Tomer Devorah
(The Palm Tree of Deborah)

by Moses Cordovero

Chapter 4 - Attaining the Qualities of Binah


How shall a man train himself to acquire the quality of Understanding? It is to be acquired by returning in perfect repentance[1], than which nothing is more important, for it rectifies every flaw. Just as it is the function of Understanding to sweeten all judgments and to neutralize their bitterness so man should repent and rectify every flaw. He who thinks of repentance all his days causes the Supernal Understanding to illumine all his days so that all his days are in repentance, that is to be included in Understanding which is Repentance, and the days of his life will be crowned according to the secret of the Supernal Repentance.

Note this: just as Repentance contains the root of all things, according to the secret of the Jubilee[2]. And behold the root of the Outside Ones according to the secret of the river Dinur[3], included in the holy according to the secret of the Powers) is planted there and spreads from there and is called 'the spreading of the Lord's anger.' But in accordance with the secret of 'And the Lord smelled[4] the sweet savour' that spreading abroad returns to its source so that the judgments are sweetened and the Lord repents of evil[5]. So man performs this secret in the secret of his repentance. For you must not say that repentance is good only for the holy portion in man but also for the portion of evil which is sweetened after the fashion of this quality.

Know that Cain was evil and of the serpent[6], yet it was said to him: 'If thou doest well[7], shall it not be lifted up.' Do not think that there is no hope from you because you belong to the evil side. This is false. Behold, if you do well you can root yourself in the secret of Repentance, removing yourself to that place, according to the secret of the good that is rooted there. For the root of every Supernal bitterness is sweet and he could have entered by way of the root to become good. Consequently, man turns his evil deeds themselves into good so that his intentional sins become good deeds[8]. For behold, the sinful deeds which he committed were persecutors from the Left Side. When he returns in perfect repentance he causes those deeds to enter and be rooted above. Now all those prosecutors are not annihilated but they become better and rooted in the holy just as Cain was told he could be good. Behold, if Cain had repented and rectified his sin then the sin of Adam by which Cain (the unclean nest) was born, would have been accounted to him for merit, according to the secret of 'the son bring merit to the father.' However, he did not desire to repent. Therefore, all the Left Side draws its sustenance from there. But all its branches are destined to become sweet and they will be perfect once again. This is the for the reason we have given: that man roots himself in the secret of evil and renders it sweet and brings it into the good. Therefore, man purifies the evil inclination and brings it into the good so that it becomes rooted above in the hold. This is the hight degree of repentance which he who follows should ponder on each day and repent in some measure each day so that all his days will be spent in repentance.


1 - repentance 'From the side of the Mother (=Understanding) issue emissaries of punishment who are armed with the clubs of Geburah (=the Sephirah of Power, the source of Judgment) and prevail over Mercy, and then the worlds are defective and there is conflict between them. But when men amend their waysbelow, punishment is mitigated and removed, and mercy is awakened and prevails over the evil which arose from stern judgment, and then there is joy and consolation...When judgment is mitigated, all the crowns return to their places and the keys are restored to the Mother, and this is called repentance (teshubhah, lit. "returning"), and the world is forgiven since the Mother is in perfect joy.' (Zohar III, 15b, Soncino trans. Vol. IV pp. 354-355).

2 - the secret of the Jubilee The Sephirah of Understanding, the third of the Highest Sephiroth, is known as the Mother of the other seven. As a result of the sinner's repentance the harmony among the Sephiroth is restored and, in the language of the Zohar, the Mother rejoices in her children (Zohar, III, 15b). The frequently occurring number seven in the Bible is interpreted as symbolizing the lower Sephirot. Hence the Jubilee, which falls after forty-nine years - seven sets of seven symbolizes Understanding. On the Jubilee slaves return to their homes and fields revert to their owners (Lev. XXV. cf Zohar III, R. Mehem., 108b).

3 - of the river Dinur 'River of Fire' - evil has its source in Understanding, the first of the 'passive' Sephiroth. Hence the 'spreading of the Lord's anger' is from here. C.'s reference is to the verse in Daniel (7:10) 'A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him; Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand thousand stood before him...' The Talmud (Had. 13b) states that this fiery stream issues from the sweat of the 'living creatures' mentioned in Ezekiel's vision of the chariot. (Ezek. I. 5) and it pours forth in the hands of the wicked Gehinnom. This verse of 'The fiery river' having its source in the good is elaborated on in the Zohar (II, 211b).

4 - the secret of 'And the Lord smelled' 'Fire, being very tenuous, issues from an inmost part, and then takes hold of some substance outside which is less tenuous, and by the junction of the two smoke is engendered: the reason being that fire has taken hold of something catching. An example is the warm breath that issues from the nostrils. Hence it is written: "They shall put incense in thy nose" (Deut. XXXIII. 10), i.e., they shall act so as to cause the fire to recede to its place, since through the smell of incense the nose contracts inwardly, till the whole odor is drawn in and brought near to the thought, producing a pleasing sensation. Hence there results "a savour of appeasement," when the anger is appeased and calm in restored, since the smoke has been gathered in and condensed in the fire, and the fire has seized the smoke and both have been drawn further and further back until the anger is assuaged and a reunion is formed called "appeasement"; an appeasement of the spirit, a universal rejoicing, a radiance of lamps, a brightening of faces, and then, "And the Lord smelt the savour of appeasement" (Gen. VIII. 21) as one who smells and draws in the savour to the inmost spot' (Zohar I, p. 70a, Soncino, Vol. I, pp. 234-235.

5 - Lord repents of evil. Ex. XXXII. 14

6 - and of the serpent R. Eleazar said: "When the serpent injected his impurity into Eve, she absorbed it, and so when Adam had intercourse with she bore two sons - one from the impure side and one from the side of Adam, and Abel bore a resemblance to the higher form and Cain to the lower. Hence it was that their ways in life were different. It was natural, too, that Cain, coming from the side of the angel of death, should kill his brother. He also adhered to his own side, and from him originate all evil habitations and demons and goblins and evil spirits in the world.' R. Jose said: 'Cain was teh nest (Kina, a play on the word Cain) of the evil habitations which came into the world from the impure side.' (Zohar I, 54a, Soncino trans. Vol. I, p. 172).

7 - If thou doest well. Gen. IV. 7

8 - intentional sins become good deeds In Rabbinic teaching repentance out of love has the effect of converting even premeditated sins into merits. v. Yoma 86b.