'Roots' - Jewish Style
The Tabernacle that is presented in our Parsha and the two Temples that subsequently replaced it, as central as they are to a Torah-based world, are spiritual phenomena that are nevertheless difficult to relate to. Jewish tradition informs us that the redemption from exile is inextricably intertwined with the rebuilding of the Temple. A large part of our prayers focus on the expectation of its restoration and of the sacrifices that constituted its ritual.
Yet, how can we conceptualize an infinite non-physical God living in a tent or occupying a building? Why is such a prospect so central to the Jewish vision of Redemption? There seems to be a yawning chasm to be bridged between the everyday world of our mundane perceptions and the lofty spiritual sphere that these holy structures occupy.
THE TABERNACLE'S DETAILS AS SUPPORT FOR THE SINAIC ORIGIN OF TORAH
Let us make two points before we tackle the problem afresh. One of the most powerful indicators of the authenticity of the Sinaic origin of the Torah is the detailed description of the Tabernacle. There is no conceivable motivation for people who lived a thousand years after the Exodus to describe a Tabernacle that no longer exists in such exhaustive detail. Many of the artifacts described in Parshat Trumah were no longer extant at the time their precise measurements were recorded according to the Bible critics.
Folk legends could faithfully transmit the tradition that a Tabernacle had been erected in the desert, but such word-of-mouth transmissions could hardly provide a solid basis for such an accurate record of all its artifacts and their dimensions. Such details would have to be invented out of thin air and it is difficult to imagine the motivation for engaging in such an exercise. In a peculiar way it is our Parsha, the record of the instructions concerning the Tabernacle, that authenticates the Sinaic origins of the entire Torah.
THE INTRINSIC NECESSITY FOR THE DETAIL
The second point concerns the intrinsic necessity for all the detail. For it is clear that the motivation of the Divine editor in providing it was hardly the probative value these details undoubtedly possess. Last year's essay was based on Rabbi Chaim of Voloz'hin's interpretation of the verse, "They shall make a sanctuary for Me -- so that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25,8)." The Rabbis of the Talmud inform us that this is a commandment that applies to all Jews throughout all generations(Talmud, Sanhedrin, 16b.) Rabbi Chaim's problem was to supply actual content to this historic obligation which clearly cannot be understood as an injunction to construct a Temple on a practical level. The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, contains no record of the actions that must be undertaken in fulfillment of this obligation.
TRANSFORMING JEWISH HEARTS INTO THE HOLY OF HOLIES
Rabbi Chaim's theory: (Nefesh Hachaim, Gate 1,4) Every Jew is a living Tabernacle and every Jewish heart is a Holy of Holies, a potential resting place of the Divine Presence. If we were able to comprehend the deeper meaning of the instructions set forth in Parshat Trumah, we would perceive them as a blueprint that can guide us in transforming ourselves into living Tabernacles. It is the actualization of the potential of every Jewish heart to serve as the repository of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, that the Talmud refers to when it defines the construction of a Tabernacle as an obligation that is incumbent on all Jews in every generation to carry out.
We propose to bring the actual Tabernacle and its function closer to our perception in this essay by exploring another aspect of the ramifications of this obligation referred to by Rabbi Chaim of transforming our hearts into a Holy of Holies. The Tabernacle is remote, but the human soul is a part of each of us and is more accessible.
THE HUMAN SOUL IS A MULTI-TIERED STRUCTURE
The human soul, or Neshama, much like the human body, is a complex entity that is subdivided into various parts. The highest part, the origin of the entire entity, is referred to by the name of the whole and is called Neshama. This part of the soul is described in Jewish tradition as being a part of God Himself. It is from this contact point of the Neshama with God that we originate spiritually, and it is through this part of the human soul that we can connect ourselves back to God. As God is a metaphysical being who can only be accessed through the realm of thoughts and ideas, the Neshama connects us back to Him by generating the thoughts and perceptions that we human beings require to be able to understand God. The vessel that traps the Divine light generated by the connection of the Neshama to God is the human mind.
The next part of the Neshama is referred to as the Ruach, or the human spirit. Our perception of the purpose of life and the basic elements of our characters are generated by this part of our souls. The Ruach takes the ideas produced in the mind by the contact of the Neshama with Divinity and applies them to formulate the conceptual structure on which we construct our lives and shapes the character of our interaction with the outside world. The vessel that receives the Divine light generated by the Ruach is the human heart.
The lowest part of the human soul is called the Nefesh. The Nefesh is the only part of the soul that is actually contained in our bodies. The Nefesh is the life force, the energy and joy of life that course through us. The vessel that traps the Divine light of the Nefesh which is provided by the contact of the Ruach with the Neshama is the blood that circulates through our bodies and generates the life force required by our limbs. The focus of its power is in the liver, the body's laboratory for processing blood.
THE POWER OF THE INTEGRATED SOUL
When our souls are fully integrated, that is to say, the connections between the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshama are in the highest expression of their potential, we can survive indefinitely without food or drink. Thus Moses and Elijah both spent extensive periods in God's presence on Mt. Sinai and survived physically without food or drink. The Divine light that shone in their bodies through the medium of their Nefesh was able to sustain them physically without the need for physical inputs. Israel lived for forty years in the dessert on the manna, a spiritual food that has nothing in common with carbohydrates or proteins.
The attainment of such a level of spiritual integration is the human being at his most majestic. The word in Hebrew for brain is Moach, for heart -- Lev, and for the liver -- Koved. Combining the first letter in each of these words gives us the Hebrew word Melech, meaning king. When the Neshama expresses itself in the human mind, the Ruach in the human heart and the Nefesh in the human life force, man becomes a truly regal creature worthy of God's respect.
THE HUMAN SOUL PROVIDES A TEMPLATE TO UNDERSTAND GOD'S INTERACTION WITH THE UNIVERSE
Rabbi Chaim points out that this connection between soul and body in the micro world of the human individual, has a counterpart in the interaction between God and the macro world of the created universe. The portion of the Divinity in the universe that parallels the human Nefesh is called the Shechina. It is this portion of the Divine Presence that is in actual contact with the created universe and sustains it in the same manner that the human Nefesh sustains the human body. Just as the Nefesh is the life force of the individual, the Shechina is the source of the universal life force that sustains the universe.
THE UNIQUENESS OF THE NEFESH
The Nefesh has a remarkable quality that is not possessed by the Ruach or the Neshama. While the Neshama always retains its connection to God, and the Ruach never loses its connection to the Neshama, the Nefesh has the capacity to detach from the rest of the human soul. This process of detachment is referred to in the Torah as Karet, a word in Hebrew whose literal meaning is 'to sever or cut,' and is invariably associated with the Nefesh; thus, "that person (Nefesh) shall be cut off from before Me, I am God" (Vayikra 22:3) or "For if anyone commits any of these abominations, the people (Nefoshot) doing so will be cut off from among their people" (Ibid. 18:29).
Commenting on the first reference, the Zohar (Trumah 142b) says the following: what is the meaning of the words "from before me"? The Ruach does not rest on such a Nefesh, and when the Ruach is severed from it, the Nefesh has nothing in common with the spiritual realms above.
RESULTS OF SPIRITUAL SEVERANCE
We can bring this idea of severance down to earth through the concept of self-discipline. Generally, we do not need to discipline ourselves to eat. On the contrary, discipline must be applied so that we do not overindulge. Our life force drives us to food and towards any activity that offers the prospect of physical gratification. On the other hand we generally need to discipline ourselves to do things that we do not regard as physically gratifying, even when they are not unpleasant. When the things we regard as necessary to do are actually unpleasant, we must literally force ourselves to do them, and the force we must apply is directly proportional to the degree of unpleasantness.
A spiritually healthy person, whose Nefesh is fully connected to his Ruach, and through his Ruach to his Neshama, experiences the same sort of reaction to spiritual phenomena that we experience to physical gratification. It doesn't require any discipline for the person with a fully integrated Nefesh to bring himself to learn Torah or to perform mitzvot. His life force drives him to these activities in the same fashion that the life force drives him towards food and drink. It is only when the Nefesh is not fully integrated with the Ruach that spiritual activities become burdensome and require discipline.
The greater the degree of detachment of the Nefesh, the greater the discipline required. People have free will, and a person can always bring himself to do whatever he feels is important, but the performance of pleasant tasks is infinitely easier than those that we find distasteful. The person with a Nefesh that has experienced Karet, will find learning Torah and the performance of mitzvot very burdensome. He will require much self-discipline to adhere to the Sabbath laws, or to rise in time for prayers in the morning. The Sabbath will seem endless and the services will only inspire boredom.
KORET HAS A GLOBAL PARALLEL
Applying this idea to the parallel Rabbi Chaim established between the connections formed among the parts of the individual human soul and the connection between the Shechina, the Divine Nefesh and the universe, gives us the following result. The universe will provide bountiful support for the life of Torah only as long as the Shechina is firmly attached to its higher counterpart known as HaKodesh Baruch Hu, or the Holy One, the Source of all Being. Just as the human life force will be channeled by the fully integrated Nefesh towards spiritual activities because of the intense joy such a Nefesh experiences in the performance of such activities, the Shechina will drive the universe to supply and create the physical conditions required to nurture lives full of spirituality. The universe will literally take joy in the Torah life that it supports.
On the other hand, when the human Nefesh is not in a healthy state and its connection with the Ruach and the Neshama weakens, the connection between the Shechina and the higher parts of the Divine Consciousness automatically follow suit. The Shechina also becomes detached from its moorings, as it were, and the world drifts away from supporting lives of spirituality. The universe must be disciplined and forced to grudgingly provide the physical support for a Torah life. The Jewish people experience this state of affairs as Exile.
THE DUAL ASPECT OF JEWS
We have often explained in these essays that every Jew exists in two dimensions. On the one hand he is an individual human being with his own individual destiny, but on the other hand he is also an appendage of the Jewish people. In fact, it is the Jewish people as a collective entity that is called Adam by the Torah, not the individual Jew. [see Talmud Yevamot, 61a and Tosefot ibid.]
In a time of Exile the individual Jew can still retain his own connection to the Shechina. Every Jew can perfect his individual Nefesh by the zealous pursuit of a Torah life, and if he does, his Nefesh fully connects to his Ruach, and his Ruach to his Neshama, and the entire individual becomes a Holy of Holies as Rabbi Chaim explained. But all this takes place in the invisible inner spiritual world of the individual rather than in the public domain of the visible universe.
In order for the Shechina to be manifest in the visible universe, Jews must perfect their Nefesh in their capacity as appendages of the Jewish people. For, just as the Shechina connects with every Jew in his individual capacity, the Shechina also connects with the Jewish people as a whole, the collective Adam. Jewish tradition tells us that the universe was created for Adam. We have already explained that this Adam is the Jewish collective. When this collective Adam perfects the connection between his Nefesh and his Neshama the Shechina rests on him and only then does the universe experience redemption.
REDEMPTION IS THE CONNECTION WITH THE SHECHINA MADE VISIBLE
When the collective Jewish soul is integrated with God, this state of integration can be observed and experienced on a global scale. It is this state of global integration that is made visible through the Temple. Redemption is not an individual phenomenon but a universal experience. In a state of redemption the joy of Torah observance becomes manifest in the world. The universe responds to the collective connection with God by demonstrating the connection of the Shechina, the universal life force, to the Holy One, the Source of all Blessings. Blessing and abundance floods the world, and there is universal peace and prosperity.
Just as the spiritually integrated individual experiences the joy of spirituality, the integrated universe becomes a spiritual place. No longer does it need to be disciplined to provide the physical inputs for the Torah life. It runs to supply them with intense joy.
THE SITUATION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
The situation of Israel in the world always reflects the relation of the Jewish people to the Shechina, or the Divine Presence. When the Shechina has an earthly home, whether it is a Tabernacle or a Temple, we are in a state of redemption. When the Shechina is in exile, as God has no earthly habitation, the people of Israel are also in exile.
In his introduction to Exodus, Nachmanides defines the book as the description of Israel's first exile and redemption. The construction of the Tabernacle represents redemption from the exile of Egypt according to Nachmanides even while the Jewish people are still wandering stateless in the desert. Redemption is a spiritual phenomenon, and always translates itself into the appropriate physical definition. When the Divine presence of the Shechina dwells among us we are in a state of redemption by definition. We exist in God's warm embrace at such times, no matter where we find ourselves physically. The universe is just as capable of supplying manna as plentiful crops. Life in tents can be more secure and comfortable than existence in the tallest towers.
The route to joy is always open to the Jewish people. If we formed ourselves into the collective Adam by returning to our roots we would replenish the depleted life force of the universe from the Holy One, the Source of all Blessing.