The Holy Ari
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
Toward the end of parashat Noah, the Torah relates the story of the Tower of Babel. (Gen.11:1-9) According to the Oral Torah, the king who masterminded and led this revolt against G‑d was Nimrod, who was mentioned in the preceding chapter. (ibid. 10:8 ff)
Know that the incident of the Tower [of Babel] and Nimrod transmigrated into [the person and career of] Nebuchadnezzar. This is why he erected the statue in the Dura valley.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and erected it in the plain of Dura in the country of Babylonia.” (Daniel 3:1)
A cubit is about a foot and a half, so this statue was around 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. Nebuchadnezzar was a reincarnation of Nimrod, and the statue was a “reincarnation” of the Tower of Babel.
Just as in the time of Nimrod, when the whole world spoke the same language and had one ruler, Nebuchadnezzar also ruled the whole world. Thus, it is written, “I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High”, (Isaiah 14:14), [the numerical value of the word for “clouds”] alluding to the seventy-two nations.
The verse quoted was spoken by (or reflects the sentiments of) Nebuchadnezzar. The numerical value of the word for “cloud” (in Hebrew, “av”, spelled ayin-beit = 70 + 2) is 72. Normally, the Torah speaks of seventy nations; it is not clear what the additional 2 refers to.
[Nebuchadnezzar] wanted the Jewish people to bow down to [this statue] along with [everyone else] (Daniel 3:3-30) and indeed, had Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (G‑d forbid) bowed down to it, Israel would not have been able to arise [out of its exile]. King Nebuchadnezzar also intended to build a tower and a city…
Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt that he saw a statue whose head was gold, whose chest and arms were silver, whose stomach and thighs were copper, whose legs were iron, and whose feet were iron and clay. Daniel told him that the components of this statue were the kingdom of Babylonia (the gold head) and the empires that would succeed it in ruling over the Jews. By making a similar statue entirely of gold, Nebuchadnezzar sought to subvert the prophecy and perpetuate his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylonia.
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (whose Babylonian names were Shadrach, Meisach, and Abednego) were Daniel’s Jewish companions who refused to bow down to this statue. Nebuchadnezzar punished them by having them thrown into a fiery furnace, but they emerged unscathed.
[Nebuchadnezzar] also intended to build a tower and a city, as it is written, “Is this not the great [city of] Babylon that I built up [into a royal house with my powerful strength, to glorify my splendor]!?”(ibid. 4:27)
The people who built the Tower of Babel had said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top reaches the heavens, and we will [thereby] achieve glory.” (Gen. 11:4)
He built the statue in place of the tower. He wanted to receive the divine beneficence via the seventy [celestial] princes, hoping that perhaps in this way Israel would be unable to arise [from its exile] and G‑d’s beneficence would be directed toward the forces of evil.
G‑d set up the workings of the world such that, ideally, His beneficence flows primarily and directly to the forces of holiness and goodness, in order that they have what they need to carry out His purpose. Only a residual flow of beneficence reaches the forces of evil – just enough to keep them in existence so that they can fulfill their role in the scheme of things. Evil also does not receive its life-force directly from G‑d; rather, each nation receives its divine flow via its celestial, spiritual archetypal angel (or “prince”). This is why non-Jews are allowed to believe in a certain degree of idolatry, i.e. that G‑d shares or distributes His power to other celestial beings.
However, when those who should be acting righteously sin, they forfeit their preeminence and increase the power of evil, allowing it to receive the divine flow first. The forces of good then have to receive their beneficence via the forces of evil. This is the condition of exile.
He was the keter of evil. This is why he was known as the king of Sheshach (Jeremiah 25:26, 51:41) for the numerical value of Sheshach is the same as that of keter.
“Sheshach” in at-bash is “Bavel”, “Babylonia”.
“Sheshach”: spelled shin-shin-caf = 300 + 300 + 20 = 620.
“Keter”: spelled kaf-taf-reish = 20 + 400 + 200 = 620.
G‑d, in His mercy, confounded his plan and ruined his intentions, and the statue fell on its face, for it was overcome by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
They were saved from the fiery furnace just as our father Abraham had been saved. Similarly, G‑d humbled Nimrod before our father Abraham, and he was saved from the fiery furnace.
When Abraham became known as a crusader against idolatry, Nimrod had him thrown in a fiery furnace, but Abraham emerged unscathed.
When Nimrod saw that his scheme [to get rid of Abraham] failed, he gathered four kings and waged war against five kings, all in order to snatch the divine beneficence from our father Abraham. Nimrod and his people…knew the mystical names of G‑d and employed them for practical use…
After the incident with Nimrod and the fiery furnace, Abraham and his family left Babylonia to eventually settle in the Land of Israel. The Torah then relates how king Amrafel of Shinar (another name for Babylonia) joined forces with three other neighboring kings and waged war against five kings of city-states in the Land of Israel. When they conquered them, Abraham went to rescue his nephew Lot (who had been taken captive) and defeated this confederacy of four kings (Gen. 14). The oral tradition identifies Amrafel with Nimrod. (Gen. 14:1, Rashi)
When Nimrod and his people built the Tower of Babel, G‑d said, “Behold, they are one people with one language, and this is what they have begun to do. Now, shall nothing be denied them of all they scheme to do?” (Gen. 11:6)
How could G‑d say, “Shall nothing be denied them?” Even though man does possess free choice, would it be so difficult for G‑d to prevent them from fulfilling their evil schemes?
Why, then, does G‑d apparently have to do something to ensure that mankind will not be able to do all it wants?
What they were after, rather, was the following: They knew the [mystical] names of G‑d and employed them for practical use. They were familiar with all the various angels and their positions in the celestial hierarchy and were able to [control a specific angel by using a divine name to] adjure the angel that controlled it.
This is what is meant by the technique of adjuration via the use of holy names. We know how to use them to adjure a lower angel in the name of the higher angel that influences and controls it. If [the lower angel] attempts to do other than what we have adjured it to do, it will not work at all. [The Generation of the Dispersion] knew all this. With the knowledge that they used to manipulate the divine names, they caused divine beneficence to descend to idols…
Thus, it is written, “Then it was begun to call in the name of G‑d.” (Ibid. 4:26) For in the times of Enoch, they knew how to manipulate G‑d’s names. The explanation given to this verse by Onkelos, that [in this era] mankind began to serve idols [accords with this explanation]. For it means that with the knowledge that they used to manipulate the divine names, they caused divine beneficence to descend to idols. Thus, both explanations mean the same thing.
Now, this technique would not have worked had they not known how to combine the letters and names in Hebrew, for it is impossible to manipulate these names in any other language. Thus, it is written, “The whole earth was of one language and united words.” The numerical value of the words for “one language” [in Hebrew, “safah achat”, plus the kolel] is the same as that of the words “the holy tongue” [in Hebrew, “lashon hakodesh”].
“Safah achat”: spelled sin-pei-hei alef-chet-tav
= 300 + 80 + 5 + 1 + 8 + 400 +1 (to represent the word itself) = 795.
“Lashon hakodesh”: spelled lamed-shin-vav-nun hei-kuf-dalet-shin
= 30 + 300 + 6 + 50 + 5 + 100 + 4 + 300 = 795.
“United words” refers to the use of G‑d’s names, for they express His oneness, and [their use involves combining and] unifying them.
The phrase, “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower'” refers to the idol they wanted to make. They wanted to behave as bad as they wished and not submit to the rules of holiness…
The phrase, “whose top reaches heaven” refers to the fact that they wanted to give this idol the ability to channel the divine beneficence to them by manipulating G‑d’s names, as above; they knew that this idol would be powerless unless it could receive power from holiness.
Their intention was that it would force divine beneficence to be channeled to them, via their use of these names, even though they would not behave properly [and earn the divine blessing]. They wanted to behave as bad as they wished and not submit to the rules of holiness. After all, it takes great effort to deny oneself the material lusts, and they wanted to enjoy the pleasures of this world [unhindered] and have the idol channel goodness to them by force of the divine names, as we said.
The one who masterminded all this was Nimrod, for he was the leader of the Generation of the Dispersion. He was extremely adept at this technique of manipulating [divine names].
The same was Nebuchadnezzar’s intention, for he was a reincarnation of the wicked Nimrod. Therefore, the letters that make up their names are similar [as we will show].
“Nebuchadnezzar” is spelled: nun-beit-vav-chaf-dalet-nun-tzadik-reish.
“Nimrod” is spelled: nun-mem-reish-vav-dalet.
The [five] letters that spell “Nimrod” can be aligned with the [first five] letters that spell “Nebuchadnezzar”, and the last three letters [of “Nebuchadnezzar”] spell the word for “ruler” [in Hebrew, “netzer”].
“Netzer” is spelled: nun-tzadik-reish.
The beginning and last letters of “Nimrod” and “Nebuchad” are the same: nun and dalet.
Thus, “Nebuchadnezzar” can be interpreted as meaning “king Nebuchad”, “Nebuchad” alluding to Nimrod.
The idol-statue that Nebuchadnezzar made was intended to fulfill the same function as the city and idol-tower that Nimrod built.
Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar also built his statue with the power of divine names, for he took the headband of the High priest, on which was engraved G‑d’s name Havayah, and placed it on the mouth of the idol.
The priestly garments, including the High priest’s headband, had been captured by Nebuchadnezzar with the fall of Jerusalem and taken to Babylonia. Had they not known Hebrew, they would not be able to manipulate G‑d’s names…
Thus, the statue spoke and said, “I am G‑d, your G‑d.” It was actually speaking the truth, for the divine name [on the headband] was speaking, but the people were tricked into thinking that the statue was saying this.
Daniel climbed up to the statue’s head with ladders they brought him, because he said he wanted to kiss the statue. When he kissed it, he removed [the headband] from its mouth, and it immediately toppled. It could not stand naturally for it was sixty cubits tall and only six cubits wide; it was only because of the divine power of the name Havayah [engraved on the headband] that it was able to stand.
About this it is written, “I will punish Bel in Babylonia, and I will remove from his mouth what he has swallowed.” (Jeremiah 51:44) Bel was the idol of Babylonia. What was “swallowed” in his mouth was the name Havayah…
This is the meaning of, “Behold, they are one people with the same language”, meaning that had they not known Hebrew, they would not be able to manipulate G‑d’s names. But “this they have begun to do”, meaning that the sole reason they were able to begin this was because they spoke Hebrew. Therefore, “they will not be withheld”, for by using the divine names and their power to adjure [angels], they would be able to do whatever they wanted.
The parable for this is that once there was a king who once gave the keys to his storerooms to a number of people, who then could enter his storehouses whenever they wanted. In order to prevent [such abuse], the king changed the locks, and these people could no longer open them.
G‑d did the same here. He changed His names, as it is written, “Come, let us descend and confound their speech”. (Gen. 11:7) Furthermore, he confounded their language, so they could no longer speak the Holy language, and even if they would try to adjure the angels in other languages, this would be totally ineffective. He therefore made them forget Hebrew, and thus they no longer knew how to do anything [like this].