This week's Torah reading includes the story of how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. (Gen. 18:20-19:29)

[We will now explain] the [mystical] explanation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. [We will also explain] why the three angels - Michael, who announced to Abraham that Sarah was going to have a child - Gabriel, who overturned Sodom - and Raphael, who rescued Lot (Gen. 18:2, Rashi) each of whom came to fulfill a separate mission, all came together at once instead of one after the other.

Inasmuch as each of these angels had a separate mission, it would seem that there is no reason why they all visited Abraham at once.

[They did so] because it was necessary.

The angel Michael's mission (to announce to Abraham that he was going to father Isaac) was similar to the missions of Gabriel and Raphael (to destroy Sodom and save Lot), as we will see; therefore, these two missions had to occur at the same time. Gabriel's and Raphael's missions are combined into one for this exposition because destroying Sodom was also part of rescuing Lot, as will be explained.

First, the Arizal discusses Michael's mission:

G‑d wanted to bring forth the holy seed, the souls of Israel that had been stored away from before Creation until this point. There were two thousand years of Tohu, during which G‑d was creating worlds and destroying them.

The souls…had to be held back until a proper spiritual setting could be created….

Humanity in general was originally intended to fulfill the role that, after Adam's sin, was reserved for the Jewish people. Thus, the souls that G‑d originally intended to send to the world in its first years had to be held back until a proper spiritual setting could be created for them. This setting was the Jewish people.

The Sages state that "The world spans six thousand years [before the messianic millennium]. [The first] two thousand years of Tohu ('chaos', 'disorder'), two thousand years of Torah, and two thousand years of the days of the Mashiach." (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 393; ibid. Hosea 522, etc)

The year 2000 AM1 (1761 BCE) coincides with Abraham's 52nd year, so roughly speaking, Abraham marked the transition from the period of Tohu to the period of Torah, or Tikun (since the rectification of reality can occur only through the Torah). Although the Torah was not actually given until 448 years after this, the Sages state that the forefathers kept the entire Torah before it was given, and the creation of the Jewish people that began with Abraham was the preparation for the giving of the Torah. Thus, the period of Torah can justifiably be considered to have begun with Abraham.

The year 4000 AM2 (240 CE) is relatively close to the death of Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (230-235 CE), the grandson of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (recorder of the Mishnah) and the last effective leader of the Sanhedrin. "Although the Sanhedrin [and the position of Nasi-'President'] did not disappear altogether, it ceased being the center of Torah for the whole of Jewry, since it lacked the leadership of a Nasi who was a great sage in his own right. And so it was that the leading sages dispersed, each one establishing his own school of Torah learning, which stood side by side with the Sanhedrin. But all these became diminished in standing and authority when compared to the newly arising Torah center that was being established in Babylonia."3 Many of the inhabitants of the Land of Israel left at this point.4 Thus, this year may be considered to mark the point when the emphasis in Judaism shifted from learning Torah toward yearning for the redemption from exile, in other words, for the Messianic Era.

There were numerous 'proto-worlds' preceding the Creation….

The Sages also state that before the creation of the world, G‑d was "creating worlds and destroying them." (Kohelet Rabba 3:14) In Kabbalah, this is understood to refer to the fact that there were numerous "proto-worlds" preceding the Creation of the world of Atzilut, the ideal, rectified world (of which the subsequent worlds, including the physical universe we live in, are just an imperfect reflections). Although necessary stages in the progression toward the ideal world of Atzilut, these worlds were "scrapped" in terms of being used as the ideal archetype for reality. The main "proto-world" or imperfect precursor of Atzilut was the world of Tohu.

There is thus a thematic connection between the Kabbalistic world of Tohu and the notion of the "two thousand years of Tohu" that preceded Abraham, and, in fact, the two thousand years of Tohu are a manifestation in this physical world of the world of Tohu in the spiritual dimension. In other words, the course of history in our physical world mirrors the spiritual course of "history" (in quotes because this "history" occurs outside the creation of time) in the development of the spiritual worlds.

[This is alluded to in the Torah's account of how] various people fathered children and died, and then [their children] fathered children [and died], and so on. (Gen. 5) Then He wiped them all out in the Flood, and replanted them through Noah until [He began again in] the generation of the Dispersion, when the nations were destroyed and all the evildoers were dispersed. In this way the world of Tohu was wiped out, [remaining so] until Abraham rebuilt it [as the world of Tikun].

This is the mystical meaning of [our sages' statement that in the verse] "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" [in Hebrew, 'b'hibaram'] (Gen. 2:4) [that the word for "when they were created" is a permutation of the word for] "through Abraham" ['b'Avraham'] (Bereishit Rabba 12:9)

"B'hibaram", Hebrew for "when they were created", is spelled: beit-hei-beit-reish-alef-mem.

"B'Avraham", Hebrew for "through Abraham", is spelled: beit-alef-beit-reish-hei-mem.

The fact that the word for "when they were created" can be permuted to the word for "through Abraham" implies that the creation of the world was in a sense dependent on Abraham, or his merit.

Through the covenant [with Abraham] the world [of Tikun] endures - as it is written, "Were it not for My covenant by day," (Jeremiah 33:25) referring to Abraham - despite the presence of impurities, i.e. Ishmael and Esau, as it is written, "For through Isaac it will be called for you seed," (Gen. 21:12) - i.e. holy seed.

Until the Torah was given the world's existence was unstable and precarious…

The Sages point out that in the verse "And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day" (Gen. 1:31), the day is preceded by the definite article, which is not the case with the preceding five days of Creation. This, they say, is to connect the sixth day of Creation with the day on which the Torah was given, the sixth day of Sivan, 2448. The work of Creation (completed on the sixth day) is dependent on the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people. Without this acceptance, the world's existence is unnecessary, or pointless, and therefore until the Torah was given the world's existence was unstable and precarious. (Rashi ad loc., etc) This is indicated in the verse "Were it not for My covenant by day and by night, I would not have established the laws of heaven and earth", meaning that were it not for the observance of the Torah by the Jewish people day and night, G‑d would have no purpose for the world and its laws of nature.

Here, "by day" is taken to refer to Abraham, since the world was plunged in spiritual darkness until Abraham, and "Abraham began to shine light" (Shemot Rabba 15:26).

The covenant G‑d made with Abraham was that he would make him the progenitor of the Jewish people and that they would inherit the Land of Israel as the ideal setting for accomplishing their mission, to be a "light to the nations" and disseminate divine consciousness through reality, making the world into G‑d's home.

The verse: "for through Isaac it will be called for you seed" is understood to mean that Abraham's true seed, the genetic line of the Jewish people, is passed on only through Isaac, and not through Abraham's other sons, Ishmael and the sons of Keturah (Gen. 25:1-6).

To continue on to part 2, please click here.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.