The Ninth Level of Mercy addresses a principal common to both Kabbalah and physics: energy never dissipates of its own accord; rather it is redirected and absorbed into something else. If a stone is dropped into the middle of a still lake, the ripples will extend to the shoreline, gradually decreasing in size as the circle of their impact increases. Once they reach the land, the energy represented by the ripples is transferred to the earth itself, shifting the pebbles and grains of sand until the force of the original stone is completely exhausted. The same phenomenon is true of human sin. Sin releases the forces of judgment into the world like a stone dropping into a lake, and the energy of these forces of judgment can only be redirected and absorbed elsewhere. It will not simply stop and return to its source.
The Ninth Level acknowledges God’s mercy as it is expressed in the redirection of forces of judgment. Rabbi Cordovero illustrates the phenomenon with several Biblical examples, including the punishment of Pharaoh (Exodus 4), Haman (Esther 7) the scapegoat (Leviticus 16), and Daniel’s interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2). The Ninth Level concludes with a treatment of how we may internalize and emulate this aspect of mercy in our own lives.
“And cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
God expresses goodness in this Level. When the Jewish people sinned, God handed them over to Pharaoh. Why was Pharaoh punished when the Jews repented? The same question may be asked of Sennacherib, and Haman, and their ilk. God does not say, “the Jews repented, and therefore no more evil will befall them,” and simply removing the threat of Haman, or Pharaoh, or Sennacherib. This is not enough. Instead, God causes Haman’s plans to redound upon his own head, and so too Pharaoh, and so too Sennacherib. The principle is based on the secret of and the goat will bear upon itself all their sins to the land of Gezerah. The goat literally bears the sins, a very difficult concept. Should the goat be held responsible for the sin of the Jewish people? Yes, as follows: when a person confesses, the confession is uttered with the intention of attaining purity, as David said “wash me, cleanse me of my sins,” and we say, “erase in Your great mercy.” We pray that our punishments be light, and not cause us to neglect the study of Torah. This is the significance of the continuation of that prayer, “but not through difficult tribulations,” and the intent behind the concluding phrase, “and You are righteous regarding all that happens to me.” There are sins that are nullified by tribulations, while others are nullified by death, and thus one cheerfully accepts atonement through tribulations. As soon as one confesses in prayer, the confession becomes the goat, the portion of Samael, as the Zohar explains in Parashat Pekudei. What is this portion? God visits punishments upon the person, and Samael immediately appears to collect his debt. Samael received permission from God to collect, but the transgression has devolved onto the goat, and thus the Jewish people are purified while Samael receives his due. Ultimately, God’s decree was that anyone who performed this service in the world would be nullified, which is the meaning of and you will kill the animal. Similarly the rock used for stoning and the sword used for execution require burial in order to eliminate both their existence and power after the sentence has been performed. This is precisely the secret of the Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The Jews were handed over to the King of Babylon, the head of gold. When this head was bowed, they were handed over to Persia, a chest and arms of silver, which was ultimately replaced, until the Jews arrived at the legs of bronze and feet of clay. What will be the final, positive end? God will force them to rise and face justice, as it is written: I will expend My arrows on them. My arrows will destroy, but the Jewish people will not be destroyed. The pieces of iron, clay, brass, silver and gold will be destroyed. The verse begins, and he struck the image to its legs, meaning that the only parts left of the image were the legs, because their power had already been nullified by the destruction of the head, arms and chest. Nevertheless, at the end it is written they will be destroyed as one, meaning that in the future God will force even Samael to stand up along with the wicked people who carry out his various deeds, and God will judge them.
This is the meaning of and cast all their sins into the depths of the sea, meaning God will send the power of justice to bring down all those who are like the depths of the sea—the wicked are like a stormy sea, it cannot be silent and its waters churn up silt and mud. The verse refers to those who execute judgment upon the Jewish people. God will ultimately cause their actions to redound upon their own heads.
Once the Jewish people accept their punishment, God reconsiders even what came before. God demands retribution for the sake of their dignity. Moreover, God says I was but a little angered, but they compounded the evil.
One must employ this level when dealing with others. Even if a wicked person is afflicted by punishments, one should not hate him, for after he is lashed he is like your brother. One should draw close those who rebelled and those who were punished, and have mercy upon them. One should save them from an enemy, and not say, “his sin caused this to happen.” Rather, one should show him mercy with this level, as I have explained.
Henry Abramson serves as Dean of the mighty Avenue J campus of Touro College. A specialist in Jewish history and thought, he is the author of several works, most recently Torah from the Years of Wrath 1939-1943: The Historical Context of the Aish Kodesh. His online lectures in Jewish history are available at henryabramson.com.
View all posts by Henry Abramson