Gates of Holiness – Gate 1

An explanation of the blemishes caused by transgressing the mitzvoth of the Torah

Let me instill you with wisdom and enlighten you regarding the great damage that befalls a person who transgresses any of the 365 mitzvoth that are forbidden to do or who desists from fulfilling any of the 248 positive mitzvoth that he is commanded to do.

As known, the physical body of man is not his actual identity. This is merely called human flesh, as in the verse[1], “You clothed me with skin and flesh and covered me with bones and veins.” Furthermore, it is written[2], “It may not be applied to the flesh of man etc.” From this we understand that man is the inner aspect, whereas, the body is similar to a garment. The intellectual soul, which is his true identity, is invested in the body as long as a person remains in this physical world. However, upon death, he is divested of this garment. Rather, he becomes clothed in a spiritual, rarified and pure garment. This is as scripture states[3], “Remove the soiled garments from upon him”; and he said to him, “Behold, I have removed your iniquity from upon you and dressed you in a pure garment.” This garment is called, “The Vestment of the Rabbis”.

Just as the tailor makes a garment according to the form of a person’s body, so G-d, blessed is He, made the body, which is the garment for the soul, in the form of the image of the soul. That is, He made 248 organs plus 365 veins that connect them. The blood and life-force surge from organ to organ by means of these veins, similar to pipes. Once the body was formed, G-d blew the spirit of life into it. This spirit is comprised of 248 spiritual organs and 365 spiritual veins that are invested within the 248 organs and 365 veins of the physical body. With this, the organs of the soul act through the organs of the body, which are their tools, like an axe in the hand of the lumberjack. Proof of this, is the fact that the physical organs only perform their functions so long as the soul resides within them; the eyes see and the ears hear etc. However, upon the departure of the soul, the eyes dim and all sense and feeling vanishes from the 248 organs.

In like manner, the 365 spiritual veins of the soul are invested within the 365 physical veins and distribute the physical sustenance of the blood to the 248 organs of the body, together with the spiritual sustenance within it, to sustain the 248 organs of the soul. At death, when the soul departs, life-force ceases to be drawn to the body. As a result, the physical veins and organs fall apart, decompose and become as if they never were. From this we see that the actual identity of a person is the intellectual soul and that it resides within the body, which acts as its garment while the soul remains in this world.

Know that when the first man sinned by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, both his body and soul took on a composition of good and evil. This is the matter of, “the dross of the serpent”, that was instilled in Eve and Adam. This dross brought about illness, disease and death, both spiritually and physically. This is the secret of the verse[4], “For on the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die” – meaning the death of the soul, as well as the death of the body[5].

We will now explain the matter of the good and evil that became mixed in them. (Examine what is written in Part Three, gates two and three and you will understand what is written in this gate.) Behold, when man sinned with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he caused this admixture to permeate all worlds. Due to this, there is nothing which does not include both good and evil in it.

Therefore, the body of man was formed from the four elements of the physical world that have both good and evil included in them. These are fire, air, water and earth. However, man’s body was formed from the choicest portion of these elements[6]. Nevertheless, this choice portion also has an admixture of evil in it. Man’s four humors (i.e. the white, black, red and green humors[7]) were formed from the grossest portion of these elements. For the body to be healthy, these humors must be balanced. However, if there is an imbalance, and any one of them overpowers the positive characteristics of the others with its negative characteristics, this results in illness and disease. If it is even more overpowering, death may result.

As explained, the admixture of good and evil permeated all worlds, even the upper, spiritual worlds. This being the case, the soul of man was also affected, for was it not hewn from the same four spiritual elements from which all the supernal beings were formed? These four elements are the four letters of HaShem’s name[8], blessed is He. About this it says[9], “From the four spirits, come O spirit etc.” This “spirit” that comes is the essential soul of man from the side of goodness.

However, G-d made everything with its opposite. Just as the upper spiritual worlds are the source of goodness and purity, so He created a source of evil and impurity. This is the Sitra Achera (The Other Side) which is called Adam BliYaal (The Incorrigibly Evil Man). It is made up of four sources of destruction[10] and four indicators of plague[11], which are its four evil elements. From there, an evil soul, which is called, “The Evil Inclination” (Yetzer HaRa), is drawn to man. If this soul overpowers the good soul, destruction, plagues and spiritual illnesses befall it. Moreover, if it is too overpowering, it can even cause spiritual death, G-d forbid.

Now, the pure soul, which is compared to the fruit, consists of 613 organs and veins and resides within the 613 organs and veins of the impure soul, which is compared to the shell (Kelipah) covering over the fruit. In turn, they both reside within the 613 organs and veins of the body. Thus, the organs of the pure soul reside within the organs of the evil soul and the organs of the evil soul reside within the organs of the body.

In order to exist, each of these two souls needs spiritual sustenance. However, the spiritual sustenance of the holy soul is drawn to it through the fulfillment of the Torah, which consists of 613 mitzvoth, corresponding to the 613 organs of the soul. Thus the Torah is called “bread”, as in the verse[12], “Come, partake of My bread”. Each of the 248 organs receives sustenance from a specific mitzvah that relates to that organ. However, if a person lacks the fulfillment of any mitzvah, the organ specific to that mitzvah will lack the sustenance drawn to it from the four letters of HaShem.

This is indicated by the verse[13], “You (HaShem) give life to all.” All the mitzvoth depend on these four letters, as our sages of blessed memory said, “The letters Yud (י) Hey (ה) coupled with the word, “My name” (שמי) of the verse, “This is My name and this is My memorial (זה שמי וזה זכרי) have the numerical value of 365. The letters Vav (ו) Hey (ה) coupled with the word, “My memorial” (זכרי) of the same verse, have the numerical value of 248.”

Likewise, as mentioned above, the roots of the four elements of a person’s holy soul are drawn from these four letters. Therefore, if a person totally lacks a specific mitzvah, the corresponding organ of his holy soul starves to death and departs, G-d forbid. In turn, when this holiness departs from it, the spirit of impurity from the four elements of the impure soul becomes vested in it. This is the secret of the rabbinic dictum, “Tyre did not become a great metropolis until Jerusalem was destroyed.” Thus, the organ now receives its sustenance from the “impure bread” that was exiled from there.

This is the meaning of the statement[14], “The wicked are considered to be dead during their lifetime.” This is because the holy soul from the Living G-d has withdrawn from them. Rather, death, which is called, “The ultimate source of impurities”, rests upon them.

Conversely, the rabbis said regarding a person who desists from transgressing the 365 negative mitzvoth, “A person who desists from transgressing a negative mitzvah is rewarded as if he performed a positive mitzvah.” In other words, by not transgressing he empowers the spiritual sustenance that is drawn through the positive mitzvoth, as mentioned above, to flow through the “pipes”, which are the 365 veins of the soul, thus enlivening its 248 organs.

However, if he transgresses any of them, the pipe specific to that transgression becomes blocked due to the dross of the sustenance from the Kelipah, which adheres to the walls of the pipe. When the pipe withers, the organ that receives from it withers with it. This is so, even if the life-force is not totally withdrawn from it, similar to one who lacks a positive mitzvah. Nonetheless, it becomes blemished.

This being the case, a person should make every effort to fulfill all 613 mitzvoth. Furthermore, when he fulfills a positive mitzvah, he should have in mind to rid the specific organ of his soul which correlates to that mitzvah, of the dross of that Kelipah. Once the dross has been removed, the holy organ of the mitzvah may rest upon him. This is the secret of the verse[15], “Their sins were upon their bones”, because when the one rises, the other falls.

Likewise, when an opportunity to transgress comes about, a person should restrain himself from doing it and have in mind that by doing so, the dross in the specific vein of his soul which correlates to that transgression withdraws. With this, the blockage will be removed and the spiritual influence which is drawn by way of that spiritual pipe will be able to flow through. In this way, his soul becomes a seat and a vehicle for G-d’s holiness, blessed is He. This is the secret of[16], “The patriarchs are the Chariot.”

[1] Job 10:11

[2] Exodus 30:32

[3] Zechariah 3:4

[4] Genesis 2:17

[5] The literal translation of the verse is, “Die, you shall die”, i.e. physical and spiritual death.

[6] The physical body of man is the most refined matter in all of physical creation, as opposed to the grosser physicality of all other creatures.

[7] The white humor is phlegm, the black humor is the gall produced by the spleen, the red humor is blood and the green humor is the gall produced by the gallbladder. These humors affect the physical health of a person, as well as his character and disposition.

[8] The four letters of G-d’s name are: Yud (י) Hey (ה) Vav (ו) Hey (ה).

[9] Ezekiel 37:9

[10] These are called the “Fathers of Damages (אבות נזיקין).

[11] מראות נגעים.

[12] Proverbs 9:5

[13] Nehemiah 9:6

[14] Berachot 18.

[15] Ezekiel 32:27

[16] Bereshit Rabbah 47:6

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