When I break for you the staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread by weight [literally, "in a scale"]…and you will eat and not be sated. (Lev. 26:26)

As is known, although these admonitions seem to be curses, they are really only blessings.

In its literal sense, the verse reads as a curse of a food shortage, food being the "staff" upon which we support ourselves. It also predicts a shortage of firewood forcing people to share one oven. Furthermore, the loaves will fall apart and the women will have to weigh the baked crumbs to divide them equally. What follows is the Kabbalistic interpretation, in which the verse is read as a blessing. The concealed dimension…is hidden even from the hidden…

The story is told about Rabbi Shneur Zalman's son, Dovber, who as a child once became terribly distraught, and fell sick, after hearing the reading of the Admonition in the synagogue. When asked why he had never reacted this way in previous years when the same section was read, the child replied that every other year his father had been the one reading from the Torah. That year his father was out of town, and the Torah was read by someone else. The child concluded: "When Father reads, one hears no curses."

[The most sublime blessings are couched in most dreadful terms. This is true because whenever heaven bestows a blessing, the heavenly court first judges the prospective recipient as to whether or not he is worthy of the blessing. When the blessing is "disguised" as a curse, however, it "bypasses" the forces of strict judgment, making its way straight to its recipient. In the Talmud (Moed Kattan 9b) we are told that Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) sent his son, Rabbi Elazar, to receive the blessings of a few of the sages. But Rabbi Elazar was showered with what sounded like a storm of curses: "May it be the will [of God] that you sow and not reap…let your house be destroyed…let your table be disturbed, and may you not see a new year." His father, expounder of the soul of Torah, revealed to him the meaning of their "blessings," the soul of their words (L.S. 7:233, The Rebbe's Chumash)]

To explain:
It is written in the Zohar: (Acharei 73a)

There are three levels that are tied one to the other: G‑d, Torah, and the Jewish people…each level possesses a concealed dimension and a revealed dimension.

The concealed dimension is neither apparent nor apprehensible. It is called "concealment within concealment" (in Aramaic, "setima d'kol stimin"); it is hidden even from the hidden. It is not clothed in space at all. Our thoughts cannot grasp it at all.

The revealed dimension [of G‑dliness] is what we see, i.e. the physical world. We see spatial reality: six-dimensions, top, bottom and four sides.

It would seem that one could not call this physical reality "G‑dliness". Torah…is called bread of the soul

But in truth that it is how it is. For besides Him, there is nothing else. His sovereignty rules over all things. Everything that we perceive in the mineral, vegetable, animal and human aspects of the physical world contains a spiritual life force that sustains it constantly.

Moreover, even this spiritual life force is also called "space", i.e. spiritual space. It is part of the revealed dimension. It is nullified to the concealed dimension as words of thought are nullified within the intellect.

Spiritual space refers to the six "emotional" sefirot, which are the spiritual origin and source of the six dimensions of physical space, North, South, etc.

The higher sefirot (chochma, bina, etc.) are beyond even spiritual space. (Tzemach Tzedek's gloss)


Torah also contains a concealed and revealed dimension.

It is known that the Torah is called "bread."

Physical bread sustains the body, even though bread is [a derivative] of the vegetable kingdom, which is lower than man. It seems counter-intuitive that human beings should receive nourishment from something lower than themselves.

The explanation is that, in truth, the spiritual root of wheat is from a truly lofty place. But because of the Shattering of the Vessels, these lofty sparks fell and became the life force for wheat. Man, who stems from Tikun, is lower than wheat, which stems from Tohu

During the Shattering of the Vessels of Tohu, that precedes our world of Tikun, its shards fell into the physical world. Thus man, who stems from Tikun, is lower than wheat, which stems from Tohu.

The same is true of Torah, which is called "bread of the soul". The secrets of the Torah descended and vested themselves in physical matter, the forbidden and permitted, the pure and the impure, etc.

All of this took place because of the shattering of the First Tablets, precipitating the Torah's descent into physical matters.

Hence, "When I break for you the staff of bread…"

The staff of bread refers to the Tree of Life - the concealed dimension - and with the shattering of the Tree of Life, i.e. the Tablets, the Torah fell and became clothed in physical matter, etc.

In its pristine form, the Torah does not discuss earthly reality; it describes the spiritual realm. This is what the Midrash means when it tells us that the Torah "preceded" the creation of the world - even the concept of a world - by "2,000 years." Similarly, the Torah studied by the souls of the departed and the not-yet-born in the Garden of Eden does not address physical reality. The Torah we see is a dim reflection of that Torah, a translation of its sublimity into earthly terms.

[The "two thousand years" are understood to refer to the two sefirot of the intellect, chochma and bina. In the phrase, "I shall teach you chochma", (Job 33:33) the word for "I shall teach" can be read "I am a thousand." The sefirot of chochma and bina, the primordial Torah, thus precede the seven emotional attributes - which become manifest as the seven days of creation - by "two thousand years." (Bereishit Rabba 8:2)]

This fall took place when Moses broke the first tablets. When G‑d gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we were cleansed of the spiritual impurity that sullied the world because of Adam and Eve's sin with the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

Had we not sinned, the Messianic era would have commenced then, and reality would have been elevated to the spiritual plane of the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Since we would have existed on this higher spiritual plane, the Torah would not have had to descend and become couched in physical terms. We would have been able to understand the Torah as it is written "in heaven". But when, because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses had to break the tablets, the world descended to its present, materialistic state, and our consciousness suffered a concomitant fall.

"When I break for you the staff of bread" thus refers to the breaking of the tablets, which caused the Torah to descend and become garbed in a physical context. The term "the staff" of bread alludes to the Tree of Life of the Garden Eden, the source of the Torah. The "breaking" of the staff refers to the descent of the Torah from its spiritual context, as the Tree of Life, into its present, fallen form. In heaven, there is no need for admonition…

These words shed light on the Admonition as a whole. Our perception of the Admonition as a frightening prophecy is a result of the "breaking of the staff", the disguising of Torah in the vocabulary of physicality. In its heavenly form, the Admonition is all blessing; in heaven, there is no need for admonition.

The advantage of the Torah being expressed in physical terms is that we can understand it. The disadvantage is that since we perceive the Torah in its earthly form, we may find it difficult to internalize, i.e. to assimilate its teachings into our spiritual bloodstream. The Torah therefore teaches us how to avoid the pitfall of relegating the ideas of Torah to an academic corner of our mind. (From The Rebbe's Chumash)

And Ten Women Will Bake

The Torah is called "wheat-bread". The Hebrew word for "wheat" ("chita", spelled chet-tet-hei = 8-9-5) is numerically equivalent to 22, alluding to the 22 letters of the alef beit with which the Torah is written.

Now, if one eats unbaked dough it is not digested at all, nor is it absorbed by the limbs to manufacture blood for the soul. But when one eats baked bread, it is digested and is absorbed by the limbs, becoming blood for the soul. The bread becomes literally one with the person.

So it is with the food of the soul, Torah.

If it is not "baked" (as we shall explain), it is not united with the person, even if he studies an abundance of Torah. The Torah remains in its own realm, and he, in his own. He receives no nourishment from it [since it is] like physical bread that has not yet been baked at all.

But when the Torah is "baked" within the person, it becomes absorbed by all of his 248 limbs. He and the Torah become one.


To understand the concept of "baking": Within the heart of every soul, there is a fire, hidden and concealed…

Within the heart of every soul, there is a fire, hidden and concealed. It is a fierce love of G‑d and a desire to cleave to Him even when the person is overwhelmed by mundane affairs. His heart is burning constantly with love for G‑d.

In its desire to cleave to Him, the heart silently cries out. This is called love-sickness.

In the flames of this hidden, fiery love, one can bake the bread of wheat, the Torah. And thus can the words of Torah be absorbed. They can become one with him.

Hence: "They will bake your bread", i.e. the Torah, "in one oven" [or "in the oven of oneness"], i.e. in the heat of the love that is revealed through meditation upon Oneness, the Oneness of G‑d.

Ten Women

The ten women allude to the ten levels that each soul contains: three mothers and seven doubles. The baking must permeate these ten attributes.

The author uses the terminology of Abraham's Sefer Yetzira, where the ten sefirot are described as three mothers - referring to the three intellectual faculties, chochma, bina, daat - which "give birth" to the seven emotions, which are called "doubles".

In its original context, Sefer Yetzira divides the Hebrew alphabet into three divisions: Mothers, Doubles and Elementals. The Mothers are the letters alef, mem, and shin - the first, middle, and penultimate letters of the alphabet. The seven Doubles are the letters that have two sounds, plosive and fricative: beit, gimel, dalet, caf, pei, reish, and tav. [Only four of these letters - beit, caf, pei and tav (in the case of Ashkenazic Jews) are still pronounced as doubles; the gimel and the dalet have a double sound only for Yemenite Jews, and the double sound of the reish has been entirely lost.] The other twelve letters are referred to as the twelve Elementals and correspond to the twelve months of the year, the twelve tribes and the twelve constellations of the Zodiac.

And this must be done by "women", i.e. with a "female", receptive consciousness. He must know that in truth this fire is not the fruit of his efforts. Rather:

"The Master of Truth has given him truth."

It is through this receptive and humble consciousness that a person can achieve the "baking" of his Torah study.

"And they will bring back your bread in a scale…." This means that the Torah will be returned through the "baking" from below to above, to the level of "scale", as in the verse "[Who measured the waters in His palm…] and with a scale weighed the mountains [the hills with a balance.]"; (Isaiah 40:12) the scale is beyond the level of mountains, for it is with the scale that G‑d "weighs" the mountains. This is called "scale" in the Zohar. (Teruma 176b)

"Scale" refers to the sefira of bina and is beyond "mountains", which refer to love, epitomized, in this case, by Aaron. (See Likutei Torah Nitzavim 45a.)

When one arm of a scale goes down, the other goes up. Similarly, by integrating the Torah into our beings, by bringing it down and allowing it to reach even the most mundane facet of our lives, we initiate a reciprocal reaction and "elevate" the Torah back to its primordial form, as it was before it "fell" into its present material milieu. The spiritual dimension of the Torah begins to open up before us, and we become privy to deeper and deeper insights into its infinite meaning. (The Rebbe's Chumash)

"You will eat and not be sated" - just as "He who loves money [will never have enough money]". (Ecclesiastes 5:9) Similarly, in his great love, the person returns again and again, countless times, and each time the words of Torah are literally new to him - his soul can never be satisfied by them.

Adapted from a discourse first published in 1795.

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