E S E R T S A N D B E A M S
a discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi published in 1807
Israelites spent forty years in a desert. From place to place they traveled along
with a portable temple, the tabernacle. What was the purpose of all this? What
did it achieve?]
The desert is a desolate place, where plants or grass
cannot grow. Such an environment is antithetical to the spirit of holiness, where
beneficence is the rule. Life and vitality comes from G-d. He is called a tzadik,
from the word tzedakah, “charity,” since He is a benefactor and a “baal
tzedakah,” a “philanthropist.”
Indeed the entire realm of holiness shares
the attribute of kindness. But whereas G-d’s kindness stems from His attribute
of greatness, the kindness of the realm of holiness stems from humility. The holy
creature is nullified to G-d and sees himself as nothing. He therefore considers
the other to be more worthy.
Abraham, for example, considered himself dust
and ashes and was therefore kind and giving to all people.
On the other
hand, a person who sees himself as a “something,” and is not nullified, needs
everything for himself and does not give to others.
desert is therefore a place of snakes, serpents and scorpions (Deut. 8:15), the
three kelipot, which are the source for all separateness and lack of nullification.
passage of the ark and the Israelites through the desert subdued the negativity
of the desert. The revelation of Divinity in the tabernacle as they carried it
through the desert automatically neutralized the negative forces. Like wax, they
melted away. [See Zohar 2:184a.]
neutralization served as a preparation for the Messianic Future, so that it will
then be possible for Divinity to be apparent in our lowly world. This revelation
will be possible only because of the previous neutralization of the source of
concealment and separateness in the desert.
(Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss:
It can be suggested that this two-stage process parallels the two stages that
must take place in man’s spiritual discipline. First he must achieve the level
of iskafya, suppressing his negative inclinations so that he can reach
the level of ishapacha, transformation of darkness to light. Without achieving
the level of suppression, he cannot hope to reach the level of transformation.
Similarly, the future revelation—actual revelation of Divinity in the lowly
world, the transformation of darkness to actual light, when in the evening
there will be light…(Zechariah 14:7)—can only take place after the desert
has been suppressed.
(Elsewhere (Likutei Torah Maasei), the
author explains that the suppression of the desert empowered man to suppress his
What is this future revelation
of which we speak?
In reality, from the perspective of the Divine essence,
there is no concealment of Divinity at all. Before Him all is naught. There is
no difference between pre-creation and post-creation. Even after creation He is
the only existence as He was before creation. How so?
All of creation comes
into being, from nothingness, by virtue of the Divine letters. By the word
of G-d were the heavens created, says the Psalmist (33:6). [Why
is the metaphor of speech used for creation? Let us gain insight by examining
the nature of human speech, which reflects the nature of Divine speech.]
speech is nullified and subordinate to thought; it is totally insignificant. It
is only for the listener that speech is a “something.”
So it is with Divine
speech: The letters that make up the “Ten Utterances” of creation [Let
there be light; Let there be a firmament etc.] are only significant
in the eyes of the creatures that come into being from them. But from the perspective
of the Divine essence, they are as naught. The letters make the world a “something”
in our eyes; but for Him there is no concealment at all.
In the Future, with the revelation of
the Divine essence, no concealment will obscure the Divine reality, even in the
lowest world Assyiah. The physical mind will see divinity. This revelation will
be possible because of the passage of the tabernacle through the desert.
The above is a description of the purpose of the
actual passage of the tabernacle through the desert, on the level of Olam (“world”),
Space. This takes place now as well on the level of Nefesh (‘soul”), Human.
Sefer Yetzirah reality is divided into three designations: World, Year, Soul,
or Olam Shanah, Nefesh, or Space, Time, Human.]
dynamic of the tabernacle exists within every soul. All of its details and particulars
have their parallel in the human condition.
When G-d commands the Israelites
to construct the tabernacle, He says: Build for me a temple, and I shall dwell
within you (Ex. 25:8). He does not say I will dwell within it—but
rather within you.
Every person must create
a tabernacle in his own self; he must allow Divinity to be revealed in his being.
This is achieved through worship of the heart, prayer; through purification of
the heart, as King David asks of G-d: Create for me a pure heart…. (51:12).
When a person’s heart is pure of any dross and is entirely devoted to G-d it is
then called a tabernacle.
(Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss: This is related
to the saying of our sages of blessed memory (end of Shekalim ch. 3): Purity
brings to holiness. See Reishit Chochmah (Gate of Holiness ch. 5).)
creation of the human tabernacle neutralizes the concealment created by the animal
soul. The coarseness of the animal soul makes the world appear separate from Divinity.
But when the heart is purified, the Divine reality becomes apparent. Even within
the realm of concealment there is no concealment.
Just as the tabernacle
neutralized the desert so the human tabernacle neutralizes the human desert. The
human desert is the place of all deeds, words and thoughts that are not directed
toward Divinity. This is a desolate and uninhabitable place, the yetzer hara
(evil inclination), which must be subdued.
(Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss:
Elsewhere the author explains that good deeds can precede the total eradication
of every vestige of evil; that the introduction of light automatically subdues
negativity; that a small amount of light pushes away much darkness [Tanya
ch. 12 based on Ecclesiastes 2:13]. Similarly, the passage of the tabernacle
automatically subdued the kelipot, as in the verse [said before the Torah is removed from the ark in the
synagogue]: When the ark would travel…and your enemies will flee.
So it is in the soul. The introduction of light through Torah study and prayer,
the body and animal soul are automatically subdued.)
Let us now explain
the spiritual significance of the beams that made up the walls of the tabernacle.
The Torah calls them “standing acacia wood” (Ex. 26:15). Angels too are called
“standing” [see Isaiah 6:2] and indeed the Midrash draws a parallel between
the dutiful standing of the angels and these beams.
Standing equals silence
[see Sotah 39a]—silence of all sense of
self, a quieting of all foreign desires that man craves and fancies. When those
cravings are allowed to be expressed it is “negative movement.” “Positive movement,”
on the other hand, refers to the movement of the soul in its ever-growing love
and desire for Divinity. [Indeed the soul is called
a “mehalech,” one that moves and grows in a positive sense, as opposed
to the angels who are called omdim, standing stationary.]
in order to graduate from “negative movement” to its positive form, one must experience
“standing,” silencing of the lower modes of movement. (Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss:
As we mentioned above, iskafya (suppression) must precede ishaphca
This experience is the “standing acacia wood” of the
human tabernacle. It is the basis upon which all further spiritual achievement
is founded. It can be compared to the bones of a person upon which are added flesh,
sinews etc. Similarly, the beams are the base upon which was added cloths of blue
and purple wool. These cloth coverings in the human tabernacle are the “positive
movement” of ecstatic love for the Divine.
was specifically the sons of Merari, a word that connotes bitterness, who
carried the beams, since it is through honest introspection and attendant contrition
that one attains the level of “standing,” which in turn leads to the cloth coverings
of the tabernacle, experiences of love and ecstasy.
by Rabbi Yossi Marcus from Likutei Torah. Corrections:. firstname.lastname@example.org]
Timna, a member of a royal family, sought to convert
to the faith of Abraham. She was refused. Instead, she became a concubine of Eliphaz,
son of Esau. She said: “Better a maidservant to this nation than princess to another!”
(Sanhedrin, 99b). Even if she could not convert she wished to be related
to Abraham and therefore married his great-grandson.
indeed was she not accepted as a convert? The answer can be found in her name:
Timna. Timna means “withhold,” and connotes selfishness. Because
she was a selfish person, she was unworthy of joining the family of Abraham, a
family distinguished by a generous and giving spirit. Eliezer, servant of Abraham,
knew that Rebecca would become Isaac's wife when she demonstrated her kindness
by offering water for Eliezer and his camels.