Eileh P’kudei Hamishkan
An adaptation of the Maamar found in Likutei Torah
This week’s Torah portion, P’kudei, begins (Exodus 38:21), “These are the accounts of the [materials donated for the construction the] Tabernacle – the Tabernacle of the Testimony – as they were counted upon the command [literally, “upon the mouth”] of Moshe [Moses]; the work of the Levites, by the hand of Isamar son of Aharon the Priest.” A number of questions (as the commentator Alshich explains) can be asked on this verse:
1. Why is the word “Tabernacle” reiterated? The verse could have simply said, “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.”
2. Why use the Hebrew expression, “asher pukad al pi Moshe” (“…at the command [literally “mouth”] of Moshe”), when the phrase “asher pakad Moshe” (“…as Moshe commanded”) would have been more direct?
3. The job of the Levites with respect to the Tabernacle was to carry it from place to place. What does the accounting of the materials donated for its construction have to do with the Levites?
4. Finally, why is the work of the Levites attributed to [the oversight of] Isamar, son of Aharon the High Priest? Aharon’s other son, Elazar, also played a role in overseeing the work of the Levites; why is he not also mentioned?
The answers will become apparent after a profound discussion.
The Tabernacle was the “dwelling place” of G-d, so to speak, among the Jews, as the verse states (Exodus 25:8), “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell within them.” Our sages point out that the verse should have said, “dwell within it”; “within them” is used instead because G-d dwells within each and every Jew. G-d specifically desired to have a “home” among the lower realms (Tanchuma to Naso, 16a; see also there, Bechukosai 3a; B’reishis Rabba, end of chapter 3; and Bamidbar Rabba 13:6), and the Tabernacle embodied this.
Yet what is the meaning of this idea? Is G-d not everywhere, as it says (Jeremiah 23:24), “I fill the Heavens and the earth”? The meaning is not that G-d wants to “be” in a particular physical place, though; in this context, “lower realms” means with respect to spiritual level: G-d wanted to “dwell,” to be “at home,” not just in Heaven – a high spiritual level where it is really no surprise that He is present – but even in the “lowliest” spiritual state, even in this physical world where His presence is completely concealed.
This is accomplished when we “bend” (iskafya) our negative impulses to G-d, that is, when we want to indulge in worldly pursuits but forego these and “train” ourselves instead to do G-d’s will – as expressed through Torah study and mitzvah observance. Indeed, the Zohar states (T’rumah 128b; see also beginning of Yisro) that when a person “bends” the sitra achara (literally, the “other side,” an expression referring to the opposite of holiness), G-d’s glory is raised higher than by any other means. Iskafya in turn leads to a state of refinement known as is-hafcha: after constantly “bending” our will, our speech and action, our thoughts and feelings, to shun the natural, worldly, cravings of our five senses in favor of spirituality, we will ultimately reach the point where even our five physical senses and our soul’s means of expression – thought, speech and action – are spiritually refined and desire nothing but holy things on their own.
That is why it is written of the Jews (Jeremiah 7:4), “they are the chamber of G-d.” The name of G-d used in this verse is Havaye, the Tetragrammaton, which is spelled with the letters yud and hei, plus the letters vav and hei. It is taught elsewhere (and will be elaborated below, G-d willing) that the positive mitzvos of the Torah (such as “give charity,” “wear tzitzis”) stem from a spiritual level associated with the latter two letters, vav and hei, of the Tetragrammaton, while the negative mitzvos (“do not murder,” “do not wear sha’atnez”) stem from the level of the first two letters, yud and hei. The entire name Havaye thus symbolizes the positive and negative mitzvos. The expression “they are the chamber of Havaye” refers to the fact that the Jews, through total dedication (in the manner of iskafya and is-hafcha) to shunning evil and doing good – to the negative and positive mitzvos – become the very “chamber,” the vessel or container, in which Havaye, G-d Himself, is “at home.”
And that is why it is said (Bava Basra 75b) that in Messianic times, the tzadikim, saints, will be praised with the cry, “holy, holy, holy!” This is the cry which the angels utter before G-d, and the idea is that since the saints have attached themselves to the Holy G-d (in Hebrew the word “holy,” kadosh, implies separate and apart from mundane, worldly, things) in all three of the soul’s ways of expressing itself (i.e., thought, speech and action), they are worthy to have this cry repeated three times before them as well. In fact, in the verse in Jeremiah, the phrase “the chamber of G-d” is repeated three times for the same reason.
In short, the Tabernacle symbolizes that we Jews are to draw G-dliness “down to earth,” to the point at which G-d is “at home” within each and every one of us, and this is accomplished principally through shunning evil and doing good, in the manner of iskafya – “bending” our will to G-d.
Yet this requires understanding: why does the subjugation of evil exalt the glory of G-d more than any other praise? Isn’t “evil” utterly insignificant before G-d Himself? True, it is G-d’s will that we ourselves refrain from evil, but isn’t this more for our benefit than for G-d’s (as though G-d “needs” any “benefit” from us at all)? How can refraining from evil have any direct effect on the glory of G-d?
To appreciate this, we must consider the essential nature of the positive and negative mitzvos.
There are 248 positive mitzvos; these correspond to the 248 limbs and organs of the human body, as categorized by the Torah. Similarly, there are 365 negative mitzvos, corresponding to the body’s 365 blood vessels. It is written (Exodus 3:15), “This is my name for ever and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.” Commenting on this verse, Tikunei Zohar makes the interesting observation that, by the Hebrew grammatical principle of gematria, the numerical value of the word for “my name” (sh’mi) plus the numerical value (15) of the first two letters – yud and hei – of G-d’s name equals 365; while the numerical value of the word “my remembrance” (zichri) plus that of the last two letters – vav and hei – of G-d’s name (11) equals 248. This is because the 365 negative mitzvos manifest a degree of spirituality rooted in the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton, and are therefore on a higher spiritual plane than are the 248 positive mitzvos, which are rooted in the latter two letters – since in fact, the first two are superior to the last two letters.
(This is why the first two letters are a Divine name in their own right, and also why, according to Jewish law (Yoma 86a), one who transgresses a positive mitzvah need only repent to be forgiven, whereas one who transgresses a negative mitzvah must not only repent, but also receive the atonement that comes exclusively through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The concept is also hinted at in the verse (Deuteronomy 29:28), “The hidden [things] belong to G-d, our G-d, but the revealed [things] belong to us and our children….” The letters yud and hei of G-d’s name are so sublime as to be beyond perception and are therefore associated with the “hidden.” On the other hand, the latter letters, vav and hei, are “revealed,” as evidenced by the fact that the Hebrew word v’haniglos (“but the revealed [things]”) can also be read “vav [and] hei [are] revealed.”)
Yet the above seems counterintuitive, since the positive mitzvos involve some affirmative act that actually draws G-dly revelation into the world. They are therefore known as the “248 limbs of the King,” for a person’s limbs act as vehicles for the expression of that person’s wishes and faculties, as the positive mitzvos express G-d’s spirituality. Negative mitzvos involve nothing more than sitting idle and refraining from a prohibited act. How can they then be superior to what is spiritually accomplished through positive mitzvos?
On closer reflection, however, this is as it should be. It is precisely because the negative mitzvos are spiritually superior to the positive that the G-dly revelations they bring us are incapable of expression within some defined, discrete act – much as, for example, some thoughts or feelings can be expressed in words, while others stem from such a deep level that words simply cannot contain them.
A deeper understanding of this will be had upon further elaboration of the metaphor of positive mitzvos as “limbs” and negative mitzvos as “blood vessels.”
We have already explained that the limbs and organs of a person contain and express that person’s faculties: the eye is the vehicle for expression of the power of sight, the hand, for the power of touch, etc. All these faculties derive from the soul; were the soul to leave the body (G-d forbid), none of the limbs would “work” anymore. Although each limb has its own particular function, expressing a separate power of the soul, the soul itself is not divided up and localized among the various limbs of the body. There is only one soul, and it is primarily manifest in the brain, which indeed serves as the focal point for the body’s physical organs and functions as well. Each discrete “soul power” animating every bodily function is thus not something that exists on its own, but is literally the soul itself expressed through that particular organ.
Similarly, G-d manifests Himself to us through various attributes, such as kindness or restraint. Each of these, however, is not something in its own right; they are all expressions of G-d’s Infinite Self. Just as an act of kindness done with one’s right hand, for example, is not an expression within that limb of a separate form of vitality called “kindness,” but is instead an expression of the very soul, so is G-d’s “kindness” (mystically called G-d’s “right arm” – see introduction to Tikunei Zohar) not a separate entity (as though such a thing were possible), but one with G-d Himself.
Now, the human hand, when idle, does not actively manifest the attribute of kindness. When the person extends their hand and gives charity, though, they cause their soul’s attribute of kindness to be actually manifest within and through that limb. Here, then, is a unique and awesome fact about mitzvah performance, the “limbs of the King”: when we perform a positive mitzvah, that action itself is what actively draws G-dliness into expression within, for example, His attribute of chesed (kindness).
This leads us to greater understanding of why Torah study occupies such a special place among all positive mitzvos, and is considered equal to them all (Peah 1:1; Shabbos 127a). Just as human organs can be grouped into “internal” and “external” organs, and the internal organs are more vital than the external ones, so is it, allegorically speaking, with their spiritual counterpart – the positive mitzvos. The Torah, we are told, “comes from [G-d’s] wisdom” (Zohar II:121a; see also 85a): just as wisdom is seated in the brain – the most vital internal organ – so is Torah the “brain” and internal organ upon which all other mitzvos depend. Performance of another mitzvah draws G-dliness into the specific Heavenly “limb” (Divine attribute) associated with that mitzvah, but that is superficial compared to the effect of Torah study, which is the elicitation of the all-encompassing, general, G-dly vitality into the Heavenly “brain” itself – i.e., G-d’s attribute of “wisdom,” or chochmah ila’ah. This is the inner meaning of the teaching (Yalkut Shimoni to Eicha, 1034; Tana D’vei Eliyahu Rabba, beginning of chapter 18), “Anyone who [studies Torah], G-d [studies Torah] opposite him.” The meaning of G-d “studying Torah” is that He causes His Divine life-force to flow from His utterly unknowable and unreachable Self into his attribute of wisdom, source of the Torah, in the first place.
Thus, G-d transmits His spirituality to the world by investing it within the “inner organ” of Torah, and from there, as with the brain and human organs, to the “outer organs” of each positive mitzvah. This is why the positive mitzvos are associated with the letters vav and hei of the name Havaye: the vav, a vertical line, symbolizes transmission from above downwards of G-d’s unknowable holiness into the comprehensible form of the Torah, while the hei (in the shape of a square and thus representative of length and breadth) symbolizes the spread of G-dliness to the “outer” organs of the other positive mitzvos.
We have said above that “the Torah comes from [G-d’s] wisdom.” Yet regarding wisdom itself, it is written (Job 28:12), “From where shall wisdom be found?” The word “where” (ayin) can also be translated as “nothingness,” so that the verse could be read, “wisdom shall be found from ayin.” The significance of this is that in Jewish mysticism, the word ayin, “nothingness,” refers to the unknowable, unreachable, Source that precedes all of creation, as in the phrase, yesh me’ayin, creation of the universe “out of nothing.” Accordingly, the mystical interpretation of this verse is that G-d’s attribute of chochmah, wisdom, itself – which is the very first glimmer of manifestation of G-dliness into the created universe – has its own source in the awesome and inscrutable spiritual level known as ayin, “nothingness.”
That is why, when the world was created, darkness preceded light (see Shabbos 77b and chapter 1 of Genesis). This alludes to the fact that, for G-d to reveal Himself in a created universe which would not simply dissolve in G-d’s all-inclusive unity, He first concealed His overwhelming radiance so that the world would be able to exist. This is hinted at by the verse (Psalms 18:12), “He made darkness His concealment.” Only then, after this darkness, this concealment, this “nothingness” – the spiritual state of ayin – could there be any revelation at all of G-dliness – which revelation is first seen in the sublime attribute of “wisdom,” chochmah.
This concept is symbolized by the first two letters of G-d’s name. The yud, a mere dot or point, represents the fact that the very first glimmer of revelation is like a pinpoint of light coming forth from utter darkness; this point is chochmah. From there, it is possible to broaden out into greater revelation, symbolized by the hei, which, as noted above in connection with the second hei, has breadth and depth.
G-d Himself is utterly unknowable, and, on that level of ayin, can only be spoken of in terms of negatives: He is not this; He is not that. No matter how sublime our conception or praise of G-d, He is not that. Nor can any creature, even the loftiest angel, have any conception whatsoever of G-d’s unknowable Self. This inconceivable level is the source of the negative mitzvos: they express such a high level of G-dliness that it simply cannot be contained or defined by any particular act. The positive mitzvah to hold an esrog (together with its accompanying species) on the holiday of Succos, for example, is a “vehicle” for the expression of a specific G-dly revelation. This cannot be done with the holiness associated with negative mitzvos: they are too sublime to be contained by any positive deed. All we can do to facilitate the expression of such a high degree of G-dliness is refrain from doing things which would impede that spiritual flow. These spiritual “barriers” are set forth in the Torah: Do not do this or that. When an opportunity to do any of those things presents itself to us, and we nevertheless refrain from doing it, the inexpressible G-dliness of the level of ayin shines upon us.
The negative mitzvos are therefore associated with the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton, which represent a higher spiritual level than the latter two.
It is written concerning the triennial holiday pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Psalms 122:3-4), “Jerusalem: built as a city attached together. For there, the tribes used to go up – the tribes of G-d – [as] a testimony unto Israel, to give thanks to the name of G-d.” A discussion of this passage in light of what we have said above will begin to yield the key to understanding our original questions.
The Talmud (Ta’anis 5a) explains the phrase, “a city attached together” in light of the teaching (Chagiga 12b) that there is a Heavenly “Jerusalem” as a counterpart to the earthly one. When the Jews would go up to Jerusalem for the holiday pilgrimage, the holiness of this event and the mitzvos then performed served to raise the earthly city to the point of unity with the Heavenly Jerusalem, so that it was truly a “city attached together.”
Another insight into the idea of two Jerusalems, one earthly and one in Heaven, is based on the fact that the name “Jerusalem” – Yerushalayim in Hebrew – implies “yirah shalem,” “fear [of G-d] that is whole, complete, perfect” (B’reishis Rabba 56:10). There are two levels of fear of G-d, termed yirah tatah (“lower-order fear”) and yirah ila’ah (“higher-order fear”). There are also two levels of shalom, peace [i.e., the second half of the word Yerushalayim], as it says (Isaiah 57:19), “Peace, peace, [both] for far and near.” Thus, the spiritual concepts represented by “lower-order” fear of G-d and the “lower” level of peace are associated with the lower Yerushalayim; “higher-order” fear of G-d and higher-order peace, with the Heavenly Yerushalayim.
The above two levels of Jerusalem are the two levels associated with the G-dly emanations elicited through performance of positive mitzvos and the letters vav and hei, on the one hand – lower Jerusalem – and those higher-order emanations elicited through the negative mitzvos and the letters yud and hei – a spiritual level identified with the higher Jerusalem. When the Tribes of Israel would go up on pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem (which pilgrimage was itself a positive mitzvah) and perform positive mitzvos there in connection with the festivals (such as bringing the holiday offerings in the Temple), they would elevate their spiritual stature to the level of the higher Jerusalem, uniting the two “cities.”
The next part of the passage reads, “the tribes used to go up – the tribes of G-d – [as] a testimony unto Israel.” The Divine name used in the phrase “the tribes of G-d” is that formed by the letters yud and hei alone (pronounced Kah except when praying or reading the Torah): “the Tribes of Kah.” It is this which is called “a testimony unto Israel.” The reason is because, as mentioned earlier, the spiritual level associated with the letters yud and hei of G-d’s name is so sublime as to be unknowable, hidden. “Testimony” is symbolic of the “hidden” nature of this level, since the very concept of testimony is that the matter testified to was not seen or known by those hearing the testimony; they must rely instead on others to tell them what they missed. “Testimony” thus refers to the “hidden realm” (alma d’iskasya) of the letters yud and hei. The spirituality of the letters vav and hei, though, is actually “containable” and expressible in our physical world through performance of positive mitzvos, as explained above; it is therefore called the “revealed realm” (alma d’isgalya), regarding which no “testimony” is necessary.
Now, in a general sense, all mitzvos can be called “testimony,” as we find (Psalms 119:14), “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies.” Each mitzvah bears testimony to an inner spiritual significance it expresses, even though the inner spirituality of mitzvos is so great it cannot be grasped is a revealed way. Through the mitzvos, nevertheless, we mortals are “told” of the existence of the spirituality concealed within. On a higher level, this is the meaning of the phrase in our verse “the tribes of Kah – a testimony unto Israel.”
In this sense, “Israel” refers, not to the earthly Jewish People, but to the “Heavenly Israel,” i.e., that aspect of G-d described as (Ezekiel 1:26), “and on the likeness of the throne, was a likeness like the appearance of a Man.” Jewish mysticism explains that this refers to the “emotional” attributes (e.g., kindness, severity) by which G-d reveals Himself to us through the mitzvos of the Torah. (These emotional attributes are collectively called za, an abbreviation for z’eir anpin, or “minor countenance”). This level corresponds to the letters vav and hei. The “intellectual” attributes known as chochmah and bina (“wisdom” and “understanding”) correspond to yud and hei, respectively, and are the G-dly wisdom behind the mitzvos as we know them. Just as a person’s emotions are incapable of intellectual function in and of themselves, yet are guided by the light of intellect as it motivates and regulates them, so is the spiritual level of za “beneath” and subordinate to chochmah and bina, which extend into and affect its “emotional” component parts. This extension of the spirituality of yud and hei into the realm of vav and hei is described as “a testimony unto [Heavenly] Israel”: like testimony, it “conveys” something that could not be “seen,” something of the inner and unknowable higher level, even within the lower level.
We Jews, too, have this quality. Every one of us has the counterpart to the Divine name Havaye within us, in the sense that the letter yud, a simple point or dot, represents utter humility and a sense of true insignificance (bitul) before G-d; while the letter hei, with breadth and depth, symbolizes expansive reflection and contemplation on the theme of G-d’s greatness. This leads one to a true love and fear of G-d that allow no transgression of His will (G-d forbid); this is the sublime level achieved through observance of the negative mitzvos – the reflection of the level of yud and hei within the person.
Finally, this is the meaning of the conclusion of the verse: “to give thanks to the name of G-d.” In Hebrew, the word “to give thanks” is l’hodos, which also connotes deference and humility. This is distinct from the concept of b’racha, usually translated “blessing” but which has a connotation of “drawing down” (a “blessing” is the drawing down upon us of G-d’s benevolence). B’racha is something drawn down to the point it can be openly perceived. (That is why we recite a b’racha before performing most positive mitzvos.) Hoda’ah (deference), on the other hand, implies something of awe before that which we cannot quite grasp. The spiritual level associated with the “tribes of Kah” – the letters yud and hei, the negative mitzvos – which is a “testimony” unto Israel because it cannot itself be witnessed, engenders hoda’ah, the deference and bitul appropriate in the face of that which is beyond us.
Our original verse begins, Eileh p’kudei hamishkan – mishkan ha-eidus, “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle – the Tabernacle of the Testimony.” Each of these Hebrew words has a deeper meaning that bears on our discussion:
The first instance of the word mishkan, Tabernacle, alludes to the spiritual level of the letters vav and hei. This is because mishkan literally means “a dwelling place,” as in G-d’s “dwelling place” in this lowest realm, in accordance with Exodus 25:8 (expounded above), “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell (v’shachanti) within them.” It is explained frequently in Chassidic literature that this level is associated with the letter hei of G-d’s name, Havaye. As explained above, the preceding letter, the vav of G-d’s name (written as a vertical line) symbolizes the “pipeline,” the manner in which we draw down this level from above, through performance of positive mitzvos. Thus, mystical literature associates mitzvah performance with the unification of the vav and latter hei of G-d’s name. All this corresponds to the “earthly Jerusalem.”
The second mention of the word mishkan, in which the Tabernacle is called mishkan ha-eidus, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, corresponds to the “Heavenly Jerusalem” associated with the negative mitzvos and the first two letters, yud and hei, of G-d’s name. This is in accordance with what was explained above – that these two letters represent a level termed “testimony,” because it is such a high degree of holiness that it cannot be openly perceived or contained within any particular action.
The first step in uniting the two “Jerusalems” is performance of the positive mitzvos, similar to how the Jews’ observance of mitzvos made Jerusalem “a city attached together.” And these positive mitzvos are hinted at in the word eileh.
The word eileh, “these,” indicates something known or seen. One cannot apply the term “these” to that which is unknown or not present. This is in contrast to the word mi, “who,” which is a question asked when it is not known, not apparent, who was responsible for something or other. We said above that the positive mitzvos are associated with G-d’s six primary “emotional” attributes (za), a spiritual level which in turn derives vitality from the investiture within it of G-d’s “intellectual” attributes, chochmah and bina. This parallels the way a person’s emotions are guided and regulated by intellect. In fact, intellectual reflection actually gives rise, or “gives birth,” to emotion, as for example when contemplation of G-d’s greatness arouses love and fear of G-d. For this reason, the positive mitzvos, which draw down G-dliness to the point it is contained and revealed, are termed eileh. The spiritual attribute of bina, “understanding” (a level that includes within it the germ of chochmah that was reflected upon and understood), since it precedes open revelation of emotion and is actually what gives rise to them, is associated with the word mi, “who” – a hidden quality.
This is the mystical significance of the verse (Isaiah 40:26), “Lift your eyes on high and see who created these.” The Hebrew for “who created these” is mi bara eileh, and can be understood to mean that the spiritual level of “Who” (mi, or bina) created, gave rise to, the level of “These” (eileh, the six attributes of za). (For this reason, the mystics also refer to bina as the “mother” of the midos (emotional attributes), as the Psalmist states (Psalms 113:9), “the mother of the children….”
Now, the six midos are called eileh, as just explained. The word eileh is spelled by the letters aleph, lamed and hei. By the grammatical principle of gematria, this is equivalent to 36 – that is, six times six. This is fitting, since the six emotional attributes are not monolithic, but are composites that each include elements of the other six emotions, for a total of 36 components. (A parent withholding excessive candy from a child, for example, is essentially being kind to the child, but that kindness is expressed using the attribute of restraint. This combination would be “the restraint component of kindness.”)
Similarly, the word eileh is spelled with the identical letters as make up the name of our Matriarch Leah, for her six children represented the six midos of za. Likewise, the six midos are expressed through the Six Orders of the Mishnah. Each of the Six Orders deals mainly with a specific area of Jewish law, yet within each Order there is abundant material bearing upon the subjects of the other Orders – reflecting an underlying composition of 36.
Having now explained that the mishkan – Tabernacle – refers to the dwelling within us of G-d’s presence (symbolized by the latter hei of G-d’s name – spiritual source of Jewish souls), and that the word eileh (symbolized by the letter vav of G-d’s name) alludes to the six midos of za, which are the spiritual source of the Torah and its mitzvos (as expressed within the Six Orders of the Mishnah), we are able to appreciate the meaning of eileh p’kudei hamishkan – “these” are the accounts of the Mishkan. The word p’kudei, translated here as “accounts,” is etymologically related to the word meaning “visit,” in the sense of “going to and being with.” For example, we find (Job 5:24), “and you will visit (u-fakad’ta) your habitation,” and the teaching, “a man is obligated to ‘visit’ his wife.…” What is there that can accomplish p’kudei hamishkan, that is, that G-d’s presence should dwell with and intimately unite with us Jews? It is the level represented by eileh, namely, Torah study (the “inner organ” referred to earlier) and mitzvah performance (the “outer organs”). This is the mystical “union of the Holy One, blessed is He, with His Sh'chinah (Divine Presence)” – symbolized by the union of the letter vav with the letter hei – brought about by Torah study.
The same can also be said of the 248 positive mitzvos generally; they “unite” the Holy One, blessed is He, with His Sh’chinah. That is why mitzvos, too, are called eileh, as in (Leviticus 26:34), “These (eileh) are the mitzvos”; (Deuteronomy 4:45), “These are the testimonies and statutes”; and (Leviticus 23:4 and 23:37), “These are the holidays of G-d.” The word p’kudei is in the plural form for that reason: each of the 248 positive mitzvos plays a specific role in the union of G-d with His Sh’chinah, that is, in the drawing down of G-dliness upon us to the point of our utter union with spirituality, to the point G-d “dwells” and is “at home” within each and every one of our souls.
This inconceivable union and dwelling of G-d with us was physically, tangibly manifest in the Tabernacle and in its successors, the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. This explains why, upon the destruction of the Temple, the prophet wailed (Lamentations 1:16), “For these (eileh) do I weep.”
All the above applies to the openly revealed union and Divine dwelling symbolized by the letters vav and hei, and accomplished through performance of the 248 positive mitzvos. It is the level associated with the first mention in the verse of the word “Tabernacle.” However, as explained above, there is also “the Tabernacle of the Testimony” – the drawing down upon us of such a lofty level that it cannot be grasped or contained in any deed; this is the higher spiritual level associated with yud and hei, and with the negative mitzvos.
Additional insight can be gained from an alternate interpretation of the word eidus (translated until now as “testimony”), which insight will be especially meaningful in light of the approaching holiday of Passover.
In a verse (Ezekiel 16:7) quoted in the Passover Hagadah, we read, “I caused you to increase like the plants of the field, and you increased and grew and came into adi adayim.” The classic Torah commentator Rashi cites two complimentary meanings for the expression adi adayim: one, derived from the word ad, denotes “eternity” (as in (Isaiah 26:4), “Trust in G-d forever [adei ad]”); the second, from the word adi, means “ornament” (as in (Exodus 33:6), “their ornaments [edyam] from Mount Chorev”), and is interpreted by the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) as referring to “crowns.” Both of these interpretations of the phrase adi adayim can be applied to the similar expression in our verse, mishkan haeidus.
The verse quoted in the Passover Hagadah is an allegorical statement by G-d about the Jewish People as they left Egypt. The slavery endured by the Jews in that country broke them down and made them feel worthless. Despite this, they built themselves, with G-d’s help, back up to the point they were fit to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The reference to “the plants of the field” alludes to this: plants grow from seeds, but a prerequisite to that growth is the breakdown and decomposition of the seed. It is not the seed itself that causes the plant to grow; rather, it is the G-dly power of growth embodied within the earth. For this to act upon the plant and cause it to grow, the seed must first nullify itself before this G-dly capacity. In other words, the plant must not rely on the seed (so to speak) for its growth, for this is a false hope; instead it must realize that nothing but G-d Himself causes it to grow. The same applies to the Jews leaving Egypt. The “seed” of our nationhood was planted there, but it was necessary for us to be “nullified” before G-d in order to grow spiritually. The Egyptian bondage broke us down to the point we had no hope but G-d; only then could we be redeemed. Once we were, “[we] increased and grew [va-tigd’li]”: this word for “grew” is a form of the word gadol (“great”), i.e., we “became great.” This refers to our becoming the people of G-d, about Whom it is said (Psalms 145:3), “G-d is great.”
And, finally, we entered into a state of adi adayim: we merited to receive the Torah, as a result of which we were ornamented with two crowns (as the Talmud explains in Shabbos, cited above).
All this applies to our subject: “crowns” symbolize that which surrounds one from without, but cannot be contained within, or made a part of, a person. It represents the “hidden” level of (Psalms 18:12) “He made darkness His concealment,” which, as explained above, is the source from which the Torah and mitzvos shine forth into the world; it is the level associated with the negative mitzvos, observance of which brings down upon us the spiritual level of the letters yud and hei of the Tetragrammaton. This concept of ornamental “crowns” (adi adayim) is also implied by the similar word in our verse: the “Tabernacle of the eidus” (previously translated, “testimony”) also alludes to this level, as we have said.
This is implied by the alternate explanation of adi adayim – “eternity” – as well. For this spiritual level is an effusion of G-dliness from the Ein Sof (“Infinite One”) Himself, and when the Jews were granted this level of holiness, they merited a link to infinity. This, too, is a legitimate connotation of the expression, “Tabernacle of the eidus.” The same can be said of the simple meaning of the word ad – “until” – the implication being, “until this point – but no farther – human understanding can reach, but the level of mishkan haeidus is beyond that point.”
(The reason the phrase adi adayim is in the plural is that, since G-d is infinite, there is no end to the degrees of “crowns”: once one level of “crown” is reached, there is yet a higher level that is a “crown” compared to the first, and so on ad infinitum.)
After all the above, we can appreciate the reason our verse tells us, “the Tabernacle of the Testimony … upon the command [pukad] of Moshe.” We have already explained that the earlier part of the verse, Eileh p’kudei hamishkan, implies that the spiritual level of eileh (i.e., the Six Orders of the Mishnah and the positive mitzvos – the vav of G-d’s name) is what causes the Holy One, blessed is He, to be “visited upon” [p’kudei] and in a state of union with the mishkan – His Divine presence, symbolized by the latter hei of G-d’s name. Now, the verse is going on to inform us what brings about this union between the spiritual levels symbolized by the letters yud and (the first) hei. What brings about revelation of “the Tabernacle of the Testimony [mishkan haeidus],” that unknowable, “hidden” level drawn down through the negative mitzvos? It is “visited upon” [pukad] us through Moshe. For, as explained frequently in Chassidus, Moshe is identified with the quality of bitul, utter nothingness before G-d, as embodied in his statement (Exodus 16:7 and 8), “What are we?” And, as we have just said in connection with adi adayim, to reach this level one must first become utterly nullified in deference to G-d (as a seed must break down before growth). This is also seen in the verse discussed above concerning the “Tribes of Kah” giving thanks before G-d: on this level (the yud and first hei of the Tetragrammaton, which, together, spell Kah), there is utter bitul, implied by the concept of hoda’ah (“thanks, deference”).
All the foregoing sheds light on an aspect of why we eat matzah on Passover. Recall that the verse “I caused you to increase like the plants of the field, and you increased and grew and came into adi adayim” describes the Jews leaving Egypt. On the night of their departure, that is, the first night of Passover, the Jews were granted an extraordinary, exceptional degree of Divine revelation: even though they were still on the relatively low spiritual level of “the plants of the field” – they had just left Egypt and had not yet built themselves up spiritually – nevertheless, they were shown a revelation of G-dliness on the order of adi adayim.
As we have explained, this can ordinarily not be achieved – one cannot attain the level of mishkan haeidus – unless one has first gone the route of eileh p’kudei hamishkan: drawing down this great revelation through the prerequisite of positive mitzvos. Still, G-d allowed us to “fast-track” our connection to Him on the first night of Passover, and to this end, He commanded us to eat matzah. For the very essence of matzah is that it is unleavened and does not rise – symbolizing absence of any trace of self-importance and “puffery” that would preclude total nullification, bitul, before G-d. By fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah, the Jews leaving Egypt (and we, their descendants, to this day), achieved a spiritual level of bitul before G-d that allowed them to experience the revelation of adi adayim on the first night of Passover.
(That is why Passover is, as its name implies, a holiday of “bypassing” the ordinary spiritual order and “leaping” (dilug) directly to a disproportionately higher level.)
This is hinted at by the grammatical construction of the verse (Exodus 13:7), “Matzos shall be eaten [for] the seven days [of Passover].” The Hebrew words “[for] the seven days” are eis shiv’as hayamim, but this seems strange, for the word eis is used to signify the direct object in Hebrew. The implication is that the seven days themselves are what will be eaten – a nonsensical idea. (A more appropriate way to phrase it would have been, b’shiv’as hayamim.) However, the existing wording allows for the following interpretation:
The “seven days” are allusions to the seven s’firos, or Divine attributes, consisting of the za group and malchus. These were explained above as the six “emotional” attributes (za) and G-d’s attribute of sovereignty (malchus) – the vav and the latter hei, respectively, of the Tetragrammaton. These attributes are found within a person, as well: they represent the arousal of love and fear of G-d that come from contemplation of G-d’s greatness, that He is the source of all life, etc. (The idea of contemplation giving rise to love and fear of G-d was mentioned earlier as being hinted at in the verse mi bara eileh, “What created These.”) But this type of contemplation concerns G-d as we know Him from within creation: He created Heaven and earth, gives us life, and so on. This is a limited and essentially flawed perception of G-d.
A person must realize that G-d transcends creation and is utterly unknowable as He is in Himself; all creation is actually nothing before Him. The idea of G-d as Creator of the universe is actually “beneath” Him. This type of contemplation arouses a love for G-d as He is in Himself, a love which comes from this higher consciousness of G-d being felt within the emotions. This level of G-d as He is beyond our comprehension is the level referred to above as adi adayim; it is like a “crown” in that it sits above the head (above the level of intellectual comprehension). Its being felt within our own emotions – which are below the level of intellect – parallels the union and investiture of yud and hei, the sublime, unknowable, “hidden” levels, within vav and hei.
This, then, is the meaning of “Matzos shall be eaten eis shiv’as hayamim,” as though it is the shiv’as hayamim, the seven days themselves, that will be eaten. The “seven days,” our own emotional attributes, need to be pervaded with, not just the limited form of love for G-d as Creator, but genuine love for the Unknowable G-d as He is in Himself. This can only come about through bitul: in the face of G-d Himself, before Whom all is truly as naught, our emotions likewise become nullified, and so open to receive and feel this sublime revelation within them. As stated, bitul and iskafya are represented by matzah, unleavened bread. Thus, through the quality of matzah, the “seven days” – our seven emotional attributes – are themselves “eaten,” consumed, utterly nullified before G-d, and thereby rendered fit for His revelation. G-d commanded the Jews to eat matzah as they left Egypt in order to facilitate this “short-cut” to revelation of adi adayim.
Of course, adi adayim is really a term, and a spiritual level, associated with the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai – which the Jews only reached after 49 days in the wilderness. The “fast-track” to this level was only good for the first night of Passover, as the Jews were actually exiting Egypt. Subsequently, however, the revelations of that awesome night returned on high, and we needed to elevate ourselves to this level once again by the more conventional approach of first refining and elevating our attributes through our own efforts.
That is why we count s’firas ha-omer, the 49 day period between Passover and the holiday on which the Torah was given, i.e., Shavuos. As mentioned above regarding the six attributes termed, “eileh,” each attribute is really a composite of all the others. Applied to the full seven attributes (i.e., malchus in addition to za) this yields seven times seven, or forty nine – the days of the s’fira count. Each day, we are to raise another component of our emotional attributes to the level of bitul before G-d; when this has been fully accomplished, we merit revelation of adi adayim with the giving of the Torah.
And this is why we are told, regarding s’fira, (Leviticus 23:16), “You shall count fifty days.” In fact, we only count 49 days; why does the Torah mention a fiftieth? The reason is that the fiftieth day is that of Shavuos, the giving of the Torah, itself, upon which the spiritual level of adi adayim was finally reached. The 49 days of preparation for this event through the mitzvah of s’firas ha-omer were on the level of all positive mitzvos, which can be encapsulated within an action – in this case, counting each day. However, the final result – revelation of the spiritual level of adi adayim – was of the order of the negative mitzvos, higher than could be “contained” within any affirmative action. Accordingly, the fiftieth day required no actual count.
At this point, we are at last ready to examine why all this was considered “the task of the Levites, by the hand of Isamar son of Aharon the Priest.”
Everything we have said to this point is reflected in our daily prayers. There is a well-known teaching (Zohar I:18b) to the effect that the first verse of the Shema prayer corresponds to the spiritual level known as yichuda ilah (higher-order unity). This level is that of the union of the letters yud and hei of G-d’s name, the level we have identified with the mishkan ha’eidus that was made at the command of Moshe. After this initial verse of the Shema, we go on to recite, “and you shall love G-d … with all your heart.” This refers to the type of love that is aroused within our emotional attributes through intellectual contemplation, the level associated with the mishkan alone (i.e., not ha’eidus). This is called yichuda tata’ah (lower-order unity).
However, to enable us to reach the Shema’s lofty levels of worship, the sages included in our prayer service the preparatory stage called p’sukei d’zimra, “songs of praise [to G-d].” Without these songs, we would not be able to attain the level of yichuda ilah in the initial verse of the Shema. Song uplifts a person, raising him or her to a higher level spiritually. This was the function of the Levites in the Holy Temple: they would sing holy, Divinely-inspired songs and play musical instruments to raise the spirits – literally – of the worshippers and enable them to succeed in their spiritual quest. That is also why it was the Levites’ task to carry the mishkan, to raise it aloft and bear it from place to place.
Now, how does this work – that through the “Levite” quality of p’sukei d’zimra, the Songs of Praise, we are capable of reaching yichuda ilah at prayer? To answer this, we must understand the nature of the Levite songs themselves.
It is written (Ezekiel 1:14), “The living creatures [of Heaven] ran and returned like the appearance of lightning.” Rashi explains this to mean like the flame of a furnace, in the sense that such a flame is constantly flickering in and out. This is likewise a feature of the G-dly soul (nefesh ha-Elokis) in every Jew, about which it is written (Proverbs 20:27), “The candle of G-d is the soul of Man.” Our souls, too, burn like a flame with inspiration for G-d, first one type, then the other, in a continually repeating cycle by which we rise ever higher in our yearning for G-d. Song also rises and falls, rises and falls, and the holy Levite songs were calculated to resonate with our souls’ natural “running and returning” to G-d and help it along, inspiring and raising it ever higher to Him.
Likewise, they raised and carried aloft the mishkan: this is the concept mentioned earlier concerning how the “lower Jerusalem” would rise up (through the service in the Temple during the Holiday pilgrimages) and unite with the “higher Jerusalem.” In our prayers as well, the Songs of Praise elevate our souls from a lower-level of love for G-d – that based on our own understanding and therefore compared to the mishkan – to the higher level of love, by the time we reach the first verse of the Shema, associated with the term mishkan ha’eidus.
(Indeed, this is the meaning of the word levi (Levite): it denotes attachment, joining, as when the Levites would raise up the lower level and unite it with the higher.)
Now, the verse says, “…by the word of Moshe, the task of the Levites.” Although the phrase “by the word of Moshe” refers to that which precedes it (i.e., the accounting of the materials for the mishkan), it can also be understood as applying to what follows it: “the task of the Levites.” The above task of the Levites, the raising of mishkan to the level of mishkan ha’eidus, was itself enabled by Moshe.
The word meaning “commanded by” Moshe is pukad. This contains the identical Hebrew letters, in different order, as the word defek, “pulse.” The significance of this is that Kabbalistically, the pulse is spiritually rooted in the “rearward” levels (achorayim) of the attribute of chochmah (“wisdom”). The dynamic of “running and returning” discussed above is derived from this mystical, Heavenly “pulse,” as reflected in the fact that the physical pulse rises and falls, runs and returns – “pulsates.” It was the Levites who were responsible for the spiritual “running and returning” by which one’s soul, and the mishkan generally, rose ever higher, and the Levites themselves originated on the spiritual plane of the Supernal Pulse.
On the other hand, as noted above, Moshe was the embodiment of the quality of bitul, which is manifest exclusively in chochmah. Since the supernal pulse derives from the rearward aspects of chochmah, it turns out that Moshe – associated with chochmah – is the mystical source of the Levites. This is what is meant by the implication that the task of the Levites was itself carried out by the power of Moshe.
However, the spiritual concept of pulsation involves a drawing back as well as a sending forth, and this drawing back is unique to the attribute of chochmah. As we have said, chochmah has a counterpart in the attribute of bina (“understanding”); chochmah is symbolized by the yud of G-d’s name and bina by the first hei. On the level of bina there is no “drawing back,” only “pumping forth”; bina is mystically said to be located in the heart, the function of which is to pump forth blood throughout the body’s circulatory system. Despite this, there is discernible within the blood flow itself a reflection of the chochmah that underlies bina, in that, even in flowing forth, the blood has a “pulse” to it, something associated with chochmah. This represents the union of chochmah with bina, the union of the letters yud and hei. As applied to the drawing down of G-dliness into the word, this great and mystical union is achieved through the negative mitzvos, which were explained above as originating from this level of yud and hei. That is why, to revisit something said much earlier, although the positive mitzvos correspond to the body’s limbs and organs, the negative mitzvos correspond to the blood vessels.
Finally, all this was accomplished “at the hand of Isamar son of Aharon the Priest.” The goal is not to be in an endless loop of running and returning, running and returning, even though this in pursuit of the desirable objective of bitul. Rather, one should seek to bring that bitul to rest in some way within oneself, to stabilize and contain it within some suitable vessel so as to make it last. The “vessel” that can do this is the spoken words of one’s Torah study. That is why, after we touch upon running and returning in the first and subsequent verses of the Shema respectively, we mention (Deuteronomy 6:7), “and you shall speak of them [Torah matters] while sitting in your house, etc.” “Speaking” is symbolic of drawing down and expressing something in words; here, we express that bitul of running and returning and stabilize it within the words of Torah.
But this only works provided the speech is itself done with bitul. If the person just wants to show off their knowledge or if they think highly of themselves because of it, it is worthless for this purpose; to “contain” and make lasting the spiritual revelations reached by the struggle of running and returning, the words of Torah must be uttered with true humility – in the recognition that they are not one’s own words at all, but the word of G-d that the person is privileged to speak. That is the implication of the name “Isamar.” It is related to the Aramaic word, common throughout the Talmud, itmar, “it has been said.” That is, the words should be spoken as though in the passive voice: one should feel as though one is not actively “saying” words of Torah, they are, rather, G-d’s own words “being said” through this person. This is also implied by the statement “by the word of Moshe,” for of Moshe, the very embodiment of bitul, it is said, “the Divine presence would speak from his throat.”
It thus develops that there are two directions for this union we have been discussing: the Levites facilitated the union of the mishkan with the mishkan ha’eidus, the “lower Jerusalem” with the “upper Jerusalem,” by their inspiring and uplifting us in “running and returning” and their raising up of the lower level to the higher. Afterwards, through engaging in Torah study in the manner of bitul signified by the word Isamar, the union and investiture of yud and hei with vav and hei is achieved, a process moving from above to below. And all this was done, at root, “by the word of Moshe.”
The entire process is mirrored, in fact, facilitated, by the arrangement of our prayers: first p’sukei d’zimra, which lift us up, then the yichuda ilah of the first verse of the Shema, then the yichuda tata’ah of the following verse, and finally, the bringing it all “down to earth” through Torah study, as we recite, “and you shall speak of them, etc.”
Isamar is identified as “the son of Aharon the Priest,” because ultimately, the priestly function (in contrast to the Levite function of raising up) was to transmit G-dly benevolence downward from above. Aharon’s task was to endow us with the power to achieve everything that has been said above.
One theme that has emerged from all this is that the letters vav and hei are lower in spiritual stature than those of yud and hei, and we raise them up and unite them with the higher two through our worship. However, all that applies only to the present, pre-Messianic, era. Regarding the Messianic age, it is written (Zecharia 14:9), “On that day, G-d will be One and His name will be One.” The word “will be,” yihiyeh, is spelled with the letters yud and hei repeated twice: this is because at that time, even the level now represented by vav and hei will be elevated to the same plane as the first yud and hei. This is because in the Messianic era, that which is presently “hidden” and can only be described in terms of what it is not (that is, the level of yud and hei) will be drawn so far down to earth as to be openly expressed within what we now know as the level of vav and hei.
And this is the true “dwelling place within the lower realms” desired by G-d. Even this lowest realm will be so infused with open G-dliness as to be on the level of yud and hei. Indeed, this “home within the lower realms” is so precious to G-d that the level that is presently vav and hei will not merely be equal to the present yud and hei, it will actually surpass and be superior to it. That is why it is elsewhere written of Messianic times (Isaiah 27:13 and elsewhere), “And it will be, on that day….” The word “and it will be,” vehaya, is spelled vav, then hei, then yud, then hei – actually reversing the present order and placing vav and hei first.
Copyright 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!