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Adapted from Derech Mitzvosecha by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

(95 [ the 95th mitzvah of the Torah])

To Build a Temple, as it is written, “They shall make for Me a temple and I will reside within them” (Ex. 25:8).

The following are the integral aspects of the temple’s construction: It must have a section called Holy and one that is called Holy of Holies.  Before the Holy there shall be a space called the Ulam. All three together are called Heichal. A wall shall be built surrounding the Heichal at a distance similar to the distance between the Tabernacle and the fence that surrounded its courtyard. All that is surrounded by this wall, similar to the courtyard of the Tabernacle, is called Azarah. The entire structure is called Mikdash (temple). Inside the temple there shall be the vessels enumerated in the Torah: the ark in the Holy of Holies, the Menorah, the Table, the inner Altar in the Holy, and the outer Altar in the Courtyard.


THE primary purpose of the temple is to facilitate the revelation of Divinity—“and I shall reside within them.” We are therefore commanded to construct the temple so that it mirrors the structure of the worlds as they are emanated from the Essence of the Eyn Sof.  

To explain. In Mishnas Chasidim[2], the process of creation is described as follows: The Eyn Sof constricted His light and cleared a place [i.e., emptied it of His light], a circular place etc. He then drew into this space a Column of light (kav). The light descended in circles, creating ten circles one within the other, each circle being further and further away from the Eyn Sof. These ten circles are the ten sefiros: Kesser, Chochmah, Binah etc. The descent of these circles was followed by the emanation of the ten sefiros of “straightness,” yosher, etc.,[3] see there (Maseches Alef Beis, Seder Zeraim).

[These descriptions are obviously not to be understood in a spatial sense. Chasidus often emphasizes that “surrounding” means transcendent, i.e., unperceivable and ungraspable.

Although this description seems to imply that both iggulim and yosher emanate equally from “the Column,” the truth is that iggulim stems from the “great circle” that precedes the Column. See footnote.]

The meaning of this is as follows. It is known that the internal, permeating light, ohr pnimi [yosher], is the light that provides revelation of Divinity within each realm according to its specific properties. The light that “surrounds,” ohr makkif [iggulim], remains hidden and does not differentiate between one realm and the next.

Now, the Holy One blessed is He desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds that would mirror the beginning of the process of emanation from the Essence of the Eyn Sof. He therefore commanded that the Tabernacle (and similarly the Temple) be constructed in a manner that includes both makkif and pnimi, surrounding and internal [iggulim and yosher]:

The covers and boards that surrounded the Tabernacle mirror the surrounding lights that are a) beyond Atzilus, and b) those within Atzlilus. [There were two basic layers surrounding the Tabernacle: 1) the boards that made up its walls, and 2) the covers that were draped over the entire structure. Apparently, the Tzemach Tzedek is saying that the covers, the outer circle, correspond to the surrounding lights that are beyond Atzilus, whereas the boards, which formed the inner circle, correspond to the surrounding lights that are within Atzilus.]

The vessels, by contrast, mirror the internal light, which emanates from the Column and provides actual revelation of Divinity in every world. Thus we find that each of the vessels served as a vehicle for Divine revelation:

The Ark: “I will set My meetings with you there, and I shall speak to you…from between the two Cherubim…” (Ex. 25:22)  The Altar: A fire descended from heaven [and consumed the offerings, a clear of demonstration of Divine presence]The Menorah: The Talmud (Shabbos 22b) calls it a “testimony for the entire world that the Divine presence rests amid Israel.” [The Talmud explains that one of the lamps of the Menorah miraculously burned throughout the day.] The Table: The show-bread remained hot [and fresh throughout the week].


Why both?

The general concept of transcendent and internal light demands explanation. If revelation comes through the internal light, what need is there for the transcendent light? Why is it that creation—indeed, any Divine influx—takes place through both lights?

In Tikunei Zohar (ch. 2) it is written that creation is described in two ways: 1) as the word of G-d—“by G-d’s word were the heavens made” (Psalms 33:6), and 2) the desire of G-d—“G-d created all that He desired” (ibid. 135:6). The word of G-d refers to the internal light, while the desire of G-d refers to the transcendent light.

There it is also explained that the transcendent light is the one that provides the primary source of life for all beings. The difference between the two lights is that the transcendent remains concealed, while the internal is revealed. Furthermore, the transcendent treats each level equally, while the internal is subdivided and applied to the specific capacity of each realm.

Here we shall add for you a metaphor from “my flesh” [as in the verse, “from my flesh I perceive G-d” (Job 19:26), man being a metaphor for the Divine], from the manifestation of the soul in the body, which also provides two different life forces: transcendent and internal.

The internal life force varies from one limb to another. Wisdom resides in the brain, emotion in the heart, etc. Now the wisdom that resides in the brain does so in a revealed manner—the nature and being of the wisdom is sensed by the brain. The brain is “filled” with the wisdom as a vessel fills with water. This is because the physical makeup of the brain is a suitable vessel for wisdom. And so it is with the other limbs and their particular abilities. This is the internal light, which the soul extends to the limbs, and which must be consistent with the “vessel,” the particular limb.

The transcendent life force is the soul’s desire and will. We observe that as soon as the soul wishes the hand or foot to move its desire is immediately fulfilled. This tells us that the soul’s will is manifest in the foot, literally. Otherwise, there would be some delay between the soul’s desire and the implementation. Indeed it is known that there are “arteries and veins” of the brain that spread throughout the body, and which do not contain blood. Their function is only to serve as vessels for the soul’s desire so that it can rule over the body through them, to move the hand or leg. Yet the actual movement takes place through the internal life force, which is manifest in the blood and which grows stronger through the consumption of food and drink.

So the will of the soul exists throughout the body but in a concealed manner.  The limb cannot sense it. It is not manifest in the manner of lights and suitable vessels and therefore does not differentiate between the limbs. The head and the foot are equal.

All of this is a metaphor for the two types of light that sustains the world, transcendent and manifest, sovev and memale.

Just as the will of the soul controls the body through the internal life-force, so too the transcendent light creates the beings through the internal light.


This dual Divine light explains an apparent contradiction between two verses. In Isaiah (6:3) it is written that the earth is filled with his glory, i.e., radiance. By contrast, in Jeremiah (23:24) we read, “I fill heaven and earth”—G-d Himself, not just His radiance. The first verse refers to the permeating light, the light of memale, while the second verse speaks of the transcendent light, sovev, for which heaven and earth are equal.

Post-Temple Era

Even after the Temple is destroyed, it is still possible to draw forth the lights that were present in the Temple and its vessels. This is done through one’s divine service—“and I will reside in them,” says G-d [not “in it,” i.e., the Temple]—for every soul possesses covers and vessels:

The inner and outer hearts are the inner and outer altars. The outer heart is home to the animalistic drives of man, which must be elevated like the animals on the outer altar. This service is experienced during the section of prayer called pesukei d’zimrah, verses of praise.

The inner heart is a place that is beyond such struggle. The service of the inner heart is to unite with G-d in a wondrous union. Similarly, no animal is placed on the inner altar, only the incense. [The Hebrew word for incense, ketores, connotes “tying” and unifying (kesher).] This is experienced during the section of prayer called Emes v’yatziv. [In a similar vein, the Tzemach Tzedek explains the significance of all the vessels in the human experience.]

Drawing forth the transcendent light, the “covers,” refers to the service of G-d that is performed against one’s will, contrary to the inclination of mind and heart. [Just as the transcendent light remains hidden, so too in such service the motivation and spiritual experience is not apparent and G-d is served despite their absence.] This level is beyond the service performed with desire and comprehension and elicits the supernal will, which resided in the covers—the level beyond Chochmah and Binah. 


[1] The discourse is taken from Derech Mitzvosecha (Path of Your Commandments), subtitled Taamei Hamitvos (Reasons of the Mitzvos). Derech Mitzvosecha was written by the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (known as the Tzemach Tzedek), some time between 1814 and 1828. It was published for the first time in Paltava in 1911. As its title suggests, the book is a collection of discourses that expound upon the inner meaning of the Torah’s commandments. The Tzemach Tzedek provides the kabbalistic significance of some 60 of the 613 commandments of the Torah. The following is an excerpt from the discourse entitled “The Mitzvah of Building the Temple,“ which explains the kabbalistic significance of the Tabernacle that the Israelites built in the desert as well as the Temples built in Jerusalem.

[2]A kabbalistic work by Rabbi Emanuel Chai Riki, one of the commentators on Arizal’s teachings (1688-1743).

[3] See the essay on Mikeitz, “Dreams and Circles.” Iggulim and Yosher: Creation is described in Kabbala as a process including “circles and straightness,” iggulim and yosher (see Eitz Chaim, drush iggulim v’yosher). In short, iggulim describes the Divine light that does not conform or tailor itself to the recipient of the light. It remains “undefined” and infinite like a circle that has no beginning or end. The source of iggulim is the “great circle” that precedes the kav (Column of light). Yosher represents the Divine light that conforms to the recipient; it is rooted in the “kav,” or “line,” which entered the “hollow” space of Divine concealment after the original tzimtzum. Yosher refers to the manifestation of Divinity through the ten sefiros as they are in the form of a man, the triads of Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferes etc. See Derech Mitzvosecha 76b-77a. Iggulim “surrounds” and transcends its subject (makkif) and is not internalized, while Yosher is identified with ohr pnimi, a light that is internalized by its recipient. Iggulim is the source of transcendence, faith, beyond nature and rules, while yosher is the source for revelation, immanence, intellect and emotions, internalization, and the natural order.

Rabbi Yossi Marcus is director of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California. He is also the editor of the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators at Kehot Publication Society.


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