In the portion of the Torah read this week, G‑d commands Moses to take a census of the Jewish people. For all the tribes other than the tribe of Levi, he was instructed to count every male "twenty years old or more" (Numbers 1:3, 47-49). Following this, the tribes are assigned their positions in the desert encampment and traveling formation.

The Levites were then counted separately, "every male, one-month old or more" (Ibid. 3:15), according to the three Levite clans descended from the three sons of Levi - Gershon, Kehot, and Merari. They were then assigned their respective positions in the encampment and traveling formation.

Finally, at the end of the portion (Ibid. 4:10-20) begins the detailed instructions for each Levite clan in the process of dismantling and carrying the Tabernacle whenever the Jewish people were commanded to continue their trek in the desert. The instructions for the sons of Kehot close the portion, and the instructions for the sons of Gershon and Merari continue at the beginning of the following portion of the Torah, Naso (Ibid. 4:21-28 and 29-34, respectively).Together with these instructions is the command to count the members of each clan eligible for service, that is, "from thirty years old until fifty years old" (Ibid. 4:3, 23, 30). The overall tribe of Levi is the source of the five states of gevura

The Torah calls counting each tribe or Levite clan "lifting up its head." Thus we read:

And G‑d spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: "Lift up the head of the sons of Kehot from amongst the sons of Levi, according to their families and their fathers' houses…." (Ibid. 4:1-2), and And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: "Lift up the head of the sons of Gershon as well, according to their fathers' houses and their families…." (Ibid. 4:21-22)

However, with regard to the clan of Merari, the Torah simply says: The sons of Merari, number them according to their families and their fathers' houses (Ibid. 4:29). The expression "lift up the head of…" is not used. Also, we note that in the cases of the Kehot and Merari clans, the order of the census is "according to their families and their fathers' houses", while in the case of the clan of Gershon, this is reversed: "according to their fathers' houses and their families". The Arizal explains these differences according to Kabbala.

The overall tribe of Levi is the source of the five states of gevura, known as the "crown of gevura", the feminine portion. Love and fear of G‑d are the two 'wings' with which a person's service to G‑d takes flight…

Kabbala and Chasidut explain that love and fear of G‑d are the two "wings" with which a person's service to G‑d takes flight. That is, a person can perfunctorily perform all the Torah's commandments, but unless he does so out of love and fear of G‑d, his service does not connect him consciously to G‑d. He may be doing G‑d's will, and he will affect the world and receive his due reward for this; however, he is performing G‑d's will incompletely, for G‑d desires that we serve Him enthusiastically as well.

Thus, love and fear should characterize the service of G‑d. The sefirot that correspond to love and fear are chesed and gevura, respectively. In the microcosm of divine service, the holy Temple, the priests (Kohanim) personified the sefira of chesed and the Levites the sefira of gevura. The priests performed their duties quietly and calmly, evoking the image of still water, while the Levites were the choir and orchestra, arousing the emotions of the Jewish people looking on, and evoking the image of passion and fire. In order to concretize the reality of divinity in this world, the female must evince great strength and power…

Kabbala considers chesed and love the male side of reality, and gevura and fear/awe, the female side. (There are of course many cross-manifestations of this dualism, but these are the exceptions or sub-categories rather than the rule.) In a general way, this accords with what we have said previously about male-female approaches to life the world, i.e. that the male is the more abstract emphasis, while the female is the more concrete. In order to concretize the reality of divinity in this world, the female must evince great strength and power so as not to be overcome by the distracting forces of evil. She derives this power, of course, from the inspiration she takes from the male. In this context, the male is the giver and she is the recipient. What the Arizal will describe briefly, in the coming paragraphs, is how the main female partzuf, the Nukva of Zeir Anpin, is constructed from the gevura-aspects of the preceding sefirot.

In any case, we see from this that the priest-Levite combination is the source and archetype for the duality of male-female.

This is why it is written in parashat Bamidbar: "Do not count them together with the children of Israel." (Ibid. 1:49) They are the states of gevura set aside for the female. Still, [the Levites manifest these states of gevura as] they exist inside Zeir Anpin, before they are given to Nukva. They themselves are therefore male. After [these states of gevura] are given to Nukva they become female states of gevura, i.e. women and not men.

As we said, the female receives her power from the inspiration she derives from the male. Thus, her states of gevura are derived from the gevura in the male.

Now, these states of gevura are divided into several categories. There are two general categories, each of which subdivides into three sub-categories.

The first category has three sub-categories: (1) The crown of gevura, which comprises the five states of gevura, and is situated at the level of the brain of daat of Nukva. This is the source of the five states of gevura [that will be described as the next sub-category]; (2) the five states of gevura as they spread further through her body, i.e. from her chesed to her hod; (3) the aggregate composed of the preceding states. These are called the five states of gevura of "the feminine waters", in her yesod.

In the first category, we have the five states of gevura at the levels of (1) daat, (2) chesed to hod, and (3) yesod. Just, as the main aspect of any world is its emotions (middot/Zeir Anpin), so too, the main aspect of any partzuf is its middot. Here, then, the chief manifestation of the five states of gevura is in the second sub-category, that is, the "body" of the partzuf of Nukva. The first sub-category is the intellectual origin of these states, while the third sub-category is their drive for expression.

Daat is distinguished from chochma and bina by its subjective character. Whereas the focus in chochma and bina is on the "idea" per se (its force and power or development and ramifications), in daat the idea is analyzed vis-a-vis its implications for the person. This is the origin within the intellect of emotional response. Since chesed and gevura are the primary emotions, this means that there is a proto-chesed and a proto-gevura within daat. Yesod…not an emotion of content but of drive…

Yesod is where all the previous emotions coalesce; it is therefore not an emotion of content but of drive. The five emotions of content are chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, and hod. Since these are five in number, there are in daat five aspects or states of proto-chesed and five of proto-gevura. The five states of gevura within daat act thus as a sort of keter to the subsequent, bona fide states, so they are collectively called the "crown of gevura".

When the higher sefirot pour into yesod, their respective aspects of gevura coalesce as well into an aggregate gevura. This gevura powers the "feminine waters" of yesod, which is a term for the power of the female yesod to arouse the male yesod and inspire him to couple with her. Yesod is in essence oriented "down", i.e. toward the lower level, malchut, acting as the drive for expression which is the quintessence of the female. But this aggregate gevura in yesod is oriented upward, back toward Zeir Anpin, to arouse it to re-charge, re-inspire, and re-inseminate its Nukva in order that she be able to continue her task of spreading divinity in the world with the requisite inspiration.

The second category has three sub-categories of its own: (1) The five states of gevura given to her when her partzuf is first formed and completed - these are given to her for the construction of her body and skeleton; (2) her first set of five states of gevura given to her after her body has been completed - Zeir Anpin transfers [these states of gevura] to her via her yesod in their first sexual intercourse, which [is what] turns her into a vessel; (3) an additional, new set of five states of gevura that he transfers to her via her yesod in their subsequent intercourse. Whenever they couple [after the first time], he gives her a new set of five states of gevura.

This second category of gevura-states relates to the intrinsic construction of the partzuf itself and its insemination by Zeir Anpin. The first category could be seen as being aspects of all three sub-categories of the second category. That is, when Nukva is first constructed, she is given gevura-aspects in her daat, her middot, and her yesod, and the same is true whenever she couples with Zeir Anpin.

The three clans of the Levites - Gershon, Kehot, and Merari - manifest the three sub-categories, but I [Rabbi Chaim Vital] do not remember whether they manifest the sub-categories of the first category or the second.

The numerical value of "Gershon" [559] is the same [with the kolel] as that of the word for "flask" [in Hebrew, "keset", 560] in the phrase "the flask of the scribe" (Ezekiel 9:2-3, 11). His clan manifests the five states of gevura indicated by the five final letters: mem, nun, tzadik, peh, chaf, whose combined numerical value is 280. Since these letters have two forms, their numerical value may be doubled, giving 560, which again, is the numerical value of the word for "flask". The five letters that have final forms…are like the flask that holds and contains the ink…

A main manifestation of the five states of gevura is the five organs of speech in the mouth: the throat, the palate, the teeth, the lips, and the tongue. These are seen as five "dams" that stop or give form to the amorphous breath rising from the lungs. Since they limit, restrain, form, and give definition to the breath, they are seen as five states or aspects of gevura. In the alphabet, this phenomenon is reflected in the five letters that have final forms, i.e. special forms when these letters appear at the end of a word. They are thus, allegorically, like the flask that holds and contains the ink.

[The clan of] Gershon is, as we said, one of the three sub-categories. It comprises the five states of gevura that spread through the body of Nukva. As is known, these five states of gevura descend rapidly to the yesod of Nukva and rebound upward from that level as reflected light. [In this process, this light] reaches her keter, thus [spreading] through her entire partzuf. This is similar to how the states of chesed descend into the yesod of Zeir Anpin and rebound upward as reflected light.

Although above Rabbi Chaim Vital said he was not sure if the three clans of Levites correspond to the sub-categories of the first or second category, here he seems to take it for granted that they correspond to those of the first category.

The reflected light here is the "feminine waters" described above. In the process of being reflected, the light that ricochets off yesod gains the power of yesod; together with the residual power of its own descent, this enables it to re-ascend to a point higher than its point of origin. Reaching keter means that the overall will of her entire being is overtaken and permeated with the will to be united with Zeir Anpin.

As we have also explained, the first three states of gevura of Nukva are hidden; only the latter two states - her netzach and hod - are revealed. These latter states are the only ones that ascend [in this process] and thus become revealed.

It will be recalled that the five states of gevura correspond to and are manifest in the five sefirot from chesed to hod. The Arizal explains elsewhere (Mevo She'arim 6:1:5, 132b) that when the five states of gevura become manifest in these sefirot of Nukva, they do not do so in a uniform manner. Rather the first three [chesed, gevura, and tiferet] remained clothed within a sheath, which derives from the yesod of Zeir Anpin. Only the latter two, netzach and hod, enter yesod "exposed".

Psychologically, we could say that this means that the light at the level of the first three states of gevura, i.e. those of the three primary emotions, retain a certain measure of the consciousness of their source in Zeir Anpin. This precludes them from truly becoming vested in the yesod of Nukva, since a primary emotion is too much a matter of feeling to be diverted to the path leading toward practical action. Only netzach and hod, which are already much more action-oriented than the first three states, can be said to truly enter and be actively present within yesod. The other three are there, but they are cloaked by their memory of their origin.

Thus, only netzach and hod are touched directly by the identity and power of yesod, the drive for fulfillment, and thus experience the rebounding energy sending them back up to the keter of Nukva, as above.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Lift up the head of the sons of Gershon" (Num. 4:22). Counting them is referred to as "lifting up their head", alluding to their ascent in order to shine, as we have explained. It is for this reason as well that only those that had attained the age of thirty were counted, for only such individuals derive from the upper three, covered states of gevura, each of which comprises ten [sub-states], giving thirty [aspects, or] years. These are the only ones that need light shined upon them, therefore only those [Levites] thirty years old and older are counted.

G‑d commanded Moses to count all the Levites between the ages of thirty and fifty (for the purpose of service in the Temple). The wording of the command in the Hebrew, however, is split into two clauses. The first ("from age thirty and higher") implies only that those who had attained at least thirty years were counted. The fact that only those over-thirty-year-olds who were under fifty were in fact counted is not made clear until the second clause ("until age fifty") is stated. Thus, the verse seems to imply that the main factor is being over thirty; being under fifty is only an afterthought.

By counting the thirty-year old Levites, we are forcing them to participate in this rebounding ascent, as well. In this way, the gevura-states of chesed-gevura-tiferet can also experience the illumination naturally experienced by the netzach-hod states.

However, since there are in total five states of gevura, [the Levites] are counted up to age fifty, for they all form a single unit.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah, Parashat Naso; 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.