Jacob and Laban


Aryeh Kaplan

(an extract from “Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy)

After working for Laban as a shepherd for twenty years, Jacob was ready to return home to the land of Israel with his entire household. In payment for his service it was agreed upon that he would take only those sheep and goats which were “banded,” “spotted,” or “streaked.” He separated his animals from Laban’s by a distance of three days and within a miraculously short time he had built up a sizeable flock of his own.

“Banded” in Hebrew is Akudim. Such animals had bands around their legs, while the rest of there body was white. Due, to these bands, they appeared to be bound, In Hebrew, Akud means “bound.”

“Spotted” is Nekudim. Such animals had black spots on a white body.

“Streaked” is Berudim. This is the precise opposite of the above; the animal has a black body with white streaks, giving the appearance of hail. In Hebrew, hail is Barad.

The way in which Jacob succeeded in increasing his flock was obviously miraculous…..

Nevertheless, he followed regular procedure……

When he wanted his sheep to conceive banded, spotted or streaked offspring, he cut rods with the appropriate markings and set them out where the sheep mated…..

This in turn was based on a prophetic vision in which an angel appeared to Jacob and said to him, ‘Raise your eyes and you will see that the bucks mounting the sheep are banded, spotted and streaked’ (Genesis 31:12)…..

As a result of this vision, Jacob learned that he was to meditate on these rods while in a very high state of consciousness and thereby project his thoughts on the sheep being conceived…..

Now, as the Ari states, when Jacob saw this vision, he was looking at the very beginning of the creation of the Sefirot. It was because Jacob had reached such a high level of consciousness that he was able to meditate on the spiritual dimension that underlies the physical reality and thereby influence the genetic structure of the sheep. The three types of markings in the vision represented the three major stages in the evolution of the Sefirot. By meditating on the latter, he succeeded in changing the former.

What Jacob saw was that when the Sefirot were first created they existed as a paradoxical “ten lights in one vessel.” This is the first level, Akudim (banded), where all the Sefirot are completely undifferentiated and bound together.

Next, three lights were divided into ten distinct entities. In this state they existed as simple Nekudim (spots or points). This is a state where the primitive Sefirot could receive God’s light, and they are thus called “vessels.” They could not interact or give anything to each other, however, and therefore could not hold the Divine light. Instead, they were overwhelmed by the light and “shattered.” This is known as the “Breaking of the Vessels.”

After having been shattered, the Vessels were then rectified and rebuilt. This is the final stage, Berudin (streaked), where the Sefirot are connected as Partzufim, archetypal personas or spiritual parallels to the human body. This is the level usually referred to as the Universe of Atzilut. It is in this rectified state that the Sefirot could now interact with each other and become givers as well as receivers.

We can now summarize this process again and familiarize ourselves with the terms used. Akudim is the first level where all the Sefirot are bound together. In Nekudim they are separated into single points or vessels and the shattering takes place. Berudim is where they become reconstituted into Partzufim.

The Sefirot thus originate in a completely undifferentiated state, bound together in Akudim. At this state we are confronted with the paradoxical “ten in one.” We see one single indissoluble entity, yet we know that it contains the potential of separating into ten different functions. This corresponds to the level of Keter-Crown…..

[A]ny creative act requires all ten Sefirot acting in unison. In essence, all of the Sefirot are vessels of Keter and they constitute a unified system through which the light of Keter manifests itself. When we go up a level, however, and see all of the Sefirot as they originate in one single vessel, this is the level of Akudim.

This in itself is a preparation for the next stage in the process that leads from unity and similarity to diffusion and dissimilarity. The “ten in one” situation is now forcibly dissolved. Each Sefirah must manifest as an independent entity. This is the next stage, the level of Nekudim.

It is here that the Sefirot first appear as ten distinct concepts. They are called Nekudim, points, because in this primitive state they are totally disconnected. The force of diffusion is so great that the Sefirot are now said to constitute a Universe of Tohu-Chaos. The word Tohu comes from the root meaning “confounded.” When a person is confounded it means that he is perceiving an idea that his mind cannot hold. Similarly, the vessels of Tohu-Chaos received a light that they could not contain. Just as confusion and confoundment shatter the thought process, so these vessels were shattered. It is this shattering that is alluded to in the Midrash which states, “God created universes and destroyed them.”