4 Elements Course: Air

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—

The word here for wind (ruach) can also mean spirit, breath, or life force. Here, it refers to Divine Breath hovering over the water.

וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

God יהוה formed the Human from the soil’s humus, blowing into his nostrils the breath of life: the Human became a living being.

This same element, ruach, is what G-d uses to blow life into Adam (the first human). This breath of life (nishmat chayimm) creates a living being (nefesh chayah). Sefer Yetzirah, our next source, reinterprets this line to mean that G-d is blowing life into the entire universe. It uses the name "Ruach Elohim Chayim"/ The Breath of the living G-d, coined in the feminine.

עשר ספירות בלימה, אחת רוח אלהים חיים ברוך ומבורך שמו של חי העולמים קול ורוח ודבור וזהו רוח הקדש:

The following are the ten categories of existence out of nothing : 1) The spirit of the living God, praised and glorified be the name of Him who lives to all eternity. The articulate word of creative power, the spirit and the word are what we call the holy spirit.

Ruach Hakodesh can mean "Holy Spirit", or "Holy Wind", referring to G-d's breath that breathes life into existence. The world was created through Divine Speech. Before there is articulation of sounds, there is just breath. In Aryeh Kaplan's book explaining Sefer Yetzirah, he uses the famous analogy of G-d as a "glassblower". Here is a description of this analogy from Nefesh HaChayim:

וכבר המשילו רז''ל (בר''פ חלק) ענין השתלשלות הרוח חיים באדם לעשי' כלי זכוכית לענין תחיית המתים ואמרו ק''ו מכלי זכוכית שעמלן ברוח בשר ודם כו' ב''ו שברוחו של הקב''ה עאכ''ו. וכ''ה בש''ט תהלים מזמור ב' ע''ש.

And our rabbis (OBM) (Sanhedrin 91a, beginning of Perek Cheilek) have previously likened the context of the downward flow of the wind-Ruakh of life in Man to the making of a glass vessel in the context of the revival of the dead, and they said: “it can be deduced logically from a glass vessel that is worked with the wind-Ruakh of flesh and blood... how much more so flesh and blood [worked] with the wind-Ruakh of the Holy One (blessed be He).” And so it is in the Shokhar Tov, T’hillim, mizmor 2, refer there.

כי הנדון דומה לראיה שכשנבחין בנשימת פי האומן בכלי הזכוכית בעת עשייתו נמצא בו ג' בחי'. בחי' הראשונה הוא כשנשימת ההבל הוא עדיין תוך פיו קודם באו לתוך חלל השפופרת החלולה. אין לקרותה אז אלא בשם נשימה והבחי' השנית כשנכנס ההבל ובא לתוך השפופרת ונמשכת כמו קו אז נקרא רוח. והבחי' הג' התחתונה הוא כשיוצא הרוח מהשפופרת לתוך הזכוכית ומתפשטת בתוכה עד שנעשית כלי כפי רצון המזגג אז מכליא רוחו ונקרא אז נפש לשון שביתה ומנוחה:
For what we are discussing resembles a supporting proof, for when we examine the craftsman’s mouth’s exhalation into the glass vessel during its fabrication we discover three phases. The first phase is when the breath’s gaseous flow is still within his mouth prior to its entering the empty space within the hollow pipe; at this point it would be mistaken to refer to it as anything other than “breath”. The second phase is when the gaseous flow enters and arrives within the pipe and is pulled along it as in a straight line; then it is referred to as wind-Ruakh. And the third, lowest phase is when the wind-Ruakh exits the pipe and enters the glass, and spreads within it until a vessel is formed according to the will of the glassmaker. Then he terminates his wind-Ruakh, and it is then referred to as soul-Neffesh, using a term used to denote completion and rest.

Pay attention to in this next text how the word for Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) also means "Holy Breath"/ "Holy Wind". Ruach Hakodesh is a feminine term (similar to the feminine term for "Ruach Elohim Hayimm/ the breath of the living G-d)

The text genders the divine spirit as a feminine similar to the other elements that we will explore (fire, air, water).

How does this change your interpretation of the text below?

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי אֶל אַבְרָם הִנֵּה נָא עֲצָרַנִי ה' מִלֶּדֶת (בראשית טז, ב), אָמְרָה יָדְעַת אֲנָא מֵהֵיכָן הִיא סִבָּתִי, לֹא כְּשֵׁם שֶׁהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים לִי קָמֵיעַ הִיא צְרִיכָה, הִימוּס הִיא צְרִיכָה, אֶלָּא הִנֵּה נָא עֲצָרַנִי ה' מִלֶּדֶת. תָּנֵי, כָּל מִי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ בֵּן כְּאִלּוּ הוּא מֵת, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא הָרוּס. כְּאִלּוּ מֵת, (בראשית ל, א): וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל אֶל יַעֲקֹב הָבָה לִי בָנִים וגו', כְּאִלּוּ הוּא הָרוּס, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית טז, ב): אוּלַי אִבָּנֶה מִמֶּנָּה, וְאֵין בּוֹנִין אֶלָּא אֶת הֶהָרוּס. (בראשית טז, ב): וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָם לְקוֹל שָׂרָי, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אָמַר לְקוֹל רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ, הֵיךְ מָה דְאַתְּ אָמַר (שמואל א טו, א): וְעַתָּה שְׁמַע לְקוֹל דִּבְרֵי ה'.

2. "And Sarai said to Abram, 'Look, the Lord has kept me from bearing' (Gen.16:2) as follows: "Said she, I know the source of my affliction: It is not as people say [of a barren woman], 'she needs a talisman, she needs a charm', but Look, the Lord has kept me from bearing.'" It is taught: whoever has no child is like one who is dead, like one who is destroyed. Like dead, since it is written "And Rachel said to Yaakov: give me children [or I shall die]" (Genesis 30:1). Destroyed, as it is written "maybe I will be build from her" (Genesis 16:2) - we build only what was destroyed. “And Avram listened to the voice of Sarai” - Rabbi Yose said: to the voice of Ruach HaKodesh, as it is written: “Therefore, listen to the LORD’s command!” (I Samuel 15:1).

1 wind becomes 4 winds

Meditation "Holy Breath" by Jill Hammer:

Close your eyes and breathe out.

As you breathe out,

your breath becomes a being.

As you breathe again,

the being becomes clearer in form.

You can fully perceive him/her/them/it.

The being breathes in what you breathe out.

You breathe out what the being breathes in.

Feel the love and trust

that arises between you

as you share one another's breath.

If you wish,

you an ask this being a question

and receive an answer.

Or, you can simply breathe in silence,

feeling the connection between you.

Breathe out and open your eyes.

רַבִּי יִרְמְיָה הֲוָה יָתֵיב קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי [חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא], חַזְיֵיהּ דַּהֲוָה מַאֲרֵיךְ טוּבָא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: כֵּיוָן דְּאַמְלֵיכְתֵּיהּ לְמַעְלָה וּלְמַטָּה וּלְאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם — תּוּ לָא צְרִיכַתְּ.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Yirmeya was seated before Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba. He saw that he was greatly extending his pronunciation of eḥad. He said to him: Once you have crowned Him in your thoughts over everything above, in Heaven, below, on earth, and in the four corners of the heavens, you need not extend any further.

(י) ה֣וֹי ה֗וֹי וְנֻ֛סוּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ צָפ֖וֹן נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה כִּ֠י כְּאַרְבַּ֞ע רוּח֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם פֵּרַ֥שְׂתִּי אֶתְכֶ֖ם נְאֻם־יְהֹוָֽה׃

(10) “Away, away! Flee from the land of the north—says GOD —though I swept you [there] like the four winds of heaven—declares GOD.”

The wind becomes 4 winds , similar to the 4 elements and 4 rivers that flowed from Eden:

(י) וְנָהָר֙ יֹצֵ֣א מֵעֵ֔דֶן לְהַשְׁק֖וֹת אֶת־הַגָּ֑ן וּמִשָּׁם֙ יִפָּרֵ֔ד וְהָיָ֖ה לְאַרְבָּעָ֥ה רָאשִֽׁים׃

(10) A river issues from Eden to water the garden, and it then divides and becomes four branches.

We have the 4 winds, the 4 rivers from Eden, the 4 elements.. Can you think of any other significant 4's?

Wind Jewish Ritual practice:

1. Praise using your breath, reciting words of Tehilim

וְזֶה שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה (ע"ז ד:): לֹא הָיָה דָּוִד רָאוּי לְאוֹתוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה, אֶלָּא כְּדֵי לְהוֹרוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה לְיָחִיד וְכוּ'. נִמְצָא שֶׁעִקָּר הוֹרָאַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה עַל־יְדֵי דָּוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ, וְעִקָּר הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁל דָּוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ הוּא סֵפֶר תְּהִלִּים, שֶׁאֲמָרוֹ בְּהִתְעוֹרְרוּת גָּדוֹל מְאֹד וּבְרוּחַ־הַקֹּדֶשׁ, עַד שֶׁכָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד כְּפִי מַה שֶּׁהוּא יָכוֹל לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ בְּתוֹךְ סֵפֶר תְּהִלִּים, וְלִזְכּוֹת לִתְשׁוּבָה עַל־יְדֵי אֲמִירַת תְּהִלִּים כַּנַּ"ל:
And this is as our Sages, of blessed memory, taught: David was not suited for that deed. However, it was in order to teach individuals repentance (Avodah Zarah 4b). It follows, that the primary teaching of repentance came through King David. And King David’s primary repentance is Tehillim, which he recited with such great inspiration and Divine spirit that everyone—as he is—is able to find himself in the Book of Psalms and merit repentance by reciting psalms.

"If people would realize the power of the verses of Tehillim and its influence in the heavens, they would recite it continually. The chapters of Tehillim break through all barriers as they soar aloft, higher and higher, uninterrupted. They prostrate themselves before the Masters of the Universe." Hayom Yom, 24th Shevat (Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1789-1866)

2. Niggunim & Song

במקום רנה שם תהא תפלה

Where there is song, there is prayer.

(טו) וְעַתָּ֖ה קְחוּ־לִ֣י מְנַגֵּ֑ן וְהָיָה֙ כְּנַגֵּ֣ן הַֽמְנַגֵּ֔ן וַתְּהִ֥י עָלָ֖יו יַד־יְהוָֽה׃

(15) Now then, get me a musician [m'nagen].” As the musician played [k'nagen ha-m'nagen], the hand of the LORD came upon him.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: "The Maggid [of Mezeretich] explains the phrase as follows: 'When the musician (ha-m’nagen) becomes like the instrument (ke-nagen), then the spirit of God shall rest upon him.'"

R' Kalonymous Kalman Shapira of Piazetsne (b. 1889), Tzav veZeiruz

36. Sometimes, a person must build ladders to climb to the heavens. A niggun (melody) is one of these ladders, specifically when its singing comes from the joy of a mitzvah, and with a heart broken open.

R' Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, from Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer

Repetition is important. The aim is not just to run trough the niggun a couple of times but to let it build -- 'soaking in the niggun (er veykt zach in dem niggun),' we used to say. Body language is important, too. Even if you are just singing on your own, get your body involved. Beat time on the table or your knee. Close your eyes. Sway back and forth if you can. Tell your body where you want to go, and let your body help communicate this to the rest of you. The Baal Shem Tov would sometimes ask his followers to put a hand on the shoulder of the person next to them as they sang. Forming a physical circle, he believed, would actualize the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself...

We are not merely singing melodies -- this is the point. A niggun is a path to God, a 'song of ascension.'... We must travel with that intention in mind... Get together with friends, tell stories, swap songs. Soak in the niggunim. See how far they can take you.

3. Shaking the Lulav

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: מוֹלִיךְ וּמֵבִיא לְמִי שֶׁהָאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת שֶׁלּוֹ, מַעֲלֶה וּמוֹרִיד לְמִי שֶׁהַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ שֶׁלּוֹ. בְּמַעְרְבָא מַתְנוּ הָכִי: אָמַר רַבִּי חָמָא בַּר עוּקְבָא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא: מוֹלִיךְ וּמֵבִיא כְּדֵי לַעֲצוֹר רוּחוֹת רָעוֹת, מַעֲלֶה וּמוֹרִיד כְּדֵי לַעֲצוֹר טְלָלִים רָעִים. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר אָבִין וְאִיתֵּימָא רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר זְבִידָא: זֹאת אוֹמֶרֶת
Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He moves them to and fro to dedicate them to He Whom the four directions are His. He raises and lowers them to He Whom the heavens and earth are His. In the West, Eretz Yisrael, they taught it as follows. Rabbi Ḥama bar Ukva said that Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, said: He moves them to and fro in order to request a halt to harmful winds, storms and tempests that come from all directions; he raises and lowers them in order to halt harmful dews and rains that come from above. Rabbi Yosei bar Avin said, and some say that it was Rabbi Yosei bar Zevila who said: That is to say,

The air represents flexibility, lightness, agility, openness, and the ability to give and receive easefully.

When we shake the Lulav of the holiday of Sukkot, we embody the train of loostening up and allowing in flexibility through the winds of change.

The Gemara states that we wave the lulav to disperse and eliminate "negative winds" (Rav Dover Pinson)

-What are your "negative winds"?

Where in life do you need more guidance and structure?
-What are your positive "wind" qualities?

4. Honoring Yom Kipur- the day of angelic wind:

"Yom Kipur is the day of the "windpipe", when we are nourished only by breathing and praying. Yom Kipur is the day of Ruach/ spirit, and the day of Neshama/Soul. Neshama comes from the word Neshimah/breath. We demonstrate that we do not essentially rely on food, rather, we live off breath and spirit. The Arizal teaches (Eitz Chayim, Yom Kippur) that on Yom Kippur, Malchus, which is also a code word for our reality, receives its food diretly from Binah, which is called the Hevel HaElyon/ the Supernal Breath.

On Yom Kipur we are like angels who exist without food, drink, or procreation. We don white garments to symbolize that we are as pure as angels, following our immersion in the life-purifying Mikvah. We are transcendent and bright.

Angels are 'creatures of the wind', weightness and unburdened by the gravitational pull and burden of sin and negativity...We are released from all burdens on Yom Kippur and fly upwards like angels. Many even have the custom to stand, as much as possible, while praying on Yom Kippur, embodying an angelic posture, upright and reaching upwards.

Many people feel physically lighter on Yom Kippur, perhaps like floating above the world, certainly during the later hours of. Yom Kippur. We are detached from the downward pull of food, and all the things that can make us feel heavy and degraded in our lives. .."

"The Month of Tishrei" by Rav Dovber Pinson

5. Incense Ritual

(א) וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ מִזְבֵּ֖חַ מִקְטַ֣ר קְטֹ֑רֶת עֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּ֖ים תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃
(1) You shall make an altar for burning incense; make it of acacia wood.

“Incensed” by Chaya Lester:

Let me at your incense stick

to fill the hall with smoke.

Til we no longer see each other

Not our blunders, not our cloaks.

And run around, unencumbered,

in the fragrance, in the clouds Til overcome by vapors

Aromas as our shrouds.

This is the cloud we followed

Through the stunning heat of day.

This is the cloud

We borrowed

From the angels

For the way.

They lent it with small interest

If we promised to give it back.

We repay it with our incense with our smoking

like a pack.

5. Blowing the shofar:


Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt

....Make shofars of us, God!

Breathe through us: make of us

resonating chambers

for Your love.

Rabbi Art Green, the founder of the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, teaches that the shofar is, "not just a game or a strange musical performance." Rather, it is the wordless sound evoking a forgotten language. There is a Hasidic tale of a king who is reunited with his son after a long absence. The son has forgotten his native language, but when he sees his father, his wordless cries connect them heart to heart, in a place beyond words.

The Hebrew months that correspond with the element of Air are:




Close with Poem:

Ravens in the wind, by Mary Oliver:

How do we work with our tendency to block and to freeze and to refuse to take another step toward the unknown? If our edge is like a huge stone wall with a door in it, how do we learn to open that door and step through it again and again, so that life becomes a process of growing up, or becoming more and more fearless and flexible, more and more able to play like a raven in the wind?

Where I live on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I see that the wilder the weather is , The more the Ravens love it. they have the time of their lives in the winter, when the wind gets much stronger and there's lots of ice and snow. They challenge the wind. They got up on the tops of the trees and they hold on with their claws and then they grab on with their beaks as well. At some point they just let go into the wind and let it blow them away. Then they play on it, they float on it. After a while, they’ll go back to the tree and start over. It’s a game....

...The animals and the plants on Cape Breton are hardy and fearless and playful and joyful; the elements have strengthened them. In order to exist there, they have had to develop a zest for challenge and for life. As you can see, it adds up to tremendous beauty and inspiration and uplifted feeling. The same goes for us.

ורוח אלהים. מניעי הגלגל שנקראו רוח כאמרו עושה מלאכיו רוחות:
ורוח אלוקים, the energy propelling the planet is called ruach,” as we know from Psalms 104,4 עושה מלאכיו רוחות, “He energises His messengers.”