Vaera: Chapter 3

The four elements - fire, air, water, earth


Rabbi Chizkiyah tells us that when man was created he was made from the dust of the Temple of below, and that the four winds of the world - Chesed, Gvurah, Tiferet and Malchut - became joined there. These four winds joined in the four elements of the world, fire, air, water and dust. Furthermore, the four directions of the world joined in the four elements. In this way, the body of man is composed of and joins together the lower world and the world above.

Next, Rabbi Chizkiyah says that gold, silver, copper and iron are emitted from fire, air, water and dust. He explains further that fire stands in the direction of north, air in the east, water in the south and dust in the west. Opposites are combined, in that fire has the power of heat and dryness, and it combines with the cold moist north. Water combines with the hot dry south. The east draws from them both; so it is hot and moist. Fire and water circulate back and forth between these directions. They are in conflict, though, because fire wants to burn up water and water wants to extinguish fire. It is the air that reconciles them, as is seen in, "And the wind of Elohim hovers upon the surface of the water." Dust, then, receives from fire, water and air. The air is hot and moist because it draws from fire and water. Because dust is cold and dry, it can receive from all of them.

Next, we are told how the metals are created from earth, air, fire and water. When the dust fused with fire, water and air to produce gold, silver and copper, the dirt became stronger and brought forth other metals. It also produced four rivers where the twelve precious stones are found that correspond to the twelve tribes and the twelve oxen under the sea. However, the main sustenance of the world is still the air, or spirit. Without it, nothing could exist. The soul, Nefesh, could not exist without the air, Ruach. This is the secret of, "Also, that the soul be without knowledge is not good." Rabbi Shimon says that man's body was created from the dust of Malchut yet his soul was given to him from the dust of Binah. When he was created from the dust of above and below the fire, air and water of above and below were combined in him. This is how man was completed with a body and a soul.


We now understand how the elements that make up the world are combined in the human being, and how the spirit sustains everything. These images of fire, water and air - continually circulating and exchanging properties -- engender in us a sense of appreciation for the astonishing beauty of creation and our extraordinary place in it. We may wonder whether the elements could ever have combined at all, if they had not done so in the human being. Is this perhaps the essential reason for the creation of mankind?