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VeAsisa Tzitz Zahav


The tzitz was a thin plate of gold engraved with the words, “Holy unto G-d.” It was fashioned by Moshe (Moses) and brought favor upon the Jews by being worn always on the forehead of Aharon (Aaron). The word “tzitz” connotes shining forth, and in our context alludes to the shining light of Great Love for G-d (ahavah rabbah) that Aharon channeled to the Jewish people.

Why Aharon had to wear it on his forehead, and why it nevertheless had to be made by Moshe, will be understood in the context of the teaching that since the Temple’s destruction, it is as though a barrier prevents the light of ahavah rabbah from reaching us, but that brokenheartedness over one’s sins opens up cracks in the wall that allow that light to shine through. More specifically, the barrier or wall that prevents spiritual influence from affecting us is symbolized by Amalek, who stands for haughtiness, self-importance, overinflated ego. These qualities lead to bad character traits: an attitude of superiority, chasing after honor, wearing fancy clothes, and so on. Building oneself up in this manner is effectively building a barrier that blocks any intellectual comprehension one might have of G-d’s greatness from penetrating within and affecting one’s emotions and motivation.

The antidote to Amalek is Moshe, who symbolized utter self-negation, absolute insignificance in deference to G-d—the diametrical opposite of Amalek. The Torah was transmitted to us by Moshe, and studying it with bittul (self-nullification) allows one to perceive the true reality: there is nothing else but G-d.

This is why it was specifically Moshe who made the tzitz. The priestly garments of Aharon and his descendants—of which the tzitz was one—were “for glory and splendor.” Their effect was to transform the self-importance and pursuit of glory and splendor associated with Amalek into holiness. The material of the tzitz, the writing upon it, and the anatomical location of the forehead in relation to the seat of daas within the brain all symbolize this.


This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, contains a description of the Sanctuary that the Jews consecrated to G-d in the wilderness, as well as of the sacred implements and priestly garments used therein. These included eight specific items to be worn by Aharon (Aaron) the High Priest (and his successors) in performing the sacrificial rites on behalf of the Jewish people.

Like all things in the Sanctuary, the priestly garments were not arbitrarily selected, but were mandated by G-d. One of these, a thin plate of gold worn across the forehead of the High Priest, was called the tzitz. Let us explore some of its spiritual significance.

***The “Tzitz

In describing the tzitz, the Torah states,[1] “You [Moses] shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it [in letters like the] engravings of a signet[2] [the words], ‘holy unto G-d.’” The Talmud teaches[3] that the writing on the tzitz occupied two lines: the words “holy unto” were on the lower line and the name of G-d was on the upper line.

The Torah goes on to say of the tzitz,[4] “And it should be upon Aaron’s forehead; [consequently] Aaron will bear [i.e., atone for] the iniquity of the sacrifices [that had been tainted by ritual impurity when offered]...and it shall be always upon his forehead, as an [instrument of] favor for them before G-d.” The tzitz thus served to atone for iniquity, and by wearing it always upon his forehead, Aaron drew down Divine favor upon the Jews.

***Aharon: One of the Seven Shepherds of Israel

The above[5] will be understood in light of the following:

The word tzitz connotes shining forth, blooming, bursting out, as used in verses like,[6] yatzitz nizro (“his crown will bloom”); meitzitz min hacharakim[7] (“peers out through the cracks”); and the expression neitz hachamah (“sunrise,” when light first bursts over the horizon). In the context of Aharon’s forehead-plate, it refers to the light of the Great Love (ahavah rabbah) for G-d that it was the function of Aharon to instill in the Jewish people.

A shepherd’s function is to tend his or her flock and supply its members with their needs. Jewish mystical tradition[8] compares the Jewish nation to a flock shepherded by seven great figures of Jewish history, each of whom channeled a particular form of spiritual influence to the Jews. Aharon the High Priest was one of these Seven Shepherds, and his particular role was to channel to us from above the ability to reach a level of love for G-d which cannot ordinarily be attained by mortals.

***Two Levels of Love for G-d

And one should not ask how this can be, in light of the teaching,[9] “All is in the hand of Heaven [i.e., preordained] except fear of G-d”—which implies that fear of G-d and similar religious matters are up to a person to develop within him- or herself—because this teaching refers to a different level of love for G-d:

There are two levels (generally speaking) of love for G-d. One is aroused by intellectual contemplation of G-d’s greatness; this is not really different from any other love we may develop. For example, the more one contemplates how wonderful are the workings of nature, and the more one understands of biology, the interdependency of species, and related matters, the greater the appreciation and love one develops for the environment, ecology, and all living things. Or, to use another example, the more one understands of history, government, and world affairs, the greater will be one’s patriotism and love for a free and democratic country. Since we can consciously turn our minds to dwell upon matters that arouse this type of love for G-d—especially by studying Torah—we are expected to develop it ourselves to the best of our ability.

There is a higher degree of love for G-d, however, which is beyond human ability to reach without Divine assistance. G-d is the only true existence, and a genuine realization of that fact carries with it the natural desire of a Jew to return to his or her source and be reabsorbed (as it were) into G-d’s very Self—even though this means actually ceasing to exist as a separate being. G-d’s omnipresence and unity is something that is beyond the human mind to fully grasp. Nevertheless, our Jewish souls, which are themselves a part of G-d, possess a natural, though subliminal, love for Him that transcends intellectual understanding; it is a function of the soul’s inherent longing to reunite with its “Father.” To turn this potential into open yearning for G-d, into the degree of love (known as ahavah rabbah, or “Great Love”) that involves losing oneself as a separate entity and being reabsorbed into G-d—that is, to actually experience, and not merely know about, this Great Love—requires Heavenly aid.

***Aharon’s Spiritual Function

As noted above, the Seven Shepherds of the Jewish people are the vehicles through whom G-d channels this type of spiritual influence to our souls. It was Aharon’s particular function to transmit to us from Above the ability to experience not just ordinary love of G-d, but the Great Love just described.[10]

(This Great Love is hinted at in the wording of the verse,[11] “to love G-d, your L-rd.” As in English, the Hebrew word “love” can be either a noun or a verb, depending upon context. In Hebrew, though, the word takes one grammatical form as a verb but another as a noun. In the verse in question, the context (“to love G-d”) requires a verb, which should grammatically be le’ehov. However, the word used is le’ahavah, which is technically a noun. The reason for this is that the Torah is hinting to us that we are not merely to love G-d (as a verb) in the same sense as we love any other thing, in which we ourselves perform the action of loving. Rather, there exists a degree of love for G-d (a noun, something that exists in its own right, independent of our action) that we cannot reach by the ordinary human action of loving. This is the level of Great Love, ahavah rabbah, which we need Heavenly assistance to attain. The Torah is suggesting that we strive for this higher degree, because by doing all that is within our power to love G-d ourselves, we merit the G-dly assistance that will indeed bring us to that level.)

***Contrite Self-Appraisal Breaks Through the Barrier to True Love of G-d

It is this love that is meant by the verse,[12] meitzitz min hacharakim,” which can be understood to mean, “shines forth through the cracks.” The verse previously says “He [a reference to G-d] stands behind our wall”—for, since the Holy Temple was destroyed, it is as though a barrier, a wall, separates us from our Father in Heaven.[13] (Nothing, of course, can impede or be a barrier to G-d, but the idea is that our sins prevent us from reaching G-d,[14] not the other way around). This wall prevents the spiritual influence, the light, of ahavah rabbah—the heavenly love of G-d—from reaching us. Still, it bursts through, it shines through the cracks and (as the verse also says) “looks in through the windows.” A person must engage in heartfelt soul-searching and honest (even brutal) self-appraisal of one’s shortcomings and spiritual flaws, and—brokenhearted over one’s sins—repent with the utmost sincerity. This brokenheartedness itself breaks through the barrier between us and G-d, opening up breaches—windows and cracks—in the wall, and allows ahavah rabbah to shine through after all.

***Just What Is the Barrier Between Us and G-d?

More specifically, the barrier or wall that prevents spiritual influence from affecting us is symbolized by Amalek,[15] described[16] as “first among nations.”[17] Thus, not only was historical Amalek, the attacking enemy, to be wiped out; the Torah also states,[18] “G-d is at war with Amalek from generation to generation”—even in our time, when physical battle with Amalekites is no longer possible, we must do battle with Amalek’s spiritual counterpart: haughtiness, self-importance, overinflated ego.[19] This is alluded to in the verse,[20] “Though you raise up [your nest] like an eagle…from there will I bring you down, says G-d.” These qualities lead to bad character traits both inwardly and outwardly: inwardly, one is coarse, with a sense of triumphant entitlement over others and similar haughty attitudes; and one’s outward behavior is likewise characterized by chasing after honor, wearing fancy clothes, acting important, and so on.

The priestly garments of Aharon and his descendants—about which it is written,[21] “Make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor”—were intended to counter this. Their effect was to transform the self-importance associated with Amalek into holiness.

***Meaning of the Verse, “The Hand Is on the Throne of Kah”

Historical Amalek attacked the Jews—who had just been revealed before the entire world as G-d’s chosen people amid signs and wonders and all the great fanfare of the exodus—because they could not abide anyone else but themselves experiencing greatness. The same is true of anyone, even today, who cannot stand to see someone else held in higher esteem than him- or herself; or who cannot bear to feel small and insignificant. To compensate, the person adorns him- or herself with fancy clothes and all the things mentioned above.

In connection with G-d’s war against Amalek it is written,[22] “The hand is on the throne of G-d,” in which the Divine name Kah[23] is used for “G-d.” This name comprises the first two letters (only) of the Tetragrammaton—G-d’s four-letter name—and in that sense can be thought of as incomplete. Similarly, the Hebrew word for “chair” or “throne” is kisei, spelled with the letters kaf, samech, and alef; however, in our verse, the word is spelled with only the first two of these and pronounced keis. It, too, can thus be said to be incomplete. (Rashi explains[24] this as signifying G-d’s promise that neither His name nor His throne will be whole until the name of Amalek is obliterated.) G-d’s throne symbolizes the idea of G-d “sitting,” that is, lowering Himself to dwell among the Jews, as it is written,[25] “and I will dwell among them.” The letter alef represents the numeral one, and its name is related to the word aluf, “chief.” Thus, the foregoing concept (the One G-d dwelling among us) is expressed when the alef—representing the One G-d, “Chief” of the universe—is in the kisei, “throne.” By contrast, with the alef missing, the word becomes keis, which can be understood as a form of kisui, “covering.” In that sense, the phrase, keis Kah—the “throne of G-d” written in the incomplete manner explained above—signifies that what is symbolized by the divine name Kah is being covered over and concealed.

***Significance of the Name Kah

The name Kah, spelled with the letters, yud and hei, is present within every single Jew, as it is written,[26] “My strength and song is Kah; and this is my salvation.” It symbolizes our ability to arouse the great love and longing for G-d discussed earlier by contemplating His lack of relation to creation. The written form of the letter hei is in the shape of a square, which has length and breadth. This symbolizes the spreading out of G-d’s Infinite Light, both filling (Memalei Kol Almin) and transcending (Sovev Kol Almin) the entirety of creation. Yet for all that G-d is so great, filling all realms and transcending all realms, that is merely the manifestation of G-d; it is all nothing in relation to G-d’s own Self, so to speak. If G-d were to reveal Himself as He truly is, there would be no possibility for a created universe at all: nothing could exist in the face of the overwhelming omnipresence of G-d. Thus, for there to even be such a thing as G-d “filling all realms” and “transcending all realms,” G-d first had to conceal Himself in order to allow for the possibility of anything else. This contraction or concealment is symbolized by the letter yud, which, as noted above, is a solitary point. In writing the Tetragrammaton, the letter yud comes first, followed by the initial hei, because the concealment of the yud is a prerequisite to the revelation of the hei. Together, they spell the name Kah. By reflecting on the idea that all the grandeur of creation, and even G-d’s transcendence over creation (which, after all, describes G-d in terms of His relation to creation) does not reflect G-d’s true Self at all, and in fact stems from concealment of G-d’s true Self, one comes to love G-d and yearn for attachment to none other than His true Self.

(This arousal of higher-level love for G-d is represented in G-d’s four-letter name by the letter vav, which follows the initial yud and hei and symbolizes—since its shape is that of a vertical line—transmission from above downward, that is, the filling and permeating of our human hearts with these lofty spiritual ideals.)

***The Antidote to Amalek

However—Amalek represents keis Kah, the covering over of the spiritual effect of the name Kah. Amalek represents a disconnect, a wall, between the letters of the name Kah and the vav that follows them in the Tetragrammaton, meaning that the spiritual effect of all that contemplation should not flow down the pipeline, as it were, of the vav and illuminate our human hearts. The result would be that even though a person understands all the above perfectly well intellectually, it would have no effect on his or her emotions; not motivate him or her to anything.

The antidote to that is as described in the Torah’s account of the historical battle against Amalek, in which Moshe said,[27] “Choose people for us [to go to war].” The stress is on “for us”—for, to counter Amalek (the embodiment of self-importance and puffery), what is needed is “people of Moshe.” Moshe symbolized utter self-negation, absolute insignificance—the diametrical opposite of Amalek—in deference to G-d, as he proclaimed,[28] “What are we?” To vanquish Amalek, we must all be “people of Moshe.”

***The Torah of Moshe

In particular, this is accomplished through the Torah, which is referred to[29] as “the Torah of Moshe” and about which it is written,[30] “The Torah was commanded to us by [i.e., through] Moshe.” All aspects of Torah and worship should be carried out in the spirit of Moshe, with utter bittul, i.e., self-negation before G-d. Indeed, it is taught,[31] “Anyone who says he has nothing but Torah [that is, he only cares about study but is not committed to practice, to fulfilling the commandments], does not even have Torah,” because, by definition, the Torah of Moshe implies bittul, and one who is utterly devoted to G-d would also be devoted to His commandments.

Rather, one’s attitude should be that there is literally nothing else but G-d, and G-d now that he has created the universe is the very same as He was before He created the universe; creation did not affect G-d at all, even to detract from his exclusive Oneness. Yet, how can that be: the world really does seem to exist! The answer is, the true nature of things is brought out through Torah study.

***Torah Enables One to Recognize the Truth

It is taught,[32] “The Torah comes from [G-d’s attribute of] Chochmah.” Chochmah is often translated as “wisdom” but, technically, it refers to the conceptual faculty, the blank slate onto which new ideas spring, seemingly out of nowhere. Chochmah is said to have no substance of its own; rather, it is characterized by complete transparency and openness to receiving G-dly input (as, in the human analogy, the conceptual faculty or imagination is open to ideas). In fact, the Hebrew word chochmah can be read as the two words koach mah, meaning “an insubstantial faculty,” “the power of nothingness.” All this is because the sefirah (Divine attribute) of Chochmah has no properties of its own; instead, it is the blank slate or empty receptacle to which G-d projects His Infinite Light (Or Ein Sof). Just as the first unformed glimmer of an idea is manifest in the conceptual faculty or imagination, and only then proceeds through the rest of the intellect so that it is understood and internalized and goes on to affect ones emotions and actions, so is Chochmah the first glimmer of G-dly manifestation in the created universe, and all the rest of creation proceeds from there—as alluded to by the verse,[33] “G-d founded [the universe] with wisdom [chochmah].” More than a simple statement that the Torah embodies G-dly wisdom, the above-quoted teaching of the Zohar means the Torah, like the attribute of Chochmah that is its spiritual source, is the vessel containing the Or Ein Sof, G-d’s Infinite Light, within creation.

Thus, each Torah law or teaching contains within it G-d’s attribute of Chochmah, within which, in turn, is vested the Light of the Infinite One, may He be blessed—so that, while engaged in Torah study, a person, too, is utterly batel, nullified, to G-d’s Chochmah. The world—which, as noted above, was founded with Chochmah—thus cannot conceal G-dliness from the Torah student, since that person, one with Chochmah, sees right through it. He or she perceives clearly that nothing truly exists but G-d.

This is what is meant by the verse,[34] “I have placed My words in your mouth.” Since the Torah contains the Or Ein Sof, it is actually united with G-d, and the words one utters in Torah study are not one’s own but are literally “My [G-d’s] words.” Another aspect of this is that the phrase, “in your mouth”—beficha in Hebrew—can be read to imply pnimius, inwardness; that is, the Torah penetrates and permeates a person from within. The verse goes on to say, “and with the shade of My hand I have covered you,” implying outwardly. Thus, through Torah, the Light of the Infinite One, may He be blessed, rests upon and is revealed within a person both from within and from without—he or she is totally absorbed in G-dliness and is nothing in her or her own right. By virtue of that, he or she defeats Amalek, since this bittul is the opposite of Amalek’s characteristic sense of self, and through this the person shatters the iron barrier to G-dly revelation.

***Why Moshe Fashioned the Tzitz

We can now appreciate why it was specifically Moshe who was instructed to fashion the tzitz, a word which, as mentioned above, connotes shining forth through cracks. It is only by being “people of Moshe”—nullified to G-d through the Torah of Moshe—that we break that barrier and cause the light of Great Love for G-d to shine through.

And the tzitz had to be made of “pure gold,” because although both silver and gold symbolize love for G-d (as it says,[35] “Mine is the silver and mine is the gold, says G-d”), silver represents a cool, calm, love whereas gold suggests a hot, fiery love.

***The Writing on the Tzitz Was Like the Letters of a Signet

On the tzitz were engraved letters “like the letters of a signet” or seal. This, too, represents the Torah, since “G-d’s seal is Truth,”[36] and “There is no ‘truth’ but Torah.”[37] This likening of the Torah to a seal is apt, for the Torah as we know it—expressed in worldly things like laws of business, kosher food, etc.—is like a wax seal in the sense that the physical substance of the wax is what allows us to see the letters that have been impressed in it. The letters are not part of the wax, and are there independently of the wax; but they would be imperceptible without it. Similarly, the Torah stems from the Supernal Holiness, G-d’s heavenly Wisdom,[38] but we cannot perceive it as it exists on that plane. G-d deliberately expressed His spirituality in worldly form in the Torah, so that, like insubstantial letters rendered perceptible in physical wax, we could perceive and relate to it. When we study Torah, G-d’s Supernal Holiness penetrates and permeates us inwardly, and when we perform mitzvos, that holiness envelops us from without (as hinted in the phrase, “Who has made us holy through His mitzvos”).

***The Writing on the Tzitz Occupied Two Lines

The specific letters engraved upon the tzitz spelled the words, “holy unto G-d.” These occupied two lines, with the words “holy unto” on the lower line and the name of G-d on the upper line.[39] Recall from chapter 2[40] that the verse,[41] “And He called out, ‘Havayah, Havayah…’” contains the name Havayah repeated twice with a psik—a scriptural cantillation mark whose function is to separate the words preceding and following it—between them. This alludes to two distinct senses of the name Havayah. The Hebrew root formed by the letters hei-vav-hei signifies coming into existence out of nothing, and the letter yud at the beginning of a word can signify that an action is regular and ongoing.[42] Thus, the literal meaning of the Divine name Havayah refers to He Who brings everything into existence out of utter nothingness at every moment,[43] simply because it arose in His Divine Will to do so. Yet—what caused it (as though one can speak of such a thing with respect to G-d) to arise in G-d’s will to create the universe? When a human wants something—when it arises in his or her will—there is always a source or underlying motivation for that will, even if we are not aware of it and cannot sense it. If one decides, if it is his or her will, to take a skiing vacation, that is not random; rather, it is because the person either saw an ad for ski resorts, or heard friends talking about how much they enjoyed their own skiing trips, or remembered a previous vacation and wished to repeat that experience, or wants to please his or her ski-loving spouse, or some other factor of which the person may or may not even be aware. If it is one’s will to eat an apple, it could be because the person saw one when passing a fruit stand, or perhaps his or her body needs nutrients that only an apple provides and therefore finds him- or herself craving an apple. There is always a reason we want something, whether we know it or not. Applying this analogy to G-d, we can speak of a level of G-dliness so sublime it is the very source of His Will, so to speak. The repetition of the name Havayah in the verse just quoted alludes to this: the first corresponds to Havayah as the underlying source and motivation for creation to arise in G-d’s Will in the first place, and the second corresponds to Havayah as He Who brings everything into existence out of utter nothingness once it arose in His will to do so.

That the tzitz tapped into this higher level of Havayah, higher even than the usual connotation of that name, is hinted at in the verse[44] describing the tzitz as bringing “favor…before Havayah.” The Hebrew word for “favor”—ratzon—can also be translated as “will,” and the meaning is that the tzitz elicited for the Jews the sublime spiritual level of ratzon that is before Havayah, that is prior to and transcends the second (relatively lower) aspect of the name Havayah, and is instead the first aspect of Havayah just discussed, a level Kabbalistically referred to as raava deraavin, or “will of wills”—the will to have the will in the first place.[45]

The foregoing explains why “holy unto” was on the lower line of the tzitz, below the name of G-d on the upper line. We said just above that the Torah, although expressed in worldly terms, actually stems from the lofty spiritual level known as the Supernal Holiness (Kodesh HaElyon). Yet even this does not reach the level of the higher aspect of Havayah, which is why “holy [kodesh] unto” was situated beneath the [higher level of the] name Havayah.

The verse,[46] “And He called out, ‘Havayah, Havayah…’” contains the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.[47] Fundamentally, the idea that a finite universe should come into being out of G-d’s infinity is absurd, an impossibility; it is a function of G-d’s mercy that He allows it to happen anyway. This coming into being of the universe is associated with the name Havayah, as already explained. The verse begins, “And He called out, ‘Havayah, Havayah’” and then goes on to list the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy; it can therefore be read as meaning that the first, higher-level, name Havayah, calls forth or invokes the second, lower-level, name Havayah that (through itself calling into play and making manifest G-d’s Attributes of Mercy) is the source of all existence.

***Involvement in Torah and Mitzvos with Bittul Brings Ahavah Rabbah into One’s Heart

The dynamic of isarusa delesata–isarusa dele’eila (“arousal from below [followed by] arousal from above”) means that what we do here in this world arouses or calls forth a matching response from On High. This is the key to this maamar, symbolized by the two lines of the tzitz. The lower line (“holy unto”) represents Torah, which stems from the Supernal Holiness and is the Wisdom and Will of G-d. Involvement in Torah and mitzvos in the manner described above—with bittul, utter devotion, characteristic of the “people of Moshe”—constitutes arousal from below that calls forth from Above the influence of the first, higher name Havayah (the top line of the tzitz), so that raava deraavin, the innermost “will of wills” should extend down into the person’s own heart, where it is manifest as r’usa deliba, the “will of the heart” or one’s “heart’s desire”—that is, the higher level of love for G-d discussed earlier. This will be manifest in the person’s soul without any wall or barrier to stand in the way, and will be so thorough as to be discernible even on the “forehead of Aharon,” as will now be explained.

***The Forehead of Aharon

It has been known since ancient times[48] that the human brain has three main sections. Modern neuroscience identifies these as the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem or medulla.[49] Jewish mysticism, however, conceptualizes them in accordance with their spiritual counterparts, which correspond to the right and left cerebral hemispheres and the area of the cerebellum and brain stem (see fig. 1).[50] As with all parts of the physical body (in which, for example, the eye expresses the power of sight), each area of the brain expresses a particular function or power originating in the soul. The right hemisphere[51] of the brain is associated with the intellectual faculty of chochmah, which (as noted earlier[52]) is the conceptual faculty or imagination. The left hemisphere is associated with binah, the capacity to think things through and understand them. And the cerebellum/brain stem area is associated with daas, which refers to internalizing an idea, fully realizing it to the point it motivates feelings and behavior. This is all consistent with neuroscience,[53] which identifies the right hemisphere as the primary locus of creativity and intuition and the left as the primary locus of logic and reasoning. Likewise, the cerebellum is contiguous with the brainstem, from which the spinal cord descends and carries the brain’s instructions to the rest of the body; this is analogous to internalizing ideas and motivating action.[54]

Now, the cerebellum/brain stem area, corresponding to daas, is located at the lower back of the brain. By contrast, the forehead covers the upper front[55] of the brain. The two areas are thus diametrically opposed. This anatomical fact reflects the underlying spiritual symbolism of these areas. To understand why, let us take note of one more thing: the bulk of the brain is deeper within the head; the forehead is the only location at which the brain lies directly behind the face. The face projects to the outside world what is going on within the brain—that is, one’s thoughts and feelings. Not only does Jewish mysticism speak of three parts of the brain, it also speaks of the skull as covering the brain, and the part of the skull directly between the brain and the face is the forehead. Thus, the forehead represents a covering of sorts, a barrier to outward expression of a person’s thoughts and feelings. Daas and the forehead are opposites, because whereas daas represents internalizing the conclusions of chochmah and binah, the forehead represents blocking these conclusions and preventing their expression.

The practical consequence of all this is that when one contemplates on G-d’s greatness (especially as expressed in the morning prayer service)—a process calling into play one’s faculties of chochmah and binah—one arouses within oneself a strong connection to G-d, the firm resolve to conduct oneself throughout the day in accordance with His will, and a great yearning for and pleasure in doing so. This is a result of daas, internalizing and taking to heart one’s intellectual contemplation.[56]

The problem is…we don’t pray all day. When a person finishes praying and goes about the day’s affairs, it is all too easy to lose that exclusive focus on G-d and become immersed in worldly matters. That is why one must pray again every day—to renew the love for G-d born of prayerful contemplation. But in the meanwhile, it is indeed difficult to avoid becoming preoccupied by one’s many material concerns and the preeminence they are afforded in daily life. G-d does not appreciate that (in a manner of speaking), as it is written,[57] “Anyone with a haughty heart [i.e., whose heart is not batel, nullified, to G-d but rather is puffed up with the apparent superiority of worldliness] is an abomination to G-d.” Likewise, it says,[58] “There is no knowledge [daas] of G-d in the earth”—that is, if one is steeped in earthly, material matters, one cannot experience daas and attachment to G-d.

Being steeped in earthly, material matters is an attribute of the nations (umos)[59] of the world, who are so called because they are the “mothers” (imos)—the sources—of all worldly matters.[60] However, from the Jewish perspective it is possible to adopt the advice of our Sages[61] to make one’s work life, one’s involvement in material concerns, as a passing need, secondary to one’s Torah study, which is the regular, primary occupation. One should not engage in worldly affairs with enthusiasm, but rather with a cold indifference, as though one is doing them under compulsion.

This, then, is the symbolism of “the forehead of Aharon”: That even after prayer, when the love for G-d one has aroused—the strong yearning and pleasure in G-d that come from daas—has dissipated, one can still retain a vestige of that feeling in the form of a simple resolve to cleave to G-d throughout the day, since one has already made up one’s mind to do so at prayer. This, at least, is an external expression of chochmah, binah, and daas, symbolized by the forehead for the reason explained above.

***Why Constantly Wearing the Tzitz upon the Forehead Aroused Divine Favor

We are now in a position to understand why Aharon constantly wearing the tzitz on his forehead was “an [instrument of] favor for them before G-d.”[62] As mentioned earlier, the dynamic of isarusa delesata–isarusa dele’eila means that what we do here in this world arouses or calls forth a matching response from On High. When a person so thoroughly internalizes his or her will to cleave to G-d that it is expressed even externally, in his or her conduct of everyday affairs all day long (symbolized by the tzitz always upon the forehead), it serves as isarusa delesata, arousal from below, that elicits isarusa dele’eila—arousal from On High of G-d’s innermost will, so to speak, the level of raava deraavin that corresponds to the first, higher, level of the name Havayah discussed above. As previously explained,[63] this is the “will to have the will” that calls forth the second level of Havayah (the “will”) that is the source of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy—including the Divine favor expressed by the attribute nosei avon, forbearance of sin.

However, that only applies when the person’s will is reflected in his or her actions throughout the day—symbolized by the forehead of Aharon—as opposed to being evident only while actively contemplating at prayer. For there is a correspondence between the realms of holiness and unholiness,[64] and the counterpart to the bittul, self-nullification before G-d, inherent in the concept of the forehead of Aharon is the brazen shamelessness implied by[65] “the forehead of a harlot.”

[1] Exodus 28:36.

[2] The letters protruded from the front of the plate, like letters on a coin. They were not embossed from the front (i.e., by pressing inward on the space surrounding the letters) but directly engraved from the back. See Gittin 20a; Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 9:3; Raavad, ad loc.

[3] Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 4:1, Megillah 1:9; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 63b, Sukkah 5a.

[4] Exodus 28:38.

[5] The version of this discourse in Toras Chaim, Exodus, 356a includes an additional factor to be understood: the fact that it was Moshe (Moses) who was commanded to make the tzitz, but Aharon who was to wear it.

[6] Psalms 132:18.

[7] Song of Songs 2:9.

[8] See Micah 5:4; Sukkah 52b; Tikkunim to Zohar Chadash 104a (regarding Aharon).

[9] Berachos 33b; Zohar 1:59a.

[10] Compare the similar teaching about two levels of desire (ratzon) for G-d, and how the higher level is elicited from Above by the Kohanim (Priests, descendants of Aharon), in the discourse Vayedaber Hashem El Moshe Bemidbar Sinai on the Torah portion Bamidbar (to be published in English, with Hashem’s help, in Words of the Living G-d, volume 4). Cf. also the italicized paragraph concluding chap. 9***.

[11] Deuteronomy 11:13.

[12] Song of Songs 2:9.

[13] Berachos 32b.

[14] See Isaiah 59:2.

[15] An ancient nation that attacked the Jewish people on their way out of Egypt, as described in Exodus 17:8–16.

[16] Numbers 24:20.

[17] The simple rationale for this description, given by Rashi and other commentators ad loc., is that Amalek was the first nation to attack the fledgling Jewish people, setting a precedent for all future anti-Semitism. On a mystical level, it is pointed out in Or HaTorah, Shmos, 5:1694 and Bamidbar, 3:1054 that the seven nations (the original inhabitants of the Land of Canaan, each of which is considered to be the respective prototype of one of the seven evil character traits [see Tanya, chapters 1 and 6]) derive from the seven primordial kings of the Realm of Tohu (see page 110). Jewish mysticism teaches that the emotions or character traits derive from and are subordinate to the faculty of daas (which itself consolidates chochmah and binah); this is so with respect to holy emotions such as love and fear of G-d—which derive from daas applied to holiness (i.e., a strong fixation on and internalization of knowledge of G-d)—as well as to unholy emotions such as anger and arrogance, which derive from daas as applied to evil (i.e., fixation on oneself as an independent entity separate from G-d, as if such a thing were possible; the opposite of internalizing and being affected by knowledge of G-d). The references in Or HaTorah state that unlike the seven nations, corresponding to the seven unholy emotions, Amalek corresponds to the unholy counterpart of daas itself, symbolized by the eighth primordial king and the source of all the others. In that sense, Amalek is “first among nations.” This insight allows for a deeper appreciation of the present maamar, which teaches that Amalek (representing self-importance) is the primary barrier to internalizing true love for G-d, and that the antidote for that is Moshe (representing utter deference and self-negation before G-d), who corresponds to the holy faculty of daas.

[18]  Exodus 17:16.

[19] In the original: gasus haruach bechutzpah vegavhus.

[20] Ovadiah 1:4. The verse addresses Edom, who, in the previous verse, boasts, “Who can bring me down to earth?”

[21] Exodus 28:2.

[22] Exodus 17:16. The expression is a form of oath (see Rashi ad loc.).

[23] Jewish law prohibits pronouncing Divine names except in prayer or public Torah reading. The name in question is spelled with the Hebrew letters yud and hei. Its true pronunciation would be spelled with the letter Y in place of K, but it is spelled and pronounced Kah in everyday speech.

[24] Ad loc. See also Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei (at the end).

[25] Exodus 25:8.

[26] Exodus 15:2. (The translation given here follows Onkelos, Ibn Ezra, Radak, and the Sefer Sharashim. For an alternative translation, see Rashi ad loc.)

[27] Exodus 17:9.

[28] Exodus 16:7.

[29] In numerous Scriptural verses beginning with the Book of Joshua (e.g., 8:31–32).

[30] Deuteronomy 33:4.

[31] Yevamos 109b.

[32] Zohar 2:121a.

[33] Proverbs 3:19.

[34] Isaiah 51:16.

[35] Haggai 2:8.

[36] Shabbos 55a; Yoma 69b; Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 1:1.

[37] Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 3:8.

[38] Heb., kodesh haelyon chochmah ilaah.

[39] See note 3.

[40] P. 46, text accompanying n. 60.

[41] Exodus 34:6.

[42] See Rashi on Job 1:5.

[43] See Tanya, part 2 (Shaar HaYichud VeHa’emunah), chap. 4.

[44] See note 4.

[45] For a more in-depth explanation of this concept, see the discourse Naso Es Rosh of the year 5672 (published in the collection of related discourses by the Rebbe Rashab [Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch, 1860–1920] formally titled BeShaah SheHikdimu—5672 [and informally known as the “Series of 5672”], chap. 16 [1:25–26]), which makes specific reference to the present discourse.

[46] See note 41.

[47] Referred to in the original as the thirteen mechilin derachamei, which is Aramaic for the Hebrew, middos harachamim.

[48] At least as far back as the Mishnaic period; see Zohar 3:140a and 262a.

[49] Technically, the medulla, or medulla oblongata, is only one section of the brain stem, but the term is sometimes used broadly in the context of the brain’s three parts. (Note that in some contexts, the brain is divided hierarchically into forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain, or grouped into functional areas—the frontal lobes, the limbic system, and the brain stem—but for purposes of this maamar, it is the anatomical structure of the physical brain that is more relevant.)

[50] The cerebellum and the brain stem are adjacent to one another at the lower rear of the brain. It is obvious from the sources that the moach hadaas, or brain area corresponding to the faculty of daas, has to do with the brain stem, for the reason mentioned in the text: the spinal cord extends from there into the body proper.  It is, however, not so obvious whether the moach hadaas actually is the brain stem (in which case, the cerebellum would be unaccounted for in a conceptualization of the brain’s three parts as the two cerebral hemispheres and the brain stem), or whether it is the cerebellum (in which case the brain stem would be conceptualized as descending from the larger, adjacent, cerebellum, since that is its physical layout even if not its neurological function). Alternatively, it simply refers to the area generally, which includes both.

[51] In the context of brain anatomy, “right” and “left” mean from the perspective of the person whose brain it is, that is, the right hemisphere is behind that person’s right eye and the left hemisphere is behind the left eye.

[52] See page ***, text following note 32***.

[53] Called in the original, chochmas ha’refuah, “the science of medicine.”

[54] In the beiur (explanatory supplement) to the present maamar in Torah Or (at 83d), it is stated, “The brain [area] of chochmah and the brain [area] of binah are at the front, and the brain [area] of daas is at the back, centered [between] the two brain [area]s of chochmah and binah.” And in the discourse VaYomer Melech Mitzrayim LaMeyaldos found in Or HaTorah, Shmos, 7:2491, the three brain regions are described as “two at the front of the head and one behind them, toward the neck.” The implication is thus clear that the brain regions associated with chochmah and binah are the two cerebral hemispheres. Interestingly, though, the discourse VaYomer Melech Mitzrayim LaMeyaldos parenthetically cites Hebrew sifrei nituach (“surgical texts”) in support, one of which (Sefer HaBris 17:4) lists the three regions as the cerebrum (counting both hemispheres as one), the cerebellum, and the medulla oblongata (the latter, from the context, apparently referring to the entire brain stem). Seemingly, this does not fit as well with the functions of chochmah and binah just described in the text, but makes no difference to the point of our present maamar, since the medulla oblongata is a part of the brainstem itself, from which, as mentioned in the text, the spinal cord descends; it is therefore also a plausible candidate for the seat of daas. Furthermore, it is adjacent to the cerebellum and therefore also opposite the forehead, as the main text goes on to discuss.

For a discussion of the spinal cord as the conduit bringing daas from the brain throughout the body, see the discourse Lo Hibit Aven BeYaakov (Likkutei Torah, Balak, 70c, esp. bottom of 70d), to be published in English adaptation, G-d willing, in Words of the Living G-d, volume 4, chapter 7.

[55] Technically, the part of the brain that sits directly behind the forehead includes both dorsal and ventral (top and bottom) sections. In other words, at that location, it is the entire brain that is behind the forehead. However, the forehead covers specifically the top front of the brain in the sense that, farther back from the forehead (i.e., deeper within the head) the shape of the brain extends downward so that, overall, the part that is directly behind the forehead is the top front. See figure 1.

[56] See note 17.

[57] Proverbs 16:5.

[58] Hosea 4:1.

[59] In the text of Torah Or, the abbreviation akum (ovdei kochavim umazalos, loosely translatable as “idol worshippers”), is found. However, in the errata table (he’aros vetikkunim) compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe (printed at the back of Torah Or), it states (with the note, “it seems to me as a possibility”) that the phrase should properly read umos haolam, “nations of the world.”

[60] The Hebrew word for “mothers,” imos, is spelled similarly to “nations,” umos. See previous*** footnote. Here (the Rebbe points out in the errata table mentioned in that footnote), the word imos is used in the same sense as in the beginning of Tanya, chapter 3.

[61] Avos 1:9.

[62] See note 4.

[63] See p. ***.

[64] As hinted in the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:14), “G-d made one thing opposite the other.”

[65] Jeremiah 3:3. Cf. the expression, azus metzach (lit., “boldness of the forehead”), connoting brazenness, effrontery, shamelessness.


Ó 2003-2022 Dach Holdings, Ltd. Please note that the foregoing is an informal synopsis by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the synopsis may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this synopsis should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!