Vayakhel Moshe

An adaptation of the Maamar found in Torah Ohr



THE SERIES of weekly Torah readings from the portion of T’rumah through Vayakhel and P’kudei may be viewed as one continuous theme dealing with the construction of the Tabernacle and its contents. Moreover, within this series itself we may identify two parts: The earlier Torah readings in the series recount G-d’s instructions to Moshe (Moses) as to the details of the construction, while in the latter portions, Vayakhel and P’kudei, we read about Moshe’s conveying G-d’s instructions to the Jews and the actual carrying out of those directions.

It is significant that another major concept is mentioned, albeit briefly, within the context of this series of readings: the observance of Shabbos. Interestingly, we find that in the first part of the series, when G-d told Moshe what He wanted done, He first told Moshe how to make the vessels to be used in the Tabernacle (the Holy Ark, the Shulchan (the table on which the “showbread” was placed each week), the Menorah, etc.); then G-d described how to construct the Tabernacle itself, using curtains and animal hides for the walls and roof; and only then did G-d mention the importance of observing Shabbos. However, the order is reversed when it comes to Moshe’s relating all this to the Jews: first Moshe tells them (in the beginning of this week’s portion, Vayakhel) about Shabbos, then he conveys G-d’s instructions concerning the Tabernacle itself, and finally, he discusses the vessels of the Tabernacle.

As nothing in the Torah is superfluous or coincidental, it goes without saying that there is a reason for the above. Why, indeed, is Shabbos mentioned at all in the context of the Tabernacle? Furthermore, what accounts for the three subjects in question being presented first in one order and then in the reverse?

To appreciate the answer, we must understand that the vessels used in the Tabernacle and the coverings which formed its shell correspond to the Torah and mitzvos, respectively. This is consistent with the teaching that the verse (Exodus 25:8), “And they should make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell within them” – in which the word “them” is used instead of “it” – indicates that G-d Himself “dwells” within each and every Jewish person. Now that the Sanctuary no longer stands (may it be rebuilt immediately!), the same result is accomplished through Torah study and observance of mitzvos. This concept will be explained at greater length below.

With the above as background, let us now prepare to answer our question by prefacing a discussion of the verse (Malachi 3:6), “I, G-d, have not changed.”

This verse is often quoted in Chassidic literature for the proposition that creation of the universe and all it contains effected no change whatsoever in G-d. G-d’s very “essence,” so to speak – i.e., not as He appears to us as Creator of the universe, but G-d as He is in Himself – is utterly one and indivisible; on this level, even creation was a “non-event” for G-d. To be sure, the universe depends upon G-d, but G-d Himself does not “depend upon,” nor is He in any way at all affected by, the universe: just as G-d was the only “thing” that existed, exclusively occupying all space (a term used only to aid our comprehension, for in truth, G-d created space and time as well) before the universe was created, so is it now, after the universe was created, literally without any change whatsoever.

In light of this, how are we to understand the universe’s apparent “existence,” especially the manner in which G-d, undeniably, brings not only the universe in general but each individual thing in particular, into being? To focus the question somewhat (for this concept in its entirety is one of the deepest mysteries of the Torah, and beyond the scope of this discussion), how does G-d direct His creative life-force into creation, yet remain, at the same time, utterly unchanged?

The answer is that this is what is meant by the Kabbalistic metaphor of the Or Ein Sof, the “light” of the Infinite One. There are a number of reasons why the mystics used the metaphor of light to describe G-d’s influence upon the universe, but in our context, the reference is to the fact that light must be distinguished from the source of light – i.e., the luminary itself.

For example, the sun exists separate from the sunlight that reaches earth; the sun is the luminary and the rays of sunlight are its light. We are accustomed to thinking that the sun gives life (not in a spiritual sense, of course, but scientifically) to everything on earth; if we think about this, however, it becomes obvious that the sun does not do so “deliberately,” as it were, but simply as a result of naturally radiating all that light and heat. It is the sun’s energy, as it reaches the earth, that provides us with sustenance, but all that has no effect whatsoever on the sun itself. Indeed, were the sunlight to be concealed by clouds or otherwise prevented from reaching earth, it would make a big difference to us but none at all to the sun.

Light radiates from the sun as a matter of course, and in one sense can be thought of as an extension of the sun itself. In fact, if we consider the sunlight at its point of origin in the globe of the sun, we would not be able to identify it as a separate entity: only the sun exists at that point; we could not say, “this is ‘sun’ and this over here is ‘sunlight’.” Yet, from another perspective, the light as it reaches us is not “the sun” at all, and whatever happens to it or as a result of it (e.g., its blockage by clouds or its causing plants to grow) has nothing to do with the sun itself, which remains completely unaffected by such things.

Thus, it is conceptually possible for something to be simultaneously one with its source and utterly separate from its source, depending upon perspective. From the sun’s “perspective,” so to speak, the sunlight is one with the sun and has no independent existence of its own; from our earthly perspective – far removed from the source – the sunlight is quite real and separate from the sun.

The metaphor of “light” expresses this idea about G-d. (Incidentally, this is an example of the fact that G-d purposely brought everything in creation into being in such a way as to reflect spiritual concepts. Light is a physical expression of the spiritual principle we have been discussing; every other thing in creation likewise expresses something about G-d and spirituality.) When we say that creation brought about no change in G-d Himself, we are referring to G-d as the “Luminary,” so to speak, the “light source” to Whom it makes no difference at all what happens after the “light” radiates outward. In fact, to the Luminary, there is no separate “light.” On the other hand, the statement that the world and everything in it is sustained by G-d means that G-d’s radiance, His “light,” has this effect, not G-d’s own “Self,” as it were. Nevertheless, just as sunlight is essentially, in its source, absolutely one with the sun and without independent existence, so is the “light of the Infinite One” – the Or Ein Sof in Hebrew – essentially one with G-d and not something separate from Him.

(It is important to realize with respect to this and all such metaphors that it is necessarily imperfect. Our mortal minds cannot fully grasp the manner in which G-d’s infinite “light” is utterly united with G-d Himself, or any of the other details of the metaphor. However, by contemplating these things as the Torah explains them, we can at least come to whatever understanding we are capable of – each person according to his or her own capacity – in matters of G-dliness and spirituality.)

In our morning prayers (see also Yalkut Shimoni 836 citing the Jerusalem Talmud) we recite, “You are He [Who existed] before the world was created; You are He [unchanged] after the world was created.” This passage refers to what we have just discussed about G-d. The concept is also the meaning of the description of G-d as haKadosh Boruch Hu – “the Holy One, blessed is He.” In Hebrew, the word kadosh, holy, connotes separate, as in separate and apart from all mundane, secular matters. This is an appropriate description of G-d, for, as explained, He Himself is utterly separate from all of creation.

(Another important point must be made before moving on. It is not really accurate to say that G-d is “separate” from creation or from anything, for that matter, if by “separate” we mean that He is not found there. This obviously cannot be, because by definition, G-d (especially as we think of Him as He is in Himself) is everywhere: He truly was the exclusive “occupier” of all space (again, a mere figure of speech with respect to G-d, Creator of “space”) before creating the universe, and must still be so, since He is utterly unaffected by creation. Nevertheless, the fact that even G-d’s “Essence” literally pervades the universe and everything in it is more due to the fact that fundamentally, the universe itself does not exist apart from G-d, than to any association of G-d’s very “Self” with the universe.)

Now, the “light” of G-d is identified with His attribute of sovereignty. A king is a physical person, but he does not need to be physically present throughout his kingdom to rule. Instead, the king sits in splendid isolation in his throne room, but his name – his renown and his word – spreads far and wide. His wishes are carried out “in the name of the king,” and it is the king who is considered to have, for example, built the new city, even though in fact, he himself never lifted a shovel. This intangible aspect of the king – that something “about” him, as opposed to his actual person, extends throughout his realm and implements his will – is what is meant by his “sovereignty,” or malchus in Hebrew. Similarly, what we have been referring to as the “light of the Infinite One” – which, as explained, brings the universe and everything in it into being, but is merely the light, as opposed to the actual “Self” of G-d – is known in Jewish mysticism as the quality of G-d’s malchus.

For this reason, our prayers and Torah literature contain numerous praises of G-d’s sovereignty, as well as references to the angels and other spiritual beings accepting his sovereignty upon themselves. We say, for example (in the Yishtabach prayer), “May your Name be praised forever, our King,” because G-d’s “name” – which, as mentioned above, is the same as His “kingship” and the Or Ein Sof – is “forever,” i.e., infinite (Ein Sof), just as G-d Himself is infinite. Likewise, the blessing known as yotzer m’sharsim, which deals with the exalted spiritual beings constantly brought into existence by G-d and who continually praise Him, describes these beings as “causing to be heard, with fear [of G-d and] united in their voice, words of the Living G-d and King of the World.” In Hebrew, the word used for “G-d” in the above quote is Elokim, a Divine name signifying G-d as He appears within creation, as opposed to His transcendent Self. Similarly, we find (see commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya to Exodus 25:10, quoting Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar; also Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar, end of chapter 4, and Sh’mos Rabba 23:15), “the [spiritual] creatures carry the Throne [of G-d], etc.” and they “sweat from the labor of [carrying] the Throne.”

The angels’ praises of G-d as Elokim and as King in these passages is because that is all they can perceive of G-dliness, since they, like virtually everything else in creation, were created through G-d’s attribute of malchus, sovereignty. Thus, they praise G-d as the “King Who sits on a high and exalted throne,” and they “accept upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, this attribute of G-d’s malchus is manifest in two aspects. Because G-d’s “light” is a revelation and extension of G-d’s very “Self,” the light, like the Luminary, is infinite. However, creation is finite, and cannot withstand a revelation of such potency without simply dissolving into spirituality and losing all independent existence. For this reason, most of the light does not penetrate and suffuse each individual object in creation, but merely shines, in a general, transcendent way, over all of creation equally. Sunlight, for example, shines on a magnificent palace in precisely the same way, and to the same degree, as it shines on the lowliest hut; on the most powerful king as on the lowliest servant. This transcendent aspect of G-d’s light and malchus, which does not relate, in an “up close and personal” way, to each particular created entity, is called Sovev Kol Almin, that aspect of the Or Ein Sof that “transcends all realms.”

On the other hand, without closer and more detailed attention from G-d, nothing could assume any more individuality than the aspect of Sovev Kol Almin could allow – i.e., no individuality at all. This is because it is G-d, after all, Who creates each thing as it is; nothing exists on its own. For different things to exist (as opposed to one amorphous blob of a universe) there must be some way to “tailor” G-d’s creative life-force to each created thing in a measure appropriate to – and which thereby creates – that object’s unique characteristics. On some level, in other words, G-d must relate to each and every different item in the universe, allowing it to exist in its specific form. In this respect, we can speak of G-d’s light as actually shining within and conforming to the contours of each unique item. Yet this degree of G-dly revelation must necessary be severely limited or constrained, else the items of creation would, as mentioned above, be utterly overwhelmed. This aspect of malchus, of G-d’s light, is referred to as Memaleh Kol Almin, that severely condensed and concealed aspect of the Or Ein Sof that “fills all realms.”

The above affords an additional insight into why the Kabbalists called the life-force radiating from G-d Himself “light.” Light, as it shines upon various objects, illuminates them from without, but does not penetrate within. Thus, the light reveals its source without adapting itself to each object: sunlight is a true representation of the sun. This is analogous to the level known as Sovev Kol Almin. However, as the light adapts itself to various items – as the sunlight, for example, is absorbed by the process of photosynthesis to give life to a plant – it no longer reveals so directly, so truly, its own source, but is more specifically identifiable as the life of that particular thing. This is analogous to Memaleh Kol Almin.

 Sovev Kol Almin (or simply “Sovev” for short) is something of a prerequisite to Memaleh, just as we intuitively think of sunlight shining on everything equally, in a general, transcendent fashion, as a condition that precedes its being photosynthetically absorbed within an individual plant. This is alluded to by the verse (Psalms 145:1), “I will exalt You, My G-d, the King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.” At first reading, this makes no sense, for a mortal cannot possibly bless G-d’s name “forever and ever.” However, the meaning is as follows: in Hebrew, the expression translated as “forever and ever” is l’olam va’ed, which also connotes worldliness (olam means “world” in Hebrew). Furthermore, the word for “and I will bless,” va’avarcha, is also susceptible to the meaning, “and I will elicit,” or “and I will draw down [upon].” Remembering that G-d’s “name” is identified with His sovereignty and revelation of His light, the latter part of the verse can thus be understood as meaning, “I will drawn down Your Name [i.e., Your G-dly light] into this physical world.” However, this can only be achieved after “I will exalt You, My G-d, the King.” Only after G-d’s attribute of Kingship – malchus – is manifest in its “exalted” and transcendent aspect, that of Sovev Kol Almin, can it be drawn down to the point where it “fills all worlds” – Memaleh Kol Almin.

Now, all the above applies to the life-force that flows forth from G-d to animate the universe. However, we Jews also elicit life-force from G-d into the universe, through our study of Torah and performance of mitzvos. This spirituality, too, conforms to the above principles: first it is manifest in the general, transcendent manner of sovev kol almin, then it penetrates within us specifically – memaleh kol almin. Performance of mitzvos elicits Divine light in the form of sovev; Torah study in the form of memaleh.

Here is why mitzvos are associated with sovev:

There are 248 positive mitzvos (those which can be affirmatively performed, like “put on t’fillin,” as opposed to those which require abstinence from sin, like “do not murder”), and it is a well-known Torah principle that these correspond to the 248 limbs and organs that the Torah identifies within the human body. Each limb or organ has a particular function, but one cannot say that the limbs inherently have the ability to carry out these functions. It is the soul which is actually responsible for that; without the life-force of the soul active within them, each limb would be just a piece of meat. Based on this, the mitzvos are called “the 248 limbs of the King [G-d]” (see Tikkunei Zohar 30), because just as a person’s limb – the hand, for example – serves as a vehicle for the expression of the soul’s power to, say, give charity, or just as the eye expresses the soul’s power to see, so do the 248 mitzvos each express within the world a particular form of G-dliness which it is G-d’s will to bestow upon us. The mitzvos are “containers,” “wrappers,” “garments” for the G-dly vitality “enclothed” within each, just as the limbs may be thought of as garments enclothing the inner vitality of the soul, which finds expression only through them. That is why the mitzvos draw down upon us an expression of G-d’s sovereignty (His attribute of malchus) that is transcendent in nature; like a garment, it surrounds from without but does not penetrate within, because it is of the order of sovev kol almin.

This is the inner meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 17:15), “[you shall] indeed place over you a king”: G-d’s attribute of kingship – malchus – is “placed over you,” it surrounds you in the manner of sovev kol almin and is expressed through your performance of mitzvos. Likewise, the mitzvos are referred to as “the command [mitzva] of the king,” and we find (Esther 6:8), “let them bring a royal garment” and (Esther 8:15), “and Mordechai went out from before the king in a royal garment.” These are allusions to the concept that G-d’s “royalty,” malchus, is expressed to us as a “garment” that enclothes us from without, for the mitzvos that draw it upon us are of the nature of sovev kol almin.

There is a meaningful insight here that should not be overlooked: when a person grasps the limb of his or her friend – for example, pulls them by the arm – he or she is drawing close the entire person of the friend, not merely that person’s arm! Similarly, when we perform even a single mitzvah, although that particular mitzvah (like all mitzvos) is associated with a specific manifestation of G-dliness, we are not merely attaching ourselves to a “part” of G-d,  but to G-d Himself.

(Now, we must also clarify something at this point. By way of background, as is well known, G-d manifests Himself to us through ten principal means, termed the ten s’firos. These range from the most sublime level, known as chochmah (analogous, for purposes of our own understanding, to G-d’s “wisdom” – since wisdom is the highest faculty of humankind), to the relatively “lowest” level, associated with G-d’s sovereignty, or malchus. As explained above, sovereignty is considered lowest because it is external to the king’s physical person: he personally sits, isolated from the general populace, in the solitary majesty of his throne room, but his sovereignty extends throughout the kingdom whether he is physically present in a given place or not.

There is also such a thing as the crown of the king: this is also not a physical part of the king. However, unlike malchus, or sovereignty, the crown (known in Hebrew as kesser) is considered higher than the king’s physical person – that is why it sits atop his head, the very highest part of him and the seat of even his attribute of wisdom. Kesser, in Jewish mysticism, thus symbolizes a spiritual level so lofty that it transcends even chochmah, wisdom. What needs clarification is this: throughout the literature of Chassidus, the mitzvos are identified as deriving from the exalted and lofty level of kesser, a level of G-dliness so sublime as to be identified with G-d’s very “Self,” so to speak, as opposed to merely one of the ten s’firos, which are manifestations of G-d to the universe. Yet in this discourse we have been saying that the mitzvos derive from the level of malchus, sovereignty, albeit the superior form of malchus known as sovev kol almin. How are we to understand this apparent inconsistency?

The answer lies in the mystical fact that, paradoxically, kesser and malchus are intrinsically bound up with each other. Indeed, the very idea of a crown is inseparable from the concept of sovereignty and vice versa, whereas this is not the case with respect to wisdom or any other attribute. The phrase “kesser malchus,” the royal crown, expresses this idea. Here, although we have been discussing mitzvos as expressions of malchus, what is really meant is that they transmit to us that aspect of sovev kol almin that is indeed on the level of kesser, also known as “kesser malchus,” the “crown of sovereignty.” (For further elaboration of this idea, see chapter 2 (s’if beis) of the explanatory supplement (bi’ur) to the discourse “Vay’daber Elokim Eis Kol Had’varim HaEleh Leimor, Anochi...,” found in Likutei Torah on the Torah portion Bamidbar; also see the discourse “L’ma’an Tirah” on the Torah portion Va’Eschanan.))

In short, we have stated that mitzvos transmit to us G-dly revelations on the transcendent level of soven kol almin. The coverings of the Tabernacle also symbolize this. This is so in the obvious sense that the curtains which formed the walls and covering of the Tabernacle encompassed the structure from without; however, the parallel is deeper as well.

For, although there are, as discussed above, 248 positive mitzvos that serve as “limbs of the King,” in a broader sense they can be grouped into seven general categories. This is in accordance with the verse (Proverbs 9:1), “She has hewn out her seven pillars.” The word “pillars” is a mystical reference to the mitzvos, as will be understood from the following:

There are 613 mitzvos in the Torah; additionally the Rabbis enacted seven more (such as lighting Chanukah candles and hearing the Megillah on Purim), for a total of 620 mitzvos. By the grammatical principle of gematria, which assigns numerical value to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the mitzvos thus correspond (as mentioned above in parenthesis) to the spiritual level of kesser – the word for which is numerically equivalent to 620. The 620 specific spiritual levels transmitted to us through the mitzvos are the mystical “620 pillars of wisdom” referred to in the Kabbalistic work, Pardes (Portal 8, Chapter 3). And these in turn can also be broadly grouped into seven levels, corresponding to the seven heavenly midos (“emotions,” that is, the lower seven of the ten s’firos, which are symbolized by various human emotions like kindness and restraint).

Thus, the mitzvos are mystically grouped into seven broad categories, corresponding to the seven “emotional” s’firos. The Tabernacle’s coverings, likewise, were made of seven materials (see Exodus 26:1-14): blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red and the skins of an animal known as the “tachash.” This is because the coverings of the Tabernacle correspond to the mitzvos, which are “coverings” or “containers” for the encompassing level of sovev kol almin, as explained above.

Now, all the above concerns how the performance of mitzvos draws down upon us the light of G-dly revelation on the level of sovev, which is so sublime that it can only encompass a person from without, but cannot penetrate and suffuse their very being through and through. Torah study, however, can accomplish this. Unlike mitzvos, which are compared to garments, as explained, Torah is therefore compared to nourishment, since, like food, it actually enters a person and gives them life from within. This is the mystical significance of the verse (Psalms 40:9), “Your Torah is within my [very] bowels.”

Before going on to explain the specifics of the Torah’s spiritual function, however, it will be necessary to understand the concept of Shabbos, which was juxtaposed in the verses we are discussing to the construction of the Tabernacle. Both in G-d’s instruction to Moshe (in which first the vessels of the Tabernacle were mentioned, then its coverings, then Shabbos) and in Moshe’s relaying of the instructions to the Jews (wherein Moshe reversed the order and mentioned first Shabbos, then the Tabernacle’s coverings, then its vessels), Shabbos was placed next to the coverings. Before proceeding to the manner in which the Torah corresponds to the vessels used inside the Tabernacle, then, let us follow up our discussion of its coverings with some insight into the spiritual nature of Shabbos.

In a widely-known passage, the Talmud (Beitzah 16a) teaches that on Shabbos, every Jewish person is endowed with a n’shama y’seira, an additional soul, that remains with them for the duration of Shabbos. Yet we do not seem to feel any extra vigor on Shabbos, as one might expect if our bodies were suddenly infused with a double dose of vitality. What then is the nature of the famous n’shama y’seira, the additional soul of Shabbos?

For the answer, let us recall another widely-known teaching: The Shema prayer begins with the verse (Deuteronomy 6:4) “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d; G-d is One,” and continues (6:5) “You shall love G-d your G-d with all your hearts.” This loses something in the translation, for in English there is only one word for “you,” whether addressing one person or many. In Hebrew, however, there is a singular and a plural form, and the verse, “you shall love G-d, etc.” is in the singular. Despite this, the word for “hearts” is spelled in such a way as to imply more than one heart, meaning that each individual person should love G-d with their “hearts.” The meaning of this anomaly, teaches the Talmud (B’rachos 54a), is that – since a person’s heart can incline to good or to bad – one should love G-d, not just with one’s good inclination, but with “both your hearts” – that is, with one’s “evil” inclination (yeitzer hara) as well.

(In other words, although our hearts do tend to crave certain worldly things, we should love G-d so thoroughly that even such matters are desired, not for their own sake, but as tools to assist us in our worship of G-d. For example, a person who naturally enjoys eating might indulge this passion on Shabbos, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring Shabbos by partaking of delicious foods.)

How can we reach such a degree of devotion as to “convert” even our yeitzer hara to exclusively G-dly ends? The answer lies in the preceding verse, “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One.” The Hebrew word for “one” is echad, spelled with the letters aleph, ches and dalet. As mentioned above, each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value: aleph is equivalent to one; ches, to eight; and dalet, to four. Our sages state (B’rachos 13b) that when reciting the Shema, one should bear in mind that G-d is One (aleph), and His unity suffuses the seven heavens and the earth (ches) and extends to all four points of the compass (dalet). What is more, there are counterparts to the “seven heavens and the earth” on each level of the spiritual hierarchy of creation. What we think of as the earth, for example, is merely a manifestation of a more refined, spiritual concept corresponding to “earth,” which in turn is simply a representation of an even loftier spiritual “earth,” etc. – all the way up to the point at which G-d brought everything into being. And even at that point, creation was nothing more than a manifestation of G-d’s sovereignty, His attribute of malchus – which is considered naught in relation to G-d’s own “Self,” so to speak. (This is why, after the first verse of the Shema, we interpose the sentence, “Blessed is the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever and ever” (see P’sachim 56a; D’varim Rabba 2:31, 35, 36).)

By serious and protracted reflection on these themes of the Shema prayer, one develops a love of G-d which is so all-pervasive as to involve both one’s “hearts” – not just one’s inclination to good, but even one’s (otherwise) non-holy tendencies are devoted exclusively to G-d.

There is a “catch” to all the above, however. It takes hard work to accomplish this! Serious and protracted reflection means more than simply reading what we are saying here, for example, and thinking, “Yes, I understand what he is saying.” True effort, exhausting, wearying effort, must be expended in serious, Torah-guided contemplation and lengthy meditation in order to progress from mere intellectual contemplation of these ideas to feelings – actual feelings of genuine, honest love for G-d. This “working at love” is the inner, mystical significance of the verse (Exodus 20:9), “Six days you shall work.” Not just working for a livelihood is meant; rather, the Torah is informing us that during the six days of the week, we must engage in the “labor of love” (pulchana d’r’chimusa in Aramaic) described above.

As a matter of fact, this “job,” this task, this project, requires 39 specific spiritual steps in the “labor of love” – mystically corresponding to the 39 activities that comprise the Jewish legal definition of “work” for Shabbos purposes. During the six days of the week, we “work” – but on Shabbos, by virtue of the n’shama y’seira, the additional soul we are then granted (as we are about to explain), this labor is not necessary. This is the mystical explanation behind the 39 m’lachos, or individual categories of “labor,” that are forbidden on Shabbos.

The type of love discussed above, which can be aroused and developed through intellectual contemplation, is – notwithstanding its holiness and desirability – nevertheless limited, in the sense that it depends upon human intellect. However, G-d Himself utterly transcends intellect, and thus, no matter how high we reach in our understanding of Him, and no matter how successful we are in using that understanding to stimulate true love for Him, we are bound to run up against a brick wall, as the saying goes: we cannot get past the point of our own humanity and experience a love for G-d, not as He manifests Himself to our intellect, but as He is in Himself.

But on Shabbos, we can. On Shabbos, G-d grants us from Above a special gift: a form of love which itself transcends intellectual comprehension. It is a love which arises, not from our minds, but from our very souls. For the Jewish soul is literally a “part of G-d Above,” and on that level, at which it is actually one with G-d (that is, on the level of the innermost essence of the soul, known as the yechida), the soul simply and naturally loves G-d with a love far beyond anything dependent upon human intellect.

Something of this can be seen in the way a person occasionally “wants” something so deeply as to be irrational. The desire for the thing stems from a level of the person’s soul so profound as to transcend intellect, and for that reason, in pursuit of that desire, the person may do things that are totally contrary to reason. This kind of desire (ratzon in Hebrew) is called ratzon ha’elyon – higher-order desire – as opposed to the more superficial type of desire – ratzon hatachton, or lower-order desire – one arouses by intellectually realizing that a thing is desirable.

The concept of the “additional soul” granted us on Shabbos is that the innermost part of our soul – the yechidah – which is ordinarily not perceptible within our earthly body, is expressed within us to the extent that we experience this Great Love (ahava rabba) for G-d, that stems, not from intellect and the “labor of love” we work at all week, but from the higher-order desire (ratzon ha’elyon) of our Jewish soul for G-d Himself. It is bestowed upon our G-dly soul (nefesh ha’elokis) from Above on Shabbos and is not at all proportionate to our intellectual “labor.”

(It must be emphasized that this special quality of Shabbos is, in fact, the birthright of every single Jew, and really is bestowed upon us each Shabbos. However, unfortunately, especially in our times, many of us have become so desensitized to spiritual matters that we have difficulty experiencing it. Rest assured, though, that it is part of the “standard equipment” of every Jewish soul, and if we only make the effort to observe Shabbos properly, we will surely come to recognize what it means. Perhaps it is actually why so many Jews over the years, even if formerly estranged from their Jewish heritage, have felt an inner peace, a sense of sanctity, the inexplicable “pull” of Shabbos.)

(The above also explains the teaching in the mystical work, Pri Eitz Chaim, to the effect that the spiritual “chamber” of love that illuminates the recital of the Shema on Shabbos is far superior to that which illuminates the Shema during the week.)

All the foregoing is hinted at in the verse, (Ezekiel 46:1), “the gate of the inner courtyard, that faces east ... shall be opened on the day of Shabbos.” For in Hebrew, the word for “east” (kedem) is identical to that meaning “original,” “first,” “of old.” Another word, reishis, means “beginning,” as in the verse (Genesis 1:1), “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.”

This latter verse is expounded by our sages in discussing the teaching (Avos 5:1) that G-d created the word by ten utterances, i.e., “Let there be light,” let there be a firmament,” etc. Only nine such Divine utterances are enumerated in Genesis; where is the tenth? In answer to this, the sages taught (Rosh Hashana 32a; Megilla 21a), “‘B’reishis’ [‘in the beginning’] is also an utterance.” This is significant, because Jewish mysticism teaches that G-d primarily utilized a different Divine attribute, or s’fira (such as kindness or restraint) in creating each of the six days of the week. On Shabbos, as everyone knows, He “rested.”

A person who focuses his or her attention on a certain task finds his or her faculties preoccupied with that task; the person may not, for example, concentrate on, or even hear, what someone else is saying because their mind and their faculty of hearing are “tied up” at the moment. When they complete the task, their faculties are “freed up,” causing a certain feeling of release and satisfaction. In a similar fashion, G-d “concentrated” or “focused” His Divine creative attributes during the six days of the week. On the seventh day, however, He “rested,” meaning not that G-d was tired, of course, but rather something akin to that just described: on the seventh day, Shabbos, all the Divine faculties “invested” within creation – comprising the entire life-force of the universe – were released from containment within creation and elevated back to their source in G-d. This why Shabbos is associated with Divine “satisfaction” and why the universe is said to experience a collective elevation in spiritual stature on Shabbos.

The meaning of the statement, “‘B’reishis’ is also a Divine creative utterance” is related to this. Just as a person’s emotional attributes are subordinate to, and ultimately derive from, the  intellect and the brain, so can we speak of a lofty spiritual level analogous to the “intellect” of G-d that was the source of the attributes He used in creation. Specifically, this is known as chochmah, the highest of the ten s’firos and parallel to the human attribute of “wisdom.” The word “reishis” alludes to this, as in the expression (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 4:7), “reishis chochmah” (“the beginning of wisdom”). The sages thus meant that not only the lower attributes, but the attribute of chochmah as well, played a role in creating the universe: “b’reishis” was also an “utterance.”

What has all this got to do with the verse, “the gate of the inner courtyard, that faces east ... shall be opened on the day of Shabbos”? As mentioned earlier, the word we have just associated with G-d’s attribute of chochmahreishis – literally means “beginning,” as in “in the beginning, G-d created....” Recall, however, that we had previously discussed a level even higher than intellect, even higher than chochmah: the supra-rational faculty of desire, or ratzon ha’elyon. It is this that is associated with the word “kedem,” which means “east” according to the plain meaning of our verse but which also connotes, “original,” “first.”

The difference between “original” and “beginning” is that the very word “beginning” implies others to follow. However, the Hebrew connotation of kedem, “original,” is not so much that it is the first or original of others to come, but rather that it itself possesses a certain quality of primacy and originality. One can say that the seed was the beginning of the tree; even though the tree is different from the seed, it nevertheless grew out of it in a natural progression. One cannot say, however, that the book was the beginning of the tree – even if the book was there before the tree was planted – because the book has nothing to do with the tree. Nevertheless, one can say of the book that it “preceded” the tree, that it was there “first.” The quality of being “first,” or “original” thus is an attribute of the thing itself, not as directly tied to what follows as the quality of being the “beginning.” The word kedem therefore alludes to a spiritual level even prior to reishis: it represents ratzon, which is higher than chochmah.

Whereas, during the six days of the week, the creative energy of the universe was limited to that channeled through the ten s’firos – all of which ultimately flow from the Divine Wisdom, or chochmah, and which are therefore collectively called the sheshes y’mei b’reishis (six days of b’reishis) – on Shabbos, the “gate of the inner courtyard” was opened to a level far superior to “reishis,” to intellect: on Shabbos, as stated above, we are exposed to the level of “kedem” – the ratzon ha’elyon, the “will” or “desire” and even the “pleasure” (ta’anug) of G-d, which transcends intellect.

This is reflected in our own experience: while a person is preoccupied with a task, they do not experience the pleasure to be derived from its completion. Only afterwards, when their faculties have “risen” back to their unfettered state, does one get a sense of pleasure from what one was doing. Likewise, on Shabbos, when the entire universe “rises” to a higher spiritual state, even we mortals experience the Great Love of G-d that flows from the revelation of ratzon ha’elyon.

However, there is a prerequisite to this: in order to have ratzon ha’elyon openly revealed within us on Shabbos, we must prepare ourselves in advance, we must make ourselves fitting “vessels” for the containment of this great revelation. The way to do this is by developing ratzon ha-tachton – the “lower-order” desire and love for G-d that results from intellectual contemplation – during the week. This necessary preparation is hinted at in the verse in our Torah portion (Exodus 35:2) wherein Moshe, before conveying G-d’s commands with respect to the coverings of the Tabernacle, instructs the Jews about Shabbos. After saying, “Six days shall work be done,” Moshe states that the seventh day is a “shabbos of rest to G-d.” The phrase “shabbos of rest” is “shabbos shabbason” in Hebrew, which is basically a doubling of the same word, “shabbos.” This indicates that by “working” at developing love of G-d during the six days of the week, we achieve a level – ratzon ha-tachton, the first “shabbos” – which acts as a vessel into which the second level of “shabbos” – ratzon ha’elyon – can be invested on the day of Shabbos.

This is also why the expression “to G-d” is used: the word for “G-d” is the Divine name Havaye (the Tetragrammaton), symbolizing (in this context) the transmission down to us of G-dly influence from the Divine attribute of chochmah (represented by the letter yud of this name). The implication of “a shabbos of rest to G-d(“shabbos shabbason laShem”) is that the second level of shabbos, ratzon ha’elyon, is even a “shabbos” with respect to the Tetragrammaton, because this sublime level of ratzon transcends the attribute of chochmah.

In short, then, this is achieved by laying the groundwork during the week, which makes it possible for ratzon ha’elyon and the Great Love for G-d felt by the essence of our souls (the yechida of the soul) to be manifest within us Jews on Shabbos. This is the n’shama y’seira, additional soul, we receive on Shabbos.

And now for some good news: by drawing down, on Shabbos, ratzon ha’elyon into its “bodily container,” ratzon ha-tachton, as just described, there is a “spillover effect” by which we can experience something of this revelation during the week as well. The key to this is prayer. When we pray during the week, we seek to arouse a heartfelt and sincere love of G-d, as discussed in countless places. This true love of G-d achieved through prayer is a reflection of the holiness of Shabbos, shining into the week.

Thus, our weekday prayers can be viewed as an intermediary between Shabbos and the weekdays themselves: through our prayers, a reflection of Shabbos is extended into the weekdays. That is why the Kabbalah (Tikkunei Zohar 45; see also Zohar I (in the “omitted material” (hashmatos) section) 266b; Zohar III: 306b) compares prayer to a ladder: at prayer, we strive to raise ourselves, step by step and level upon level, to the heights of spirituality, to the point at which we want nothing but to literally dissolve into G-d’s very Self and lose our existence as beings “separate” from Him. This rarified peak of love for G-d is none other than that which is associated with ratzon ha’elyon, as manifest openly on Shabbos. Furthermore, as in Jacob’s dream (see Genesis 28:12), a ladder not only lets those at the bottom ascend, but those at the top descend. Once we have ascended the ladder and “tapped into” the level of ratzon ha’elyon during prayer, we can then draw it back down with us, so that its influence is felt throughout the everyday affairs of the six days of the week.

Torah, too, has the effect of drawing ratzon ha’elyon down into the level of ratzon ha-tachton. For, although there is a well-known teaching (Zohar II:121a; see also there, 85a) that “the Torah comes from wisdom,” that is, that the spiritual source of the Torah is G-d’s attribute of chochmah, “wisdom,” this teaching refers to the Torah as we relate to it within this world. The laws of the Torah are expressed in terms of worldly things: under certain conditions, a given thing may be treated leniently and considered kosher, permissible, innocent, etc., while in other circumstances it may be treated stringently. All this is applicable to human beings and the objects and relationships they are involved with. In mystical terms, such Torah laws are expressions of G-d’s midos, or “emotional” attributes (anthropomorphically speaking): lenient Torah rulings basically derive from the attribute of chesed, kindness; stringent rulings from the attribute of g’vurah, severity or restraint. And (as we know from our own character makeup) the midos in turn are subordinate to intellect: in terms of our discussion of the Torah, this reflects the fact that whichever way the law rules, it is rooted in the “wisdom” of G-d, His attribute of chochmah. The teaching that “the Torah comes from [G-d’s] ‘wisdom’” thus means that the laws governing the mitzvos of the Torah, although expressed through the “emotional” attributes like chesed and g’vurah, really have their source in a superior level: G-d’s attribute of chochmah.

Ultimately, however, the Torah is rooted in a spiritual level far loftier even than this. For (again, as we see from our own character) the intellect itself is subordinate to the “will” or “desire” of a person. Not only can a person’s will motivate their intellect to dwell upon the desired thing, but, as discussed above in the context of ratzon ha’elyon, it can completely supercede reason and cause a person to act irrationally in pursuit of their desire. The mitzvos of the Torah and all their specific laws are actually so for no other reason than that they are the “will” (ratzon) of G-d, plain and simple, and in that sense, transcend even chochmah.

This concept is implicit within the precise wording of the Kabbalah’s teaching. The phrase “comes from” or “emerges from” (nafkas) in the expression, “the Torah comes from wisdom” implies emergence from its prior level. That is, the point at which we mortals can relate to the Torah is as it emerges and stands revealed as G-d’s “wisdom” governing the ways of the world. Nevertheless, essentially (as mentioned above in connection with the mitzvos’ association with the spiritual level of kesser) the level the Torah “emerged” from is actually that of G-d’s will, the ratzon ha’elyon we have been discussing.

Thus, like Shabbos, the Torah accomplishes the drawing of ratzon ha’elyon – G-d’s supernal will, which transcends intellect – into expression within ratzon ha-tachton – the day-to-day conduct of our mundane affairs in conformity with the mitzvos and their laws (technically, the spiritual level of da’as tachton, which is the inner aspect (p’nimius) of the midos). The difference is that it is not possible to achieve this spiritual effect of Torah without first having the benefit of the “ladder” of prayer and of Shabbos, as will be explained shortly.

We are finally ready to examine the correspondence of the Torah to the vessels used inside the Tabernacle, i.e., the Holy Ark, the Shulchan (the table on which the “showbread” was placed each week), and the Menorah (see Exodus 25:10-40). The Shulchan and the Menorah were located in the heichal, or outer chamber, of the Tabernacle; the Holy Ark was located in the inner chamber, or “Holy of Holies,” and contained the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. In general, we may say that the Ark represented the Torah at its source (that is, as revealed to us, in G-d’s attribute of chochmah, not the level of ratzon ha’elyon – see Likutei Sichos of the year 5730, Vayakhel, note 47), while the Menorah symbolized the Torah as expressing G-d’s midos, primarily the attribute of chesed, leniency. (That is why the Menorah was placed to the south: Jewish mysticism associates this direction with the attribute of chesed.) In both cases, the symbolism of the vessels is of the Torah penetrating even into the details of this world, expressing G-dliness all the way down to earth, not simply hovering above as a transcendent “covering.”

On a more specific level, the Menorah was a seven-branched candelabrum. (Unlike the menorah we use on Chanukah; although that mitzvah does commemorate the lighting of the seven-branched menorah of the Holy Temple, we use eight branches for Chanukah because the oil of the Temple menorah miraculously burned for eight days – as the Chanukah story recounts.) It had one central, vertical, branch and three branches off to each side, for a total of six side-branches. At the point where the side branches and the main post or branch met, there was a bulb or sphere. (See Exodus 25:31-40 for the Menorah’s details.) The candles were always burning; the High Priest would tend to them daily.

It is written (Ecclesiastes 8:1), “A man’s wisdom illuminates his face.” When a person comprehends a new idea, they derive pleasure from the insight; their face “lights up” with pleasure. This symbolizes a spiritual concept:

The Torah is described as “light,” as Scripture states (Proverbs 6:23), “the Torah is light.” The spiritual level of kesser, the ultimate source of the Torah, is identified with “pleasure” or “delight.” (There are actually two aspects, an inner and an outer level, of kesser, one of which is symbolized by “will” and the other by “delight.” Further discussion of this is not necessary for our present purposes, however.) The illumination of one’s face that indicates one has grasped a new concept shows one’s delight and pleasure in understanding it; it is the expression of pleasure within their intellect. Similarly, study of Torah brings the “pleasure” associated with kesser down to open revelation within a person’s intellect, or wisdom, lighting their very face with the “light” of Torah.

(In fact, Torah study actually brings brand new revelations of kesser – new light from G-d’s very Self, so to speak – to be invested within the Heavenly attribute of chochmah, the wisdom of the Torah – for the Torah, which is one with G-d and therefore infinite, never “ends.” This is the mystical significance of the verse (Numbers 6:25), “May G-d shine His face upon you.”)

The lights of the Menorah represent this idea. The symbolism of the burning light generally is, of course, the light of Torah just discussed. And the fact that the Menorah had a central branch with six branches coming off to the sides symbolizes the Torah in a more particular sense: the Torah has one central “post” – the Written Torah, i.e., all of Scripture – which forms the foundation and basis from which branch out every aspect of the Oral Torah – i.e., the Six Orders of the Mishnah. Furthermore, the bulbs at the joining of the branches with the main post – which bulbs were, by definition, thicker than the rest of the branches – represent the doubled intensity involved in joining the Written Torah with the Oral Torah. Overall, the Menorah symbolized the investiture of ratzon ha’elyon, the “pleasure” illuminating the “light” of Torah, all the way into the specifics of worldly affairs, as set forth in the detailed laws of the Oral Torah, the Six Orders of the Mishnah and everything exposited from them.

The Shulchan also represents this penetration of ratzon ha’elyon to the inside. For on the Shulchan stood bread (see Exodus 25:23-30), and the Torah is symbolized by bread, as it is written (Proverbs 9:5), “Go and eat of My bread.” As mentioned earlier, just as bread enters into the body and nourishes a person, so does the Torah act as “soul food” that penetrates to the core and nourishes one spiritually.

All this is in distinction to the spiritual effect of mitzvos, which, as we have said, draw down upon a person the transcendent “light” of sovev kol almin, which cannot reach so low as to penetrate and suffuse a person from within, surrounding them instead like a covering from without.

Still, Torah and mitzvos each draw from the sublime spiritual level of ratzon ha’elyon associated with kesser, which, as explained above, can be broadly divided into seven categories. In the case of the mitzvos, which are transcendent, these are represented by the seven materials with which the Tabernacle was covered; while in the case of the Torah, which penetrates within a person, they are represented by the seven branches of the Menorah.

Having by now explained how the coverings of the Tabernacle corresponded to the mitzvos; its vessels to the Torah; and the spiritual effect of Shabbos; we are finally in a position to understand why Shabbos was mentioned in the context of the Tabernacle at all, and, once mentioned, why the order of its presentation differed between G-d’s command and Moshe’s repetition.

For, while it is true that through Torah study and mitzvah performance one draws down spirituality from the lofty level of ratzon ha’elyon – in a transcendent (makif) manner through mitzvos and internally (p’nimi) through Torah – we are nevertheless faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. The Torah and its mitzvos are very holy, to be sure, and powerful “tools” for the purpose, but we – we who are supposed to do the studying and the performing and the “drawing down” of G-dliness – we are just people. We are creatures, human beings, with physical bodies and all sorts of worldly “baggage”; how can such as we ever hope to “do the job” even with G-d’s own “tools,” as it were?

The key lies with Shabbos. For, as explained above, the mystical dynamic of Shabbos is that on that day, the spiritual energy invested by G-d within every aspect of creation – ourselves included – rises to its original (kedem) spiritual level in ratzon ha’elyon; this happens automatically, whether we know it or not. It is simply the way of the world. It is hinted at by the letters of the very word “Shabbos,” which also spell the word for “return” (Iggeres HaT’shuva, chapter 10; see also Y’fei To’ar, end of chapter 22). The bottom line is that Shabbos (as G-d’s gift to us), just “happens”; we don’t need to worry about “how” we are going to rise up so high, we just do.

From there, also as explained above, we are empowered to bring something of the holiness and spirituality of Shabbos “back down” with us into the rest of the week, through the intermediary of the “ladder” of prayer. Because we have experienced Shabbos, because our n’shama y’seira, which loves G-d in a way no mortal can (otherwise) ever do, has been exposed within us, we can reach, by climbing the rungs of prayer and hoisting ourselves up degree by degree, ever higher levels of love for G-d, ultimately getting a taste, even during the week, of the ahava rabba of Shabbos. And we can bring this with us into the weekdays generally, not just the time spent in prayer.

Once we do this, we have what it takes. We are capable of tapping into and drawing down the rarified level of ratzon ha’elyon by studying Torah and performing mitzvos, to the point where this sublime level not only surrounds but suffuses us and our physical world through and through.

Because Shabbos is thus a prerequisite to our ability to derive the full benefit of Torah and mitzvos, Moshe mentioned it first in his instructions to the Jews. He then went on to tell them about the coverings of the Tabernacle, symbolizing the makifim, transcendent levels, drawn down through mitzvos, and only then did he go on to discuss the vessels used inside, corresponding to the p’nimiyim, the inner lights, drawn down through Torah study. This order was appropriate from Moshe’s perspective – that is, telling the Jews what they must do – because, as noted all the way at the beginning, the Divine light of the level of sovev kol almin is a prerequisite to that of memaleh kol almin.

On the other hand, G-d’s “perspective” is just the opposite. G-d does not need to consider how to reach high levels; He is already there (actually G-d is “everywhere”; the concepts of “high” and “low” are all the same to G-d). The “problem,” from G-d’s perspective (metaphorically speaking, of course, since G-d is omnipotent and can have no “problems”), is how to express all that holiness down deep within this created world without it “overloading” and dissolving into non-existence, absorbed into G-d’s all-pervasive Unity?

To accomplish this, G-d concealed His overpowering “light” from the perception of the created universe. As discussed at the outset, there was no change effected by creation in G-d – or even in the amount of His “light.” But by limiting our ability to perceive this (like a person wearing dark sunglasses, who cannot see that in reality it is blindingly bright outside), G-d allowed the universe to come into being as a seemingly independent entity. Then, a small reflection of G-d’s Infinite Light could be directed into the world and be “contained” therein without spiritual “meltdown.” This limited transmission of G-dliness (in relation to the “actual” amount of G-dly light) corresponds to the vessels inside the Tabernacle, for the vessels “contain” the light. Only then could the light of G-dliness “spread” outwards and encompass everything – symbolized, of course, by the coverings of the Tabernacle.

In G-d’s command to Moshe, therefore, the vessels were mentioned first, and only then the coverings. Finally, G-d mentioned Shabbos last: because from G-d’s “perspective,” Shabbos is the level at which, after creation has been completed, everything rises back to its original level in ratzon ha’elyon, G-d’s supernal Will.


Ó 2003 Dach Holdings, Ltd. Please note that the foregoing is an informal adaptation 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 adaptation 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 adaptation should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!