One Common, Evil Purpose

The Zohar teaches the Tower of Babel’s success was due to its builders speaking Hebrew.

From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
“The entire earth had one language and a common purpose…: ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach the sky. This we will make ourselves a name so that we will not become scattered over the entire earth.'” (Gen. 11:1-4)

Rabbi Shimon said: Until that time, the world had a single foundation, principle and root: belief in the Holy One blessed be He. What is written [subsequently]? “When people migrated from Kedem…” – “Kadmono shel Olam” [the Primordial and Principle One] in whom everyone believed.

The builders of the city spoke the Holy Tongue….
The word “kedem” can be understood literally – “the east” or, as in this case, as referring to the Holy One blessed be He who is called “Kadmono shel Olam”. Thus, the meaning of the verse is: “They abandoned belief in G-d, and began to worship idols.” (Zohar I, 74b)

“The entire earth had one language.” The builders of the city spoke the Holy Tongue [Hebrew], which the ministering angels know, and did not speak any other language. For this reason it is written, “Shouldn’t they be prevented from accomplishing all their objectives?” (ibid. 11:6) Had they spoken a different language, which the ministering angles do not know, they could not have accomplished their objectives, because witchcraft has no permanence.

The builders of the city used their knowledge of the Hebrew language in the use or manipulation of Divine Names….
The meaning of this is as follows: The builders of the city used their knowledge of the Hebrew language in the use or manipulation of Divine Names to force the ministering angels to aid them in their task of building the city and the tower. Had they not known the Holy Tongue, they would not have been able to force the angels to do their bidding. Angels can be manipulated only by using Divine Names which derive from the Hebrew language. Instead, they would have used witchcraft. Since witchcraft has no permanence, whatever they would have achieved thereby would have soon disintegrated of its own accord.

“A common purpose” [also translated as, “a few matters”] means that they knew clearly the rank each of the [multiple] supernal levels without erring between them, [as if they were merely] a few matters. For this reason, [because of their vast knowledge of spiritual matters], they took evil counsel from wisdom, as it is written, “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach the sky.”

The “city and tower” refer to extremely elevated levels of esoteric wisdom which they dragged into impurity, as will be explained shortly.

They wanted to increase the power of unholiness on earth, and serve the side of impurity….
This matter is the secret of chochma, wisdom [or better, “cunning” since this refers to chochma of the side of unholiness]. They wanted to increase the power of unholiness on earth, and serve the side of impurity, for they knew that from that level all negative aspects descend upon the world. In this way they attempted to drive holiness away.

“A city and a tower”: This refers to supernal chochma, for they knew that the Holy Divine Name is not grasped down below other than by way of the “city and tower” [yesod and malchut (commentary Or Yakar)]. They cunningly worked to make the side of impurity dominate on earth and drive away the Master of the earth, malchut of Holiness, from its proper place, and make the powers of impurity dwell upon earth.

“We will make ourselves a name”

This means that they built the corresponding levels (city and tower) on the side of unholiness, by utilizing their knowledge of esoteric matters, which enabled them to use Divine Names to force the ministering angels to do their evil will, as mentioned above.

[From Sitrei Torah, Zohar I, 74b; translation and commentary by Moshe Miller;

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6 Responses to One Common, Evil Purpose

  1. At the moment of his fall, Noah was in the midst of rectifying the sin of Adam.

    Drunk on D’vine
    The Zohar

    From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
    Noah, the man of the soil, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself with this tent. (Gen. 9:20-21)

    Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yose [interpreted these verses respectively]:

    One maintained that the grapevine was banished from the Garden of Eden.

    [i.e. it was the Tree of Knowledge, according to one of the views cited (Bereishit Rabbah 15:8 and Sanhedrin 70b)] and he planted it here [in the ground – outside of the Garden of Eden].

    Noah intended to rectify the vine with which Adam had transgressed….
    The other one maintains that the grapevine was from the Land of Israel, and he uprooted it and planted it [outside Israel].

    On the same day [that he planted it], it produced fruits which he squeezed [to make wine].

    He then drank the wine and became intoxicated.

    According to the opinion that the vine was banished together with Adam from the Garden of Eden, Noah intended to rectify the vine with which Adam had transgressed. However, instead of sanctifying the wine which he made from the grapes, he became drunk on it. He thus debased himself by repeating Adam’s sin, as explained below. The sin of the Tree of Knowledge was that Adam drank the juice which Eve squeezed from its grapes.

    According to the second opinion, Noah found the vine outside of the Garden of Eden, in the Land of Israel. He debased himself by uprooting it from its proper place, and replanting it elsewhere, in a place that was not fitting for it. According to this view, his transgression was not the same as that of Adam. (Sulam)

    Rabbi Shimon said: This verse contains the secret of wisdom. When Noah wished to examine the sin that Adam had committed with the intention of avoiding it himself and learning how to rectify it and the world, he was unable to [fathom its secret]. So he squeezed grapes in order to examine [the secret of] the vineyard.

    The sons of Aaron…became intoxicated with the same wine which intoxicated Noah….
    The Zohar states that Eve squeezed grapes from the Tree of Knowledge and gave Adam to drink. (Zohar I, 36a, 267b) Ziv Hazohar explains that this refers to “external” or secular wisdom, i.e. wisdom other than the Torah, such as philosophy, which attempts to examine divine secrets by way of the intellect; or witchcraft, which attempts to harness the powers of impurity.

    When he reached this point, he became intoxicated and exposed, and he lost his resistance [to the External Forces].

    Thus the breach in the world [which Adam’s sin had made] became revealed, after it had been sealed [against the entry of External Forces (Ashmoret HaBoker)].

    This is similar to [what happened with] the sons of Aaron, regarding whom we have learned [that they entered into the Holy of Holies] intoxicated with wine.

    Now who gave them wine to drink there? Do you really think that they were so brazen as to drink wine there?

    Certainly not! Rather they became intoxicated with the same wine [which intoxicated Noah].

    This refers to secular wisdom. (Ziv Hazohar )

    Here [regarding Aaron’s sons] it is written, “they offered strange fire before G-d.” Elsewhere it is written, “Beware of a strange woman” (Mishlei 7:5) [alluding to secular wisdom].

    [Zohar I, 73a; translation and commentary by Moshe Miller

  2. Everything which a person does in a hidden manner is blessed
    Keeping Out of the Limelight

    From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
    In the translation below, the Zohar explains why the name of G-d, spelled yud hei vav hei (referred to as “Havayah”) is pronounced in a way unrelated to its spelling. The name is pronounced “Ado-nai”, meaning “Lord”, but this is not even hinted at by the spelling. Another name, Elo-him, is also used to describe Divinity in its aspect as creator, and our text explores the meaning behind the use of this name and what it means in our daily lives.

    Why is it written in one place, “And Havayah [which is a name referring to the divine aspect of mercy] rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen. 19:24)? What is the difference between this and the story of the Flood, where the name Elo-him is used in every instance and not the name G-d?

    The only exception to this is when the text deals with the salvation of Noah and his family, such as “Havayah said to Noah, ‘Come, you and all your house into the ark'” (Gen. 7:1), or “Havayah closed him in.” (Gen. 7:16)

    However we have learned that every place where it says “and Havayah” refers to Him and His Court of Judgment.

    The intention is to show that Zeir Anpin, the higher merciful aspect of G-d, has connected with Malchut. Just as a kingdom is ruled by law, so the connection of Zeir Anpin with Malchut results in the execution of judgment.

    Where the name Elo-him is used by itself, it refers to the aspect of judgment. When Sodom was destroyed, the verdict was not to destroy the entire world. As a result, Havayah [the name] became involved in the execution of the judgment [so as to ensure that there was limitation to the destruction]. This was not the case in the Flood. There, the whole world was destroyed and all those living in it. Wherever the name Elo-him is used, all people need to hide themselves…
    Now don’t think that [because] Noah and all with him were saved [there must have been judgment mixed with mercy]. He was hidden from sight and not seen [by the destructive powers and therefore was saved]. Because of the power of judgment, everything in the world was destroyed. From here we see that where the words “and Havayah” are used, it is possible to be revealed out in the open [like Lot] and yet be saved [because there is a differentiation made between the wicked and those who merit to be saved]. Wherever the name Elo-him is used, all people need to hide themselves and remain guarded in a sealed place [like a bunker!]. This is because He [the aspect of judgment] destroys everything [not differentiating between the righteous and the wicked]. This is the reason that the name Elo-him is used by itself in connection with the Flood.

    [Here we skip a few lines that reinforce the above concept and move to a related topic that follows.] The Holy One blessed Be He hidden and revealed…
    I have learned this secret. The Holy One blessed Be He is [both] hidden and revealed.

    The hidden aspect is the name Havayah, which is forbidden to pronounce. The revealed aspect is the name Ado-nai.

    The revealed aspect is His Court of Judgment below [Malchut]. The hidden [name] is the place from which issues all blessings. Because of this, everything which a person does in a hidden manner is blessed [since its spiritual source is in the hidden name of Havayah].

    The blessing dwells over the activity because the forces of destruction, like pride generated by the honor received, and their spiritual parallel in the angelic forces of destruction have no place upon which to cling.

    Everything that is done in a revealed manner [in the world, which is His Kingdom], is in a place where His Court of Judgment dwells [and is therefore subject to close scrutiny].


    Zohar, Page 64b; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

  3. The account of the dove and Noah’s ark alludes to the history of the Jewish People.

    The Returning Dove

    From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
    He sent off the dove…. (Gen. 8:8)

    Rabbi Pinchas said: The Holy One blessed be He wished to test the Children of Israel, and so He sent them into exile in Babylon, as it states: “He sent off the dove”. “The dove” refers to the Community of Israel [the collective souls of the Jewish people, known as “Knesset Yisrael”].

    This exile took place after the destruction of the First Temple.

    Now see what is written in the next verse “But the dove did not find a perch for its foot…” (ibid. 8:9) in regard to this: the King of Babylon exacerbated the yoke of their exile by starvation and thirst and by murdering many of the righteous. Because of the harshness of the exile, “…”[the dove] returned to him in the ark and he took it”.

    This symbolized that the Jewish people repented and returned to G-d, who stretched out His hand, having accepted their repentance.

    Then the Community of Israel sinned again, and He sent them into exile again, as it states, “Once more he sent the dove out from the ark” (ibid. 8:10)

    This time into the Greek exile, during the era of the Second Temple.

    This final exile has no set limit, and everything depends upon repentance….
    After [the Jewish People suffered great anguish and duress during the Greek exile,]: “Toward evening, the dove returned.” (ibid. 8:11) What is the allegorical meaning of “toward evening”? That the hour of relief did not shine as it had done previously. The righteous were killed, the day darkened, as is states: “Woe to us, for the day wanes, and the shadows of night are lengthening.” (Jeremiah 6:4) “The day wanes” – these are the righteous, who shine like the sun; “and the shadows of night are lengthening” – they remained like the dregs. This is the meaning of “towards evening”, and not at the time when the righteous shone like the sun.

    “In its beak was an olive leaf it had plucked”. (Gen. 8:11)

    Had the Holy One blessed be He not aroused the spirit of the Kohanim who lit the Menorah using olive oil1 then the vestige of the tribe of Judah would have been lost.

    But each time [the Jewish people were sent into exile] they repented and returned, and their repentance was accepted…

    [He waited yet another seven days] “and sent out the dove”…. (Gen. 8:12)

    This refers to the exile of Edom [i.e. Rome, after the destruction of the Second Temple].

    “…it did not return to him any more”. (ibid. 8:12)

    Until this very day we have not repented, and our spirit has not been aroused [to return to G-d].

    Rabbi Pinchas said: Every time the Jewish People were sent into exile, the Holy One blessed be He set a limit to the exile, and they were always aroused to repentance. But this final exile has no set limit, and everything depends upon repentance.

    [From Zohar, Midrash HaNe’elam, Zohar Chadash p.23c; translation and commentary by Moshe Miller.

  4. The Zohar teaches how Children manifest the spiritual light of the Parents.
    Rainbows and Doves

    From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
    Something else [explaining the verse “The buds appeared in the land” (Songs 2:12)]: “the buds” – these are the Patriarchs, that arose in thought [Abba], and ascended to the World to Come [Imma], and were hidden there.

    As at first, the buds were explained to refer to chesed, gevura and tiferet. Throughout the Zohar, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are understood as the human embodiment of these sefirot. Abraham’s outstanding quality was loving-kindness, or chesed, as the Torah tells of his outstanding care to bring in and serve guests (Gen. 18:2); Isaac was known for his great fear of G-d (see Gen. 31:42), which comes from and corresponds to the attribute of strength and severity, or gevura; Jacob was known as a dweller in tents (see Gen. 25:27) where he learned Torah, which manifests the harmonious combination of the previous two traits, known as “tiferet”.

    The divine flow…descended to chesed, gevura and tiferet, but in a concealed way….
    Here, when the Zohar mentions “ascent”, it refers to the awakening of “feminine waters” from the level below (here referring to chesed, gevura and tiferet of Zeir Anpin) to the levels above (in this case Abba, from the sefira of chochma, which is called “Thought”, and Imma, from the sefira of bina, from which comes the delight of the World to Come).

    The partzufim of Abba and Imma, literally “mother” and “father”, parent the partzufim directly underneath them, Zeir Anpin and Nukva, their “children”. Just as when children go to their parents, the parents are roused to give them food and supply their needs, so does the ascent of Zeir Anpin and Nukva awaken a flow of light and life from Abba and Imma.

    And from there they left [the upper] concealment and were concealed within the true prophets [netzach and hod].

    The divine flow transmitted from Abba and Imma descended to chesed, gevura and tiferet, but in a concealed way. This was arranged by G-d in order to prevent the husks from seeking to be nourished from this flow.

    Chesed, gevura and tiferet passed the divine gift along to netzach and hod. They are known as “prophets” throughout the Zohar because from them originates the prophet’s inspiration (see Shaar Ruach Hakodesh pg. 11). Their physical expression is in the two cherubim upon the ark of the Holy Temple. From them emanated the voice of prophecy to Moses (end of Exodus).

    Joseph [yesod] was born, and they [the lights of the Patriarchs] were hidden in him.

    Joseph is identified with yesod, which receives the life force from above and does its job of giving over and reproducing. This actualization of its potential is called “being born”.

    Joseph went into the Holy Land [malchut].

    At the time the rainbow appears then they are revealed….
    Malchut is the last level within the sefirot. There yesod stands firmly with all the flow received from chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach and hod, enabling yesod to establish this in malchut.

    There they stood up firmly. And then they appeared in the Land and were revealed there.

    Once these lights of the Patriarchs (chesed, gevura and tiferet) come to malchut, they come to fruition and manifest in the world as G-d’s sovereignty through these qualities.

    And when do they appear? At the time when the rainbow is revealed in the world. Because at the time the rainbow appears then they are revealed.

    The beaming colors of the rainbow represent the shining of the attributes chesed, gevura and tiferet into the world.

    And at that time [when the rainbow appears], “The time of song has arrived” (Songs 2:12) [implying] the time to cut the wicked from the world.

    Through singing to G-d, the powers of evil are annihilated….
    Through singing to G-d, the powers of evil are annihilated. The best way to do this is through praising G-d and singing to Him, ridding evil from one’s own heart.

    Why will they [the wicked] be saved?

    The sins of the wicked in the generation of the Flood caused destruction. What prevents this from re-occurring?

    Because the buds appear in the land.

    Because the lights of chesed, gevura and tiferet shined down and sweetened the judgments caused by the sins.

    And were it not that they [the buds] appeared, they [the wicked] would not be left in the world, and the world would not endure.

    Children … generate such merit as to justify the world’s endurance, despite its sins….
    And what makes the world endure and caused the Patriarchs to be revealed?

    What awakening from below, in this world, caused the drawing of these spiritual lights from above?

    The voice of the children who speak words of Torah.

    Being below the age of maturity, children are not responsible for their deeds, and are therefore free from sin. The words of Torah emanating from their pure lips therefore generate such merit as to justify the world’s endurance, despite its sins.

    And because of these youths of the world, the world is saved. Relating to them, the verse states, “Doves of gold we will make for you” (Songs 1:11), for these are the children, the youths, the lads, as it is written, “And you shall make two golden cherubs.” (Ex. 25:18)

    The children’s’ melodious chanting of words of Torah is likened to the sweet song that the doves sing….
    How do we know that this verse refers to the children? Rabbinic tradition teaches that the faces of these cherubs, or angelic figures, in the Holy Temple were like that of children. and were made of gold. (Chagiga 13b) From this we can deduce that the gold mentioned in the aforementioned verse hints to children. These are allegorized in the Song of Songs as “doves of gold”, because the children’s’ melodious chanting of words of Torah is likened to the sweet song that the doves sing.

    Also, the dove is known throughout the words of the Sages as being always loyal to its mate. Children are similar in that they are always loyal to G-d. The cherubs also have the faces of children because angels share with children the quality of being free of sin. And the Torah hints to us the connection between the two verses specifically through the word “gold”, because this exalted quality is rare like gold.

    In terms of the verse in context of the Song of Songs, the Jewish people are expressing their love for G-d by telling how we have our children sing the words of Torah to Him.

    [This series became the basis for the recently compiled “Zohar – translation and commentary” by Peretz Auerbach.

  5. Real Human Beings
    Based on Zohar Breishit 71a
    Translated and annotated by Rahmiel-Hayyim Drizin from the Zohar selection in Hok L’Yisrael

    “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be” (Gen. 9:2) This means that from now on, you shall take the form of human beings, but mankind did not take the form of human beings. Come and see! In the beginning it is written: “for in the image of Elo-him He made Man,” (Gen. 9:6) and also, “in the likeness of Elo-him He made him” (Gen. 5:1). But as people sinned, they no longer maintained the supernal image, and they became afraid of the beasts of the field.

    Formerly, the creatures of the world looked upon man and saw the holy supernal image and trembled with fear. But as people sinned, their image was transformed in the eyes of the beasts. This is why human beings now tremble with fear of other creatures.

    Come and see! All the people who do not sin before their Master and do not transgress against the commandments of the Torah, keep their divine radiance of the supernal image . Therefore all the creatures of the world tremble with fear of them. But when the people transgress against the commandments of the Torah, their shape changes and they tremble and fear other creatures, because the supernal shape has left them. Because the beasts cannot see the supernal form in them anymore, they are ruled by the beasts of the field.

    When the world was renewed, G-d blessed them by granting them dominion over all even over the fish in the sea. As it is written: “And upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand they are delivered” (Gen. 9:2). Rabbi Chiya said that into your hand they are delivered, indicating that when the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He delivered everything into the hands of Man. As it is written: “and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air…” (Gen. 1:28).

    BeRahamim LeHayyim: We are created “slightly less than the angels.” Yet our potential for free choice, and choosing the straight way, puts us even higher than these completely spiritual beings.

    Do we just live to make choices to solely satisfy our present physical needs? Of course not! But I’d dare say that most negativity in our lives comes from problems that result from a preference of the material over the spiritual.

    Go for the Gold! Seek to find G-d in all your ways. Do not take the physical at face value. This is the way to make the terrestrial holy. This is the lesson of parashat Noah.

  6. The Warning Merit
    Based on Zohar Breishit 68A
    Translated and annotated by Rahmiel-Hayyim Drizin from the Zohar selection in Hok L’Yisrael

    Rabbi Yehudah said that even though Noah was righteous, it was still not worthwhile for G-d to protect the world because of him. Come and see! Moses did not ask for anything on the basis of his own merit. Rather, he depended on the merit of the Patriarchs. But Noah, unlike Moses, had no other person on whose merit he could depend.

    …he should have sacrificed the offering…before the flood happened.
    Rabbi Yitzhak said that even though this was the case [that he was the righteous one of the generation], when G-d said to him “and I will establish my covenant with you,” he should have asked for mercy for them as well. And he should have sacrificed the offering he sacrificed before the flood happened. Maybe that would have quieted the judgment of anger that hung over the world.

    Rabbi Yehuda asked: What benefit would that sacrifice have done? For the wicked of the world deliberately angered G-d! Should he have offered a sacrifice on their behalf [to the Name Elokim, for which it is prohibited to offer] ? Noah was certainly afraid for himself, that he should not be entangled with the [wicked] in death. He had seen their wicked deeds and how they had angered G-d every day.

    Rabbi Yitzhak said: As long as the wicked increase in the world, when a righteous person is found among them, he is punished first [as we find in the story of Ezekiel]: as it is written: “and from my sanctuary you should commence,” (Ezekiel 19:6) and we have learned to read this not as Mimikdashi (i.e. ‘from my sanctuary’), but rather as Mimkudashai (i.e. ‘from my holy ones’). How did G-d save Noah who was righteous from among the wicked? Noah was saved so that he could bring further generations into the world, for he was truly righteous and fit to beget proper children.

    if you warn the wicked… you have delivered your soul
    Not only that, but Noah warned them every day, but they did not pay attention. And the verse: “Yet if you warn the wicked… you have delivered your soul,” (Ezekiel 3:19) is applied to him. From this we learn that whoever warns the wicked–even if the wicked do not heed him–that person saves himself, while the wicked are punished according to their sins. How far should he go in warning them? And he answered: Until he hits them. This issue has already been explained by our colleagues.

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