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Rav Yosef Karo: The Ten Plagues

The 13th of Nissan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Karo, Beis Yosef, Shulchan Aruch, Kesef Mishneh,and Magid Meisharim, (1488-1575). His first major work, the Beis Yosef is a comprehensive commentary on the Tur; it took 20 years to write. In it, he gathered the opinions and decisions of all the major authorities up until his time and cross-referenced them. He ruled between differing views on the basis of a consensus between the three preeminent halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh. The work was completed in 1542, but he continued to refine it for the next 12 years, and published a second edition. After he had completed the Beis Yosef, Rav Caro made a summary of his rulings in the form of an index without reference to sources and titled it Shulchan Aruch (“Laid Table”). It was completed in 1555 in Israel; it was first published in Venice in 1565. Eventually, the Rama’s gloss (called HaMapa — “The Tablecloth”) was published together with the Shulchan Aruch in Cracow in 1578, and together they became the universally recognized Code of Jewish Law. The Rambam had published his Mishna Torah without references for his rulings. The Maggid Mishna, a commentary on Mishneh Torah written by Rabbi Vidal di Tolouse, had referenced six of the fourteen sections of the work, and Rav Caro set out to complete the references, while at the same time explaining the Rambam’s view and defending it from the Raavad. The Kesef Mishneh, as it was called, was published in Venice between the years 1574-76.


The Ten Plagues emerged from the ten Sefirot

This is the secret of the set of three words comprised of the first letters in Hebrew

of the ten plagues: Dezach Adash B’achav. The first word Dezach hints at the three upper

sefirotketer, chochma, bina; Adash hints at the three forefathers—who symbolized

chesed, gevura, tiferet; and B’achav hints at netzach, hod, yesod, malchut.

When keter was aroused, then the water became agitated and turned to “blood,”

as it is written: “the sea saw it and fled” (Ps. 114:3).

When chochma was aroused, “a frog” emerged, for it speaks out all the time, and this is Wisdom. For the

upper keter conceals itself well, whereas Wisdom brings the words of keter out into the world.

When bina was aroused, lice emerged, because all the progeny of the world emerge from bina (I think this is the secret of “and…became lice,” and even the secret of “the magicians could not do this” for the magicians came from the Sitra Achra, and as such had no grasp of this place).

When chesed was aroused,“wild beasts” emerged, because all the creatures

of the world emerge from chesed, for it is the head of the seven sefirot of binyan [building].

When gevura was aroused, out came “pestilence” for that can burn up the whole world in its blaze.

When tiferet was aroused, boils” emerged from the judgment side of tiferet, for they can burn the world with those blisters.

“Hail” emerged when netzach was aroused, coming from the side of chesed,

for water is a manifestation of chesed, signifying lovingkindness, and hail is water

that has frozen.

“Locusts” came when hod was aroused, for it came from the side of gevura which can burn up the world in its blaze, and so locusts consume (burn up) the produce of people.

“Darkness” came when yesod was aroused, for there is light that the Holy One blessed be He set aside for the righteous ones; when that is concealed, darkness emerges. And úåøåëá úëî “the strike that killed the firstborn” resulted from the arousal of malchut from below to above, even attaching itself to the upper chochma which is the firstborn.

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