With special thanks to Jonathan Joy for his valuable and pertinent input
2 Chagiga YB, Amud B,
3 Maharal, Gur Aryeh
Nefillim, choose to settle in Hevron, and the midrash says that these Nefillim were exiled angels, sent down by
Hashem [need source]. What would entice angels, fallen or not, to a place like Hevron? Externally it appears
much like any other.

But spiritually, Hevron is special. We know from a midrash [source?] that Avraham recognized Hevron as the
gateway to gan eden. We know it is the place where Adam and Chava are buried. And we know from another
midrash (Chagigah 12a) by R’ Elazar that Adam himself stretched from the earth until the sky. Adam was the
embodiment of the junction of the earth and shamayim – he was himself meant to be the end of the creation
story, the human who completed Hashem’s dualistic work by unifying the world. When Adam and Chava were
expelled from the garden, R’ Elazar explains that Adam was diminished by Hashem. And this man, who had
once reached every level of earth and sky, was buried in Hevron. Adam’s former stature was no more, but the
fact that he had, at one time, achieved it, shows that mankind contains the potential to once again stand on the
ground, and reach up to touch heaven.

This is what Hevron encapsulates. Hevron is the very essence of what a man can achieve on this earth. Because
when Avraham purchased land there, and buried Sarah, he set the precedent for all of the founders of Judaism.
Pre-national Judaism, the essence of the Jewish people and their mission on this world, is contained within the
burial ground that Avraham purchased.

Machpela contains both the past, and the future. The great people buried there have achieved, in some sense,
t’cheeyas hameisim – the resurrection of the dead. Those peoples’ ideas and ideals are what lead and guide the
Jewish people today, because our forefathers, whom we honour every day, inspire us to growing in holiness and
yes, toward the highest levels of shamayim.4 This paper will examine each of our forebears in turn, and link
them with the corresponding level of shamayim.

4Indeed, it is from the depths, the “emek” of Chevron that Yaakov sends Joseph, on his ill-fated trip to enquire as to the
welfare, or peace, of his brothers. Chevron is not an “emek” – it is a mountain. So the reference to the “depths of
Chevron” is a reference to those buried in Chevron, and may just as easily mean, as held by the Maharal and the Gur
Aryeh, that this was a journey blessed at the outset as being critical for the fulfillment of the Jewish destiny – to save the
sons of Jacob from the upcoming famine, and to, in the end, bring us into, and out of, Egypt.

Before anyone can climb a ladder, it must be able to stand on its base. Chavah, buried first at Hevron, is the
foundation, before the ladder even begins. Chavah represents the earth itself, and mankind in its most basic
form. She is the essence of gashmius, physicality. Chava is like the beautiful city of Tz’on in Egypt, which the
Gemara tells us was the most beautiful city on earth, but which is considered only a fraction as beautiful or
fertile as Chevron. She was the first woman, and the Gemara in Bava Basra (58a) says she was the most
beautiful woman who has ever existed; she was the very essence of physicality, of all that makes the physical
world tangible and desirable. Chava was far more beautiful than even Sarah; she is the earth mother,
representing enormous creative potential, capable of producing millions of offspring. She is the foundation for
the ladder, and the bedrock upon which the bridge to Shamayim rests.

Hebron has 8 graves, and 7 of these graves represent a level of heaven, and its parallel on earth. Chava is the
exception. As 100% earthly, Chava did not achieve any of the levels of Shamayim. She is instead the earthly
anchor of the bridge to heaven, everything we seek to elevate and grow.

But the earth itself is limited in the way its beauty can touch us, because it lacks any g-dliness, any ruchniyus.
Though Chava was the most beautiful woman who ever existed, which twins nicely with Tz’on, the most
beautiful city on earth, there are seven other people buried in Chevron which allow the medrash to say that
Chevron was precisely seven times more beautiful than Tzon. This has nothing to do with innate physical
beauty. Tzon has no peers in this respect. The beauty of Hevron has everything to do with the spiritual
emanations, the accomplishments of the other seven. Each of the great people buried in Hebron sought to
bring man closer to G-d, to elevate G-d’s creation back to shamayim. Integral to this is that Hashem gave us
the power to create. We can create things biologically, or mechanically. We can even create just by using words,
because, as we learn from Hashem during the creation of the world, words can be enormously powerful. So in
acting out creation, imitating the heavenly levels here on earth, our founders were creating the rungs to heaven.
And that is a spiritual beauty that mere physical beauty can never touch.
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Chava Sarah
Earth Vilon

Vilon serves no purpose whatever save this, that it enters in the morning, and goes forth in the evening, and renews every day the
work of creation.

Resting on the ground, representing the first ladder to heaven, and indeed the first level in heaven, the Veelone
(curtain), is Sarah Imeinu. This level is that of the blue sky, and it represents Hashem’s curtain. Curtains are
wonderful for the imagination, because we always know that there is something behind a curtain, and our
instinct is to peek. And indeed, the fact of the curtain of sky has always made man intensely curious about what
lies behind.

Sarah made a tent, the curtain above man, making explicit what people have often guessed: there is a G-d, and
he is above us. The curtain of Sarah’s tent, and the curtain of sky is the same imagery as the fabric and veil of
the tallis, and the veil of a bride on her wedding day, as well as so many other images in Judaism, from the
curtain of the kodesh hakedoshim to the requirement that we cover our eyes when declaring the Oneness of
Hashem. The Shema itself requires that in order to recognize Hashem, we must first recognize the existence of
the Veelone, the level represented by Sarah.5

What did Sarah do, really? She made a tent in which travelers could experience a hint of shamayim, to connect
to g-dliness. Why was making a tent the same as reaching the first level of Heaven? Because imitatio dei,
imitation of Hashem, is how we grow toward Him. And making a tent to replace the veelone, is like bringing the
heavenly curtain down to earth, down to humanity. Sarah reached the level of the Veelone because she created
a veelone of her own, imitating Hashem’s creation directly.

Sarah also represents the first step in growing toward a relationship with G-d – recognition of open miracles.
Sarah was an old woman when the angels told her that she would bear a child. And Sarah’s first reaction is
simple disbelief – laughter. The natural world, the world of Chavah’s descendants, did not have events that
occurred “out-of-nature” as it were. Until Sarah’s pregnancy, Hashem had never acted supernaturally. But once
Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac, the precedent came clear: G-d does open miracles, involved in our
lives at key moments. This was a fundamentally important insight, the insight of the veelone, that beyond the
natural world there is a curtain behind which Hashem operates, entirely unbound by the constraints of the
natural world.

Gelernter6 shows how within the very concept of separation, G-d’s holiness is manifest. And Jews are
commanded to separate ourselves – to be holy. But in order to do that, we must first become aware of the
dichotomies of the world, of all the dualisms in our world, including good and evil, light and dark, spirituality
and physicality. Without a curtain to help distinguish, to separate between the holy and profane, the Shabbos
and the days of the week7, it is impossible to have the separation necessary to achieve holiness. That is Sarah’s
contribution to the basic fabric of Jewish understanding: she understood the dualisms in the world, and
imitated G-d by honoring the separation that He had made during creation.

Recognizing the Veelone is also the first step for any belief in an overarching divine entity, in Hashem.
Avraham and Sarah came from a world where people worshipped inanimate objects, and very commonly
things they saw in nature (the sun, moon, sea, trees, etc.). Each of these “deities” existed with limited power,
and within the constraints of their bailiwick; one prayed to the sun deity for things relating to the sun, but

5 And we are commanded to recite the Shema once in the morning, when we can see the sky, and once at night, when it is
not visible (one sees through the veelone to the rakiyah at night). This is a progression in acknowledging Hashem. We say
Shema and recognize Hashem when we can see the curtain – and then again when we cannot see it, but know it – like
Hashem - must be there. Hester Panim!
6 Judaism Beyond Words, David Gelernter, Commentary; May 2002; 113, 5; ProQuest Direct Complete

pg. 31
7 Sarah’s miracles of candles, challah and anan hakavod show the connection to the separation of Shabbos.
praying to the sun god for rain was just silly. Deities were limited, and as embodiments of nature, worked
within it. The fact of a supernatural and open miracle like the birth of Isaac is mutually exclusive with the entire
worldview of “natural” deities. Not only was Avraham right that there was only one G-d, but as Sarah
discovered through her recreation of the veelone, within a holy home G-d can and does perform open miracles
to answer the prayers of his people, regardless of any natural expectation to the contrary.
Rakia is that in which are set: sun and moon, stars and constellations.

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Chava Sarah Leah
Earth Veelone Rakiyah

The next level on the ladder, stepping away from the earth and toward the sky, is found in the rakiyah. The
Rakiyah holds the luminaries in the sky; the sun, the moon, the stars. Leah does not herself represent the
celestial bodies – it is Rachel who is the moon in the Joseph’s dream8, and Leah's children are the stars in that
dream. Yaakov himself is represented as the sun. But none of these objects would be visible without a suitable
backdrop. The stars are only visible because the sky is otherwise so dark. Even the sun would not be visible if
the entire sky was similarly lit. Leah is the setting, the rakiyah, of the celestial bodies.

The celestial bodies convey malchus to the world -- the malchus of Hashem. Anyone can look up to the skies
and realize that there is indeed a higher power, just as anyone can look up to the leviyim and kohanim and the
sanhedrin and see a higher power. Hashem chooses both the stars and the leviyim, as his representatives and
indeed his own possessions. Leah's offspring form the government and administration - the backbone of
society in the leviyim, cohanim, sanhedrin, the Davidic line of kings, and so forth.9 She forms the earthly
foundation to match the celestial foundation of the stars. Leah represents human institutions, the things man
creates to extend his life beyond the grave. Like the clockwork of the heavens, and stars that twinkle at us
billions of years after the star itself ceases to exist, the rakiyah shows us the life of the universe, the institutions
that built it. And Leah’s offspring, the institutions of Jewish life, show us our own history and foundations.

We see this in Leah’s life. Her marriage to Yaakov is marked as a long and sad story of unrequited love. She
does everything she is supposed to do, and more. She names each child in the hopes that her husband will,
finally, take notice and love her back. Leah is utterly devoted, even when Yaakov appears to ignore her. She is,
indeed, the reminder that our King in heaven is devoted to us, waiting for us to come back to Him. The
Rakiyah, Leah’s level, is always there with the sun, moon and stars, quietly shining, beckoning us to remember
who and what we are. Leah built the rung of the ladder showing us that G-d is there, waiting to catch our eye,
to finally return his love.

Leah is also the next level up from Sarah in terms of G-d’s involvement in this world: from open miracle to
hashgacha pratis or divine provenance. G-d directly intervened in Sarah’s life, answering her prayers for a child.
Leah, on the other hand, was not supposed to marry Yaakov in the first place – he loved Rachel, after all.
Yaakov was destined to be a great patriarch of the Jewish people, but Hashem’s plan could not be denied. One
way or another, Leah married Yaakov first, setting into place the founding of the Tribes of Israel, the end of
the bechirah process that had winnowed the descendants of Terach, like a genetic selection process, down to
Yaakov and his wives. G-d intervened, and Leah married Yaakov first. This was not a miraculous involvement;
it could be chalked up to simple coincidence. Or as once seen on a sign: “Coincidence is G-d’s way of keeping
his anonymity.” That, then, is the backdrop of the rakiyah, of the level of Leah. The quiet, almost incidental
things like the backdrop of the sky, that actually show us (or at least those of us willing to open our eyes) that
G-d’s presence is not just in the super-miraculous, but even in the more mundane matters of a man mistakenly
marrying the wrong woman.

8 Some say Bilhah.

9 Leah’s offspring are the institutions of Judaism, including the Sanhedrin and the monarchy of David, and the Cohanim
and Leviyim. These institutions are given a special task by Hashem – to pursue justice. And the kind of instructions
Hashem gives human courts are those of mishpat. Mishpatim can be distinguished from chokim by a simple definition: A
chok is something that G-d tells us, so we do it. A mishpat is an instruction as to how to find justice ourselves in stickier
situations of human interaction. A chok does not allow for very much room for interpretation, while a mishpat relies on the
good faith and judgment of the institutions. Between the two, a mishpat relies more on human judgment, while a chok is
more of a divine edict, not something people can or should rationalize away.
Shchakim is that in which the millstones stand and grind manna for the righteous, as it is written, 'He commanded the Shechakim
above and opened the doors of heaven, and He caused manna to rain upon them for food.' (Psalms 78:23-24)"

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Chava Sarah Leah Avraham
Earth Veelone Rakiyah Shechakim

The next level is that of Shechakim, or mills. The mills are the factory for the production of manna, the food
for angels, and, for forty years, the food for the Jewish people upon leaving Egypt. This is the level of
Avraham, because Avraham’s chosen mitzvah was hachnassas orchim, making the extra effort to feed travellers.
And indeed, Avraham’s descendants are paid back middoh kneged middoh for this. When we, too, were travelers in
the midbar, and we were in Hashem’s house (as framed by the ananei hakavod), Hashem made the extra effort to
feed us his best – the food of angels produced by the shechakim of shamayim. There is a medrash10 that the angels
protested when Hashem gave the food of angels, manna, to bnei yisrael, but Hashem told them that since they
had accepted Avraham’s food, they had no grounds to refuse supplying manna to Avraham’s children.

Avraham was more than just about feeding guests. Even when in greatest personal discomfort, Avraham made
guests comfortable, bringing them out of the sun, and bathing their feet in water. And while the bnei yisrael
benefited by eating angelic mann11 as a consequence of the earthly food Avraham provided the angels, they
also benefited with shade as provided by the ananei hakavod, and the comfort of the well of Miriam as midoh
kneged midoh for Avraham bathing the angels’ feet.

What do these things all have in common? They all appeared in the desert as miraculous gifts, as something
that defied the normal course of events. The product of a divine factory would be as out of place on earth as a
man who freely and joyfully gives of his own food and wealth to perfect strangers. Hachnassas orchim makes
no sense, yet it is a thing of beauty, a level of shamayim. And the relationship is reciprocal, providing divine
supernatural gifts to Avraham’s descendants in turn.

For that period of time, the supernatural became normal. Each of these miracles happened on a regular,
recurring basis. The clouds of glory came and went, appearing and moving and transforming at dusk and dawn
like clockwork, like the machinery in an earthly mill. The mann fell each and every day the Jews were in the
desert, again, like the production from a factory. And water flowed freely, always there for the Jewish people
while they were under G-d’s protection.

An open miracle happened for Sarah, because she perceived and recreated the divine curtain. Leah reflected G-
d’s patient love, and was rewarded with hashgacha pratis, the hidden miracle. Both of these were one-time
miracles. But Avraham went even further, and defied our natural inclination to be selfish; he showed love to
every other person he came across, without fail. His entire reason for existence was to show kindness, and in
his merit the Jewish people benefited from the daily miracles that gave us life in the wilderness.

The time the Jews lived in the desert, they were being hosted, as it were, by Hashem. Under his tent they were
protected by the sun, fed and watered. Clothing, too, adapted as necessary and stayed clean. The Jews were
being hosted in a celestial hotel, where the miraculous became routine, where the supernatural and the natural
blurred so that even the guests often were unable to tell the difference. In bringing together shamayim and
aretz, Avraham represents this level of melding G-dliness on earth, providing a heavenly experience for his
guests, so they could perceive G-d’s beneficence.12

10 Yalkut Shmini, jh t”j

11 and perhaps even the quails.
12 This helps explain all the midrashim that deal with the incredible miracles visited on the Jews in the midbar. The Jews at

that time were not really connected to the real world and the limitations of nature. G-d lifted them up, to show them what
their future potential could be.
Zvul is that in which is the heavenly Jerusalem and the Temple, and the altar is built there, and Michael the great prince stands
and offers upon it an offering.

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Chava Sarah Leah Avraham Rivka
Earth Veelone Rakiyah Shechakim Zvul

The Zvul is where the Beis Hamikdash shel maalah (the heavenly beis hamikdash) is, and its mirror is, of
course, the beis hamikdash shel mata – the holy temple in Jerusalem. This is, in many respects, the most
critical of all the levels, as it represents the middle level of the seven heavenly levels, the level at which man
and G-d are most balanced and coexist in the same time and place. The Beis Hamikdash is the very pinnacle of
Jewish service of Hashem, and it is continuously in our prayers as the only place in which we can properly serve
G-d to the fullest extent.

It is held that when man worships Hashem, we lead the angels in service rather than following them. For
example, the angels in shamayim do not sing the kedusha of Hashem until those of us in the world “shel mata”
have done so. Rabbi Moshe Haschel adds to this idea that the beauty of the heavenly choir also depends on the
beauty of the earthly choir. The Kedusha is a mutual effort, wherein the heavenly component is predetermined
by the earthly component – man sings and then the angels sing. So there are parts of Shamayim that depend on
what we do.13,14

The person who represents the Zvul, the Beis Hamikdash, has to be able to embody the characteristics required
to make a collaboration a success – dedication and flexibility. Rivka is an extraordinary woman, and presents a
clear contrast to the other Mothers of Judaism. Unlike Sara or Leah or Rachel, Rivka chooses a non-
confrontational course. She does not rebuke her husband in public or in private, making strong demands that
lead her husband to go to Hashem looking for guidance. Rivka instead is quiet, dedicated to building a beautiful
home, and doing so without rocking the boat.15 And when Rivka acts – as she indeed does – it is behind the
scenes, directing the actions of others instead of taking the leading role herself.

The obvious example is to be found in the deception of Yitzchak. But it is by no means the only one. We know
that Esau was far from a perfect son, but that he loved his parents and sought especially to please his father.
Rivka did not seek to have Esau expelled (as Sarah had done with Yishmael). On the contrary: she chose not to
make the perfect the enemy of the good. The midrash tells us that Rivka taught Esau to cook the foods
Yitzchak delighted in, enabling a relationship between both parents and their errant son. This is the attribute of
mercy and love and work, not the attribute of din, judgment. Gan Eden was an unforgiving world, as was the
life of the Jewish people under the laws of the first set of luchos – there was no “A for Effort” – what
mattered was doing everything perfectly. Rivka demonstrates flexibility, of finding a way to make a home for all
of her children even though it meant accepting compromises fraught with difficulty and even loneliness when
things don’t work out.16 Rivka, unlike Sarah, did not insist on a perfect home, with harmony and only good
influences. Rivka was flexible, trying to bring out the best in her sons, and even her husband. When Yaakov
and Esau split, Rivka first kept them from killing each other, and then allowed each to reach their potential
separately. This is the middoh necessary to allow the coexistence of the Jewish people and Hashem in a beis
hamikdosh, showing the mercy and accommodation necessary to allow the infinite and the finite to occupy the
same physical space.

So when is the only time that Rivka is actually recorded confronting her husband – indeed, the only time she is
recorded as having so much as spoken to him? “I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of

13 These are the inner 3 levels of shechakim, zvul, and ma’one. These layers, on both the heavenly and earthly levels, are
built collaboratively, requiring input from both Hashem and from mankind. Perhaps the heavenly Beis Hamikdash is much
like the kedusha in this respect; that it only came into existence when its earthly twin was consecrated? If so, then this
suggests that there is no heavenly beis hamikdash now, and that there will not be one until Bayis Shlishi has been built.
15 In consulting a prophet for the explanation of the twins in her womb, Rivka also shows a deference for authority, a

willingness to seek advice.

16 After all, as a result of her efforts, Rivka was denied seeing Yaakov for the rest of her life.
Heth; If Yaakov takes a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, what is life to
me?”17 On the one hand, this is easily understood as being a pretext to both save the life of Yaakov from the
now-angry Esau, and also to preserve the familial line of our forefathers.18 But the verse has a peculiar thing: a
small “kuf” in the word “katzti”. The Baal Tur tells us that this “kuf” is a reference to the second Beis
Hamikdash, which was 100 amos high, matching the gematria of the letter “kuf”. In other words, Rivka is
asking how it is possible that the descendants of Esau, the Romans, were able to destroy the second Beis
Hamikdosh when Esau was the finest of all people in showing deference for his parents? How could such a
devoted son as Esau destroy the most important edifice that his father’s descendants would ever erect? And the
answer is that marriage matters a great deal – so much so that choosing the daughters of Heth could and would
corrupt even the finest attributes Esau possessed.

Rivka confronts her husband for the only time not for the sake of the blessings he wanted to lay on his sons, or
for any other matter. She acts entirely out of character for the sake of the Beis Hamikdosh itself. She saw the
danger in Esau’s wives, realizing that Esau was corrupted by his wives to such an extent that if he had only
married better, perhaps Esau’s descendants would not have been able to destroy Avraham’s legacy. Rivka’s
action may have been too late to save Esau, but it certainly saved Yaakov, prompting Yitzchak to send Yaakov
away, to Rivka’s family to find a wife that would allow for the saving of the Jewish people and the eventual
building of the Beis Hamikdosh.

It is indeed fitting that the level of Shamayim that corresponds to the Beis Hamikdosh should be represented
by a woman. The Beis Hamikdosh is not just a house or a structure. It is a home, requiring the elements of the
female personality that are capable of transforming walls and a roof into a place in which even G-d can feel
welcome. And Rivka was not just any woman. When Rivka enters Sarah’s tent, all of the miracles that had been
there when Sarah had been living – the cloud, the candles and the dough – returned as they had. Rivkah started
her marriage where Sarah had ended hers. As Rashi tells us, “He brought her to the tent – she was Sarah (his
mother)”. Most of chazal understand this metaphorically – the miraculous returned, Rivka had good middos
like Sara, etc. But is there a way we can understand this literally?

Indeed there is. The Gemara19 tells us that Sarah was an Aylonis, a woman who does not physically mature and
is unable to bear children. And it also tells us elsewhere20 that the word “Aylonis” is an acronym for “A ram
(ayil) that cannot give birth.” Put together, does this make sense? Absolutely. Sarah had a body and soul that
contained the attributes of a ram, eliminating the possibility of natural reproduction, and probably influenced
certain characteristics of her personality as well. Sarah died at the instance of the Akeidah, when not only is her
son almost sacrificed, but an ayil, a ram, is sacrificed in his place. The aylonis attributes of Sarah’s neshama has
been eliminated as Avraham ended the life of the ram. And at the same dramatic moment, Rivka was born –
does anything happen in the Torah by coincidence?21 Rashi does not err when he says that Rivka was Sarah –
indeed, she was Sarah’s gilgul, the rebirth of Sara without the attribute of the ram.22,23

17 Bereishis 27:46
18 As Menachem Leibtag points out, all of our forefathers and foremothers were in fact descendants of one man: Terach.
Had Yaakov married someone not of that line, then the Jewish people would never have come to be.
19 Yevamos, 64b
20 Kesubos 11a
21 And both Rivkah and the beis hamikdash are born from the Akeidah. The akeidah occurs at the same time as the birth of
Rivka, and at the same place as the future Beis Hamikdash. “R. Berekiah said in R. Isaac's name: If thou healest, it will be
for thyself. What is the proof? If thou healest, it will be for thine own flesh’,2 for while he was yet on Mount Moriah he was
informed that his son's mate had been born, as it says, BEHOLD, MILCAH, SHE ALSO HATH BORNE CHILDREN.”

22 Rashi: For when Abraham came back from Morah after the Akedah, he was informed of the birth of Rivkah (Genesis
22:23, at the end of Parashat Vayera), and Yitzchak was thirty-seven years old at that time, for it was at the time of the
Akedah that Sarah died. And from the time Isaac was born, until the Akedah, there were 37 years, since Sarah was 90 at the
time she gave birth to Yitzchak, and 127 when she died, as it says, "This is the life of Sarah," etc. (Genesis 23:1). See, now
Yitzchak was 37 years old when Sarah died, and it was at that time Rivkah was born. He waited three years and then
married her.
23 Sara was, in more ways than one, the tikkun, the reparation, for Chava. The midrash tells us that Adam brought an
offering of a par to Hashem, and Chava was to bring an ayil. Chava was brought into the world to make it possible for
mankind, by striving to overcome the inherent male-female dichotomy, to have a relationship with Hashem. Unfortunately
Chava failed to uphold her end of the bargain. But Sara was both an aylonis, and part of her soul was represented by an ayil.
The midrash tells us that the ayil Avraham sacrificed was the original one, the one Hashem had created in the first acts of
Rivka was thus not just any woman. She was a woman who maintained the tent of Sarah, and elevated it to a
new level. Absent the aylonis aspects of Sarah’s neshama and personality, Rivka is able to build and maintain a
home in which even an Esau and Yaakov can coexist – a home no less challenging in terms of balancing
differences and making allowances for others than the beis hamikdosh itself, where man and G-d can coexist.24

The Akeidah was itself a collaborative effort between man and G-d, an effort in which G-d himself provided
the offering while Avraham brought the fire. It indeed represents Rivka’s level, the beis hamikdash shel malah,
because it is the precise opposite of how a korban is brought in the beis hamikdash shel matah - on the earthly
beis hamikdash, man brings the offering, while G-d provides the fire.25 On the site of the beis hamikdosh, man
and G-d have each at one time played the role of the other – a true partnership.

creation– and thus the same one Chava was to have offered. The ayil itself, as a symbol of procreation, would have been
perfect for Chava to offer, but when she chose to eat of the fruit, that opportunity to elevate her existence was denied her.
Chava stayed purely in the physical realm, the world of natural procreation, and mankind reproduced but without any
holiness, any elevation of the soul. But Sarah took the ayil element of her being, and made procreation miraculous and holy
– and in so doing, she brought Hashem back into the male-female relationship, bringing the divine element back into
marriage. Avraham sacrifices the ram, completing Chava’s destiny – but the beneficiary is Sarah, and Yitzchak. And in the
broadest sense, the beneficiaries are all of the Jewish people, because the Akeidah is the first collaborative sacrifice between
man and G-d, the very foundation of the beis hamikdash. Sarah’s ability to bring G-d back into the relationship between
husband and wife is a prerequisite for man being able to have a proper relationship with G-d in the first place.

But to say that the ayil is the symbol of procreation is like saying that food tastes good. It is true, but there is so much more
there. The ram’s horn is the symbol of the first collaborative act, the completion of the creation that Chava was to have
done. Blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana is more than an act of prayer, and a cry to Hashem -- and more than a
remainder of the akeidah and Avraham and Isaac’s willingness to sacrifice to Hashem – as monumental as those were. Just
as Sarah and Avraham recognized G-d’s dominion, the call of the shofar is the call to bring Hashem back into our human
lives, the reminder that the ayil was that foundation of man working together with Hashem in perfecting the world.
24 So as Sarah’s gilgul minus the ram, Rivka is a much more docile personality than Sarah.
25 This may also explain the notion that when a person brings a korban, they are supposed to imagine that they themselves
are being offered on the mizbeiach. Since the history of the korban in the beis hamikdosh is rooted in the Akeidah, there is
some historical continuity in the notion; after all, Avraham did offer Yitzchak up as an offering, so when we bring an
offering to the beis hamikdosh we should be aware that in fact our ancestors once brought the fire themselves, and relied
on Hashem to provide the korban.
0 1 2 3 4 5
Chava Sarah Leah Avraham Rivka Yaakov
Earth Veelone Rakiyah Shechakim Zvul Maone

Maon is that in which are companies of ministering angels, who utter His song in the night and are silent in the day for the sake of
the glory of Israel.

The level of the Ma’one is where the malachim say Shirah, praising Hashem. The Gemara tells us that the
earthly equivalent is learning Torah, so Yaakov Avinu, who spent so many years learning, is equated to the

But Yaakov’s life, and his connection to the Ma’one, was far more intimately linked to, and defined by, his
encounters with angels. Yaakov saw angels in a dream when he left the land of Israel, he saw them in person
when he returned, and of course he wrestled with an angel, trapping it and extracting a blessing from it. It is
that last encounter that inspires so much analysis, because of the ambiguity in the text that invites midrashic

What is an angel? An angel is an agent of Hashem’s will, essentially a tireless servant who sustains the natural
world. But angels are like computer programs, in the sense that they exist purely for their set task. When that
task has passed, the angel is redefined for the next task; lacking free will, angels do not define their own tasks,
or have an identity beyond what it is that they do. An angel who makes a blade of grass grow is nothing more
or less than the job he has been assigned to do. These jobs (at least the ones on earth) are not set by men. They
are set by Hashem, or by higher angels.

But Yaakov breaks the rules. When he comes close to the borders of Israel, he encounters angels – the
perception of which are a testament to Yaakov’s level of holiness. Yaakov sees angels, recognizes them as
such, and then does something no man, before or after, has ever done: Yaakov puts them to work. Yaakov
tasks the angels with the job of bringing gifts to Esau. Yaakov opportunely assigns tasks to angels he happens
to meet (and who surely were engaged in other work when Yaakov met them). The angels are used both to
impress Esau, and perhaps even to intimidate him – after all, what kind of man can command angels?

The next encounter with angels happens the night before Yaakov meets Esau, and the famous wrestling bout
that lasted until daybreak.26 Yaakov was injured in the bout, but it is made quite clear that he emerges the
victor; the angel has to ask to be released, and Yaakov extracts a blessing from him.

Again, Yaakov has broken the rules. An angel wrestled with him and not only did Yaakov win, but he forced
the angel to alter his mission – from one of testing, to one of blessing and praise. Rashi tells us that the angel
needed to be released because his next assignment was to sing Hashem’s praises at daybreak. But Yaakov
shows his command of the angel by insisting that before the angel is allowed to praise Hashem, he must first
bless Yaakov! Yaakov insists on a blessing, on words of praise, from an angel whose mission is to praise G-d
and not man. The angel, trapped, bends to Yaakov’s will.27

How does it tie together? Yaakov encounters angels, and issues them new instructions. The angels are
disturbed; can a man order angels about? And can Yaakov use angels against his brother, a son of Rivka and
Yitzchak with an equally strong claim to the ancestry and blessing of Avraham and Yitzchak? What a chutzpah!

And while Yaakov sits in Machanayim and sends angels as messengers to Esau, Yaakov makes no move toward
Esau. His return to Israel was not meant as a reconciliation with Esau, but rather as a divorce: I am here, and

26 Is this a template for learning Torah until the break of dawn, until it is time to say the Shema, the words of praise for
27 In that moment, Yaakov wins a piece of the angel. And he pushes – he wants the Angel’s name, to have power over him
going forward (names have inherent power). But the angel rebuts him – his name may change with the mission, and thus
have no value. But even if the angel has a permanent name, Yaakov’s power is limited to that time and place. Unlike angels,
our powers are hard won and temporally limited. Even our victories are fleeting.
you are there. Yaakov had come back to own the birthright of the future of the Jewosh people, and he had no
intention of sharing that birthright with Esau, let alone to yield it to him outright! It was a very bold move,
punctuated as it was with ordering angels and displays of wealth all the while not budging from his camp. It
was as if Yaakov was saying “I am with the angels, and if you have something to say, you must come to me.”

So an angel is tasked (Rashi tells us that this was Esau’s guardian angel) to go and establish whether Yaakov
really has the right to this authority, whether Yaakov is worthy to behave like this. And after the long hard
fight, in which the angel is defeated and trapped, Yaakov gets a blessing – and not just any blessing. The angel
specifically says that Yaakov is “sarisa”, to literally dominate or lord over, angels themselves. Yaakov has passed
the test, and Esau’s angel is compelled to admit that Yaakov is of sufficient stature to command angels in our

And this was not just any angel, but an angel of the Ma’one, those who sing praise at daybreak to Hashem. At
the moment that Yaakov has the angel pinned, he holds time in his hands. It is a pivotal moment, a moment
of destiny. The sunrise awaits the angel’s shirah, and Yaakov in turn has held the angel hostage. In this
moment, we have the confluence of Yaakov and the Ma’one. Yaakov holds the very sunrise, the raison d’etre for
the angels in the Ma’one, captive.

There is more to Yaakov’s connection to the sun, and to Shirah. Many years before, when Yaakov leaves the
land of Israel in fear for his life from Esau, he comes to a place when night has fallen – and the Torah adds
that it was nightfall “because the sun had set.” Why does the Torah have to point out that the sun has set – it is
night-time, after all? Metaphorically speaking, the answer can be found by looking at the next time the sun is
mentioned – several chapters later after Yaakov bests the angel. The sun sets when Yaakov leaves the land of
Israel, and the world is cast into doubt and foreboding. Esau has stayed in the land with his parents (and Chazal
suggest Yitzchak considered bestowing the birthright on Esau), while Yaakov has left the land of Israel, to live
with Lavan. The future is in doubt, and the world is in shadow.

In hindsight, it is obvious to us that Yaakov, and not Esau, was going to be the father of all of Israel. But at the
time, it could not have been obvious at all. Yaakov had been away from Israel, and had had no direct contact
with Hashem for many years. Indeed, the blessing in which Hashem says that Yaakov’s descendants will inherit
the land of Israel28, does not come until after the events at Shechem. Esau and Yaakov shared both parents
(unlike Yitzchak and Yishmael), and so it must have been at least possible to Yaakov that he was meant to
share the blessing, and the future of all of his descendants, with Esau.

Esau’s angel comes to wrestle with Yaakov upon his return. He is wrestling to determine the dominance of
Esau, or Yaakov, in the future of the Jewish people. Yaakov does not yield the future, and indeed he refuses to
make peace with Esau’s angel. In this time of darkness, both literal and poetic, Yaakov fights tooth and nail for
an outright victory, to utterly reject Esau as having any role.

Still, the sun is not mentioned from the time Yaakov leaves Israel until Yaakov comes back to Israel, and bests
Esau’s guardian angel. At that moment, when Shirah is sung by the very angel Yaakov had pinned, the sun
shines on Yaakov, and the destiny of the Jewish people has been resolved.29

This is the time of Shirah. Shirah are sung when something monumental has occurred, when it is time to praise
Hashem for a miraculous outcome. The Jewish people sing Shirah when they escape from Pharoah at the sea
for this exact reason.30 Yaakov’s accomplishments, capped by his match with the angel, justified the singing of
the angels, justified the sun rising over Yaakov and the whole world. The uncertainty of what was going to be
the future of the Jewish people and the Torah itself was resolved in that moment, and the angel, who
previously served as Esau’s representative, received his new instructions to sing Shirah to Hashem. Yaakov,
whose leaving the land of Israel had first caused the sun to set, became the instrument for its rising anew on

28 The blessing, as Menachem Leibtag points out, including the words “zera” and “aretz”, was the sole way of identifying
which children were to be included in the covenant of Avraham, and which were not. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov
each received this blessing from Hashem.
29 The number of pesukim in the Torah, 5845, is matched by “hachamah”, another name for the sun. The sun, and the
Torah, are redemptive.
30 Shirah is a way of putting a new reality into words; if we acknowledge the new facts on the ground with speech and song,
then we are cementing this new reality in words and deeds.
that fateful morning – he caused the sunrise, and he caused the Shirah, which is why he is linked to the

Resh Lakish said: Every one who studied in the Law in this world, which is like the night, the Holy One, blessed be He, stretches
over him the thread of grace for the future world, which is like the day, as it is written: "By the day the Lord gives his merciful
command, and by night his song is with me."

Maon, where angelic choirs chant, but are silent in the daytime.32

The Maon is the place where the angels sing at night, but are silent during the day. Yaakov is someone who
interfaces with Angels at night – he dreams them on ladders, and wrestles with them in the dark. But his
culmination is as the mirror image of the Maon, for Yaakov brings the two together, unifying day and night.
Not only does Yaakov trigger the Shirah for the daytime, but he also represents Torah learning, a way of
praising Hashem in the daytime to complement the angels singing by night. This is the paired creation of the
world, of song and torah, of din and rachamim, of angelic perfection contrasted with human frailty33. And
Yaakov bridges the gap, creating the earthly complement.

31 The same idea can be seen by perceiving Esau as gallus edom, the present predicament of the Jews in the diaspora. The
sun represents Moshiach, and the simple question is: will Moshiach come by himself, or will the descendants of Yaakov
cause Moshiach to come by battling with and triumphing over the forces of Edom. Yaakov’s victory is to show us that we,
as a people, can and must strive for a complete redemption, instead of merely waiting for it to happen by itself. A
redemption which happens by itself is no great victory – but a redemption which Jews bring about ourselves is worthy of
the angels singing Shirah.
32 Selichah by Simeon b. Isaac b. Avun (980-1040), second day of teshuvah.
33 Yaakov has to be injured by the angel in order to become Yisrael. The recognition of human frailty is a necessary
precondition for people to become elevated, to aspire for perfection.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Chava Sarah Leah Avraham Rivka Yaakov Yitzchak
Earth Veelone Rakiyah Shechakim Zvul Maone Machone

Machone is that in which are the treasures of hail, and the high dwelling-place of harmful dews and the high dwelling-place of the
round drops, and the chamber of the whirlwind and of the storm, and the retreat of noisome vapor; and their doors are made of fire.

Yitzchak corresponds to the heavenly level of the Machone, the arsenal. The Machone is the place, according
to Shimon bar Yitzchak, where the bare clouds and storm clouds dwell. It is the place in heaven where water
comes from.

Yitzchak represents the mirror image of this heavenly arsenal of clouds and water. Yitzchak is the waters from
the earth, to match the heavenly waters. He spends his life renewing wells, bringing water up from the earth to
help mankind. The two waters are the waters separated by Hashem during creation, those above and those
below. And during the flood Hashem does not merely open the heavenly store of rain; he opens the spigots
above and below; allowing the waters to combine, the world is all-but-destroyed.

Yitzchak becomes the custodian of the waters below, of the dew and wells of water. At the moment of the
Akeidah the midrash speaks movingly of Avraham’s tears, falling into Yitzchak’s eyes – and the tears of the
angels, also falling down to Yitzchak’s eyes.34 It is at that moment that Yitzchak has merited the power over
dew, over the waters below. The Machone, the arsenal that was capable of destroying the world, had willingly
given up its power over half of all the water, and in the merit of Yitzchak who was willing to sacrifice himself.
Yitzchak subsequently blesses Yaakov with the blessings of Tal, for dew represents Yitzchak’s connection to

Yitzchak’s mirror image of the heavenly arsenal of lightning and storms and rain is one revealed by Yitzchak’s
contrast. In the ancient world, the rain and storms were closely paired, the embodiments of violence and
macho power. Even the Gemara refers to rain as “impregnating” the earth. The Machone is the arsenal, after

And how is man to reflect that kind of violence from the heavens? Instead of representing violently capricious,
sometimes deadly rain and storms wrapped in fire, Yitzchak is all about the steady water from the earth, and
the silent and sweet dew from the mist. Alone among the Avos, Yitzchak never chooses to fight, or even to
argue. His way is steadfast gentleness.

To the rest of the ancient world, storms had powerful patrons – ancient deities like Zeus and Baal, deities of
force. Judaism was meant to be different. We do not ignore storms, but we reject the notion of making them
deities in their own right. Instead, we make them no more than equal to the patron of the waters of the earth,
the constant and calming –- and entirely passive -- dew and well-water.

Storms and violent acts of “nature” are humbling; they put man in his place and make him realize his
inconsequence in the overall scheme of things. Yitzchak is the man who is so connected to his heavenly
counterpart that even while he is blind to earthly matters, he never loses sight of the necessary humility and
gentleness that characterizes the mirror image of the machone.

On Pesach we pray for Tal, for Yitzchak’s bracha to Yaakov to come true. And at the end of Sukkos, directly
under Hashem’s protection in His Sukkah, we pray for rain, the product of the Machone.

34 The midrash tells us that Yitzchak was blinded at this moment: The tears of the angel give Yitzchak spiritual sight – but
at the cost of being able to see the physical world.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chava Sarah Leah Avraham Rivka Yaakov Yitzchak Adam
Earth Veelone Rakiyah Shechakim Zvul Maone Machone Aravos

Araboth is that in which are righteousness and judgment and grace, the treasures of life and the treasures of peace and the treasures
of blessing, and the souls of the righteous and the spirits and souls which are about to be created, and the dew with which the Holy
One, blessed be He, is about to quicken mortals. There also are celestials and seraphs and holy beings and ministering angels and
the throne of glory, and the King, the Living God, high and lifted up, sitting over them among the clouds, and darkness and cloud
and thick darkness surround Him.

Adam is the first human, so he is literally G-d’s first-born, his first-fruit. We hold that the first-born is special,
because a first-born represents the greatest strength and vitality of his parents. When Adam was created,
Hashem literally breathed into his nostrils – the finite nature of dust was animated by contact with the infinite
breath of Hashem.

Adam was the tzelem elokim, fashioned in the image of Hashem. Adam was closer to Hashem’s throne than
any man had ever been, so the highest level of Shamayim corresponds to him. The medrash tells us that Adam
was extremely strong, and filled the world – indeed, that his head reached Shamayim, and that the lowest part
of his body darkened the sun.35 Aravos, an image of plains or wide spaces, is the closest we can come to
imagining infinity.

We can understand this on the spiritual level as well, of course. Adam, who named every animal according to
its essential nature, was given the knowledge to understand the purpose of all of creation, to grasp the
connection between the earth and Hashem at every level and with all of his being. Being the first man, he was
the archetype of man in G-d’s image. Some36 hold that Adam said “Baruch Hashem” every time he exhaled.37
Aravos are the level of shamayim that is farthest from the earth, and closest to ruchniyus, the most ethereal
existence it is possible for man to ever experience.38 Adam was the highest intermediary possible between the
realm of the angels and the materialistic world.39

Any discussion of Adam and his spiritual level is lacking if it does not include David. The connection of the
two is most famously given in the midrash that says that David was meant to die at childbirth, but that Adam
gave up the last 70 years of his life so that David could live – and serve as the gateway back to the completion
of Adam’s original mission: uniting the physical and spiritual planes.

The significance of this can hardly be understated. It means that Adam was the first person to give up his own
life to save someone else’s – as beautiful and selfless an act as any person can ever do. Adam's sacrifice was a
profound understanding of the importance of achievement in life. His was the first acknowledgment by man
that there are goals more important than our own lives, that there are things worth giving our lives for.

And Adam’s selfless act means that David was essentially Adam’s gilgul, his reincarnation. David was Adam’s
heir to the level of the aravos themselves. We know from David’s life that he was raised as an unwanted child,

35 Give source
36 who?
37 It is only fitting, after all, since Adam first breath was a direct result of Hashem breathing through his nostrils – it was
simple appreciation, middoh k’neged middoh.
38 And as Adam’s partner, Chava’s anchor was directly connected to the other side of that bridge.
39 Adam had the opportunity to complete the briyas haolam all by himself. If he had but listened to Hashem’s
commandment, then G-d’s work – and man’s work – was finished a mere day after creation. But he chose differently, and
gained an understanding of good and evil. That choice, of course, defined the pathway for the rest of humanity; we are
each, at every moment, making choices, living the consequence of Adam’s choice. And because Adam did not complete the
creation of the world, the moment was lost. From that moment on, man’s quest was forever altered. We must complete
Hashem’s work the hard way, through generations of choices ultimately culminating in building a home for Hashem in the
Beis Hamikdash. But none of this negates the fact that Adam, at least while he was in Eden, reflected the highest level of
Shamayim, the Aravos.
that his father and siblings thought him illegitimate, and hid him from the outside world.40 But David did not
resign himself to his circumstances; he went upmarket and adopted Hashem as his father. A true descendant of
Adam, he boldly made choice after choice, building from an upbringing as a despised and anonymous shepherd
to become the unifier and king of Israel.

But David’s most enduring work are the tehillim, the songs of praise to Hashem. Like Adam, who praised G-d
with every exhaled breath, David took that connection to Hashem and put it to words and music. This is how
Adam’s connection to the aravos, the highest spiritual plain where the Chayos Hakodesh and Ofanim and high
level malachim dwell, can be connected to every one of us. While we cannot speak with any authority about
this highest level of angels, we can (and do) sing David’s words of praise, the loftiest and most spiritual texts in
any language known to mankind. It is within the musical words of Adam’s reincarnation that we have the most
powerful and moving reflection of the infinity of the aravos.

This also explains the somewhat enigmatic pasuk: “On that day will I raise up the fallen Sukkah of David.”41
The sukkah is chosen because it is in the Sukkah that the highest angels of the aravos are represented on earth.

The wings of the Cherubs above Aron Hakodesh [the Holy Ark] acted like the Schach of the Succah,
protecting the Holy contents within. It is written in "And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on
high, screening (Sochechim) the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward
the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be" (Shemot [Exodus] 25: 20) In the Succah, we are the
Holy objects which G-d protects with his wings, we are the carriers of the living Torah.42

David’s sukkah is a state of mind; a nearness to hashem, separated from him only by the wings of the angels.
When Moshiach comes, we will have successfully internalized Adam and David’s perspective, the appreciation
and understanding that everything we are and have is solely because Hashem created it. And we will spend our
lives, in turn, making choices that help to complete the creation of the world.

The name “Aravos” itself is identical to the name of the willow that we use on Sukkos as part of the Four
Species, and features as the key component for Hoshana Rabbah. Willows are alone among the Four Species in
that with copious amounts of water, they flourish and grow exceedingly quickly and hardily – but if they are
separated from water they begin to visibly degrade almost immediately. This is the highest level on earth that
corresponds to the heavenly Aravos. Water in this case is a metaphor for the blessings from Hashem, and we
are meant to understand that our existence is like that of the willow. With access to Hashem’s blessings, we
grow vigorously: without those blessings, we quickly fade away. The Aravos are the highest level of shamayim
because they require that constant contact in order to exist, unlike so many other things on earth that seem as
though they do not require any assistance in order to exist or survive.

It is on Sukkos, and especially Hoshanoh Rabbah, that we are given access to blessings of Hashem, and we
symbolize that closeness, and reliance, through the willow branches that we grasp. There is a widespread
custom, at the end of the Hoshanos, to throw the spent aravos on top of the Aron in shul, where they stay
until Pesach. One reason for this may be that we want to recall the wings of the angels on top of the aron
hakodesh, covering and protecting to allow Hashem’s shechinah to stay close. Aravos are a reminder that our
existence relies on our constant relationship with Hashem, and when we put the aravos on top of the aron we
seek to remind Hashem, and especially ourselves, of the criticality of that closeness for the rest of the fall and
winter seasons.

40 We do not blame David’s father, Jesse, for this – the Gemara says that he lived a life free from any sin whatsoever.
Though he may have been blameless, the fact remains that he was no father to David.
41 Amos 9:11:

R. Lipsky explains that in Judaism when we elevate ourselves we have to elevate the entire body along with the
head, from the bottom of the feet all the way up. We live within the physical world, and when we grow, we
have to bring the world - and our bodies - with us. Elevation of the head alone is not an improvement at all - it
is instead simple decapitation.

This insight explains about the ninth person buried in Hevron. Esau, who also served the Creator, and who
showed unmatched care and devotion to his parents, failed to elevate his body when he elevated his head. And
so when Esau's head is lifted off of his body and rolls into marat hamachpela, it is fitting that his body, which
had continued to live in sin even while Esau's ideals reached new heights, was not buried in Chevron.

But why, of all the people living, is it Esau who is partially buried in Machpelah? Esau is a connector, the link
between the incredible people buried within Machpelah, and the rest of us, who are so far removed from their
levels of holiness. We understand Esau: at times and in certain situations he was a model citizen, but otherwise
he was a creature of his appetites, sometimes under the control of his desires and emotions instead of the other
way around. Like each of us, Esau’s parents expected Esau to do well, and we have, in some way, fallen short.
Still: though his body was denied the honor, Esau’s head made it into Machpelah, which means that any of us
can hope, as the result of a single mitzvah done well, to have at least an incomplete connection to Shamayim.

We could go further. Esau may not just be a connection for Jews, but for all peoples. Like foreign kings in the
days of Solomon, Esau may represent the people of the world who can come to the Beis Hamikdash, recognize
Hashem and his authority, but then return to their own lands, and promptly revert to whatever evil or
decadence catches their fancy.

The Timeline

One could reasonably ask why it was necessary to go through this entire sequence of those buried at
Machpelah, a process that stretched generations. Why did it have to be so hard?

The simplest answer, of course, is that Adam and Chava chose to make it more difficult when they ate the
forbidden fruit. But that is only part of the answer, because even a cursory review shows that the opening
chapters of Genesis are all about Man trying to close the loop with his creator, to reunify the world.

We start with confusion. The snake was condemned to crawl on his belly because before the expulsion from
Eden he walked on his hind legs – and he spoke. As Rabbi Fohrman has pointed out43, there was no clear
difference between animals and mankind in the Garden of Eden. All Chava had to do was to be the mistress of
her own desires -- to be more than an animal. In that failure, Chava showed that she was truly part and parcel
of the earth.

So when the snake has to crawl on his belly, Hashem is helping man to understand that we are more than
animals, that we can master our desires and weaknesses. Adam, by needing the sweat of his brow to survive,
was made separate from the natural world. This, one would hope, would have led mankind to continue to
journey, to perceive Hashem’s existence and strive to be closer to shamayim.44

Mankind proved to be far more stubborn than this. Cast out of Eden, people forget about Hashem entirely,
and mind their own business. Refusing to raise themselves above the level of animals, people remain wicked
and vile, with nary a hint of elevating themselves or others toward Shamayim. The entire reason for the

43 The Beast that Crouches at the Door: Adam and Eve Cain and Abel and Beyond, Rabbi David Fohrman, Jerusalem 2007
ISBN: 978-1-932687-79-3
44 Rabbi Fohrman’s key argument fits this nicely; the following stories have everything to do with mastering the beast

within ourselves, to refuse the temptation to justify our actions simply because we desired them. As he says, “When all is
said and done, we are more than the sum total of our instincts or passions.”
creation of the world starts to fall apart, as mankind selfishly fails to make any positive move. And so Hashem
chooses to wipe the slate clean, with the Flood, and start all over again.45

When the world is washed clean and started afresh, Hashem makes two fundamental changes in order to show
man the way away from the selfish natural world and toward Shamayim. One of these is contained within the
Noachide laws, seven laws that separate man from beast. It is no accident that the first of these
commandments is to not rip flesh from a living creature, which is precisely how a carnivorous animal eats. And
the rest of the laws all are the bedrocks of civilization: that which separates us from the animal kingdom.

And the Noachide Laws are also significant because of their number: Seven. This is the same number as the
levels of Shamayim, and their corresponding number at Machpelah. There are seven steps from beast to the
highest level of the heavens. If we see Machpelah as providing the bridge between heaven and earth, then the
other seventh number is beautifully illustrated in the other gift Hashem gave mankind after the Flood – the
rainbow. Rainbows have seven distinct colors (ROYGBIV), and stretch from earth to sky. The very ephemeral
nature of the rainbow was meant to be a marker to show man the way to the spiritual world.

Post-Noach man understood this message, but only partially. Rabbi Sacks points out that in the nine verses of
the story of the Tower of Bavel (an attempt to reach Shamayim), the letters “shem-mem”, meaning “name” or
“there” are repeated many times. There are no coincidences in the Torah: indeed, “shem” or “sham” appear
precisely seven times. As an attempt to reach heaven, the builders of migdal Bavel had this much right.

But the Tower fails, and for a very simple reason: Hashem sees a building constructed by one people and one
language, and disapproves. This is not mankind either; the building of Bavel was more analogous to the way
ants build a hive. There is no unique value on the life of an individual ant, because every ant has the value of
its work product, just like any other. The midrash tells us that when a man fell from the Tower, nobody
noticed, yet they weeped if a single brick fell. The mission to reach the heavens overwhelmed the main point of
humanity, which is to value that which is divine within each human being. So Hashem rejects the Tower of
Bavel, and forces humanity to start afresh, forced apart by language. From then on, for any two people to work
together, they have to make an effort to understand the other person, to at least minimally appreciate and value
that which makes another person unique, and in the image of his Creator.

And so Jewish history begins, not with a single day of Adam’s life, nor with a concerted effort by mankind, but
as the journey of one couple, Avram and Sarai. This couple are the first example we have of a husband and
wife balance, of a wife who is truly an ezer k’negdo. And they work together to take the first steps toward
reunifying heaven and earth. It is a journey that takes several generations, from Sarah to Yaakov. But Hashem
provides the roadmap; when he takes Avraham outside, and tells him that Avraham’s offspring would have the
same measure as the stars themselves, it is saying that the sky is the limit – that the potential of the Jewish
people is nothing less than infinite. We, as a nation that is compared to the dust of the earth (matter), are also
encouraged to be comparable to stars, heavenly bodies that are comprised of the dust of the heavens (but that
reach us only as energy).

Once Yaakov is buried, Machpelah is complete, and the bridge between heaven and earth is in place. The
foundation has been laid, and we no longer strive to establish the earthly equivalents of these heavenly levels.
Instead, we use the Torah to seek to meet Hashem at the midpoint, at the beis hamikdash, the place where
both man and G-d limit their individuality sufficiently to coexist on this earth.

45Note that Noach, who is often faulted for being righteous – but doing nothing to better anyone else, represents exactly
half of the dynamic. He was righteous enough to be a good person, yet entirely at peace with the selfishness of his age.
Noach elevated himself, but nobody else, which means that he could not be the start of the redemption of the world. For
Hashem’s decision to destroy the world, Noach was no better than anyone else, which is why Noach’s existence did not
even delay Hashem’s action.