Parsha Mitzvot: Tetzaveh: Mysteries of The Mishkan
Many study the Tabernacle and its symbolism through the eyes of Kabbalah, A questioner, describing himself as a very modest student of the Jewish classics with no knowledge of Kabbalah, but a believer in the truth of rabbinic teaching, says that he is puzzled by the following difficulties he has come across in his reading:
1. As a pious Jew, before carrying out the precepts he recites the formula: “For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and His Shechinah.” What is he expected to have in mind when he says this? And what is the meaning of this word ‘Shechinah’ we use so frequently?
2. What is the meaning of the sacred marriage which is said to take place on high, and how can terms like ‘male’ and ‘female’ be used when speaking of the Divine realms?
3. The special midnight prayer is divided into the sections Rachel and Leah. What should we have in mind when reciting these prayers and what is the meaning of Rachel and Leah?
4. Since, in any event, we simply repeat the words of this midnight prayer mechanically, without understanding them at all and without ‘pain and tears’ as was ordained, what is the point of saying this and other Kabbalistict prayers at all?
Rabbi Yosef Chaim in reply first gives a brief summary of the Kabbalistic doctrine:
God as He is in Himself is known as the ‘Limitless.” En Sof becomes manifest through the Ten Sefirot. It is impossible for us to grasp the nature of the Sefirot since the human mind while in the body is utterly incapable of grasping pure spiritual entities. We cannot even comprehend our own soul. Thus symbols have to be used when speaking of the Sefirot, the symbol of ‘Light,’, for example.
Light is a popular symbol for these entities, since it is the most refined object ever presented to our senses, but we must never fall into the trap of imagining that the Sefirot are really lights in the sense in which we understand.
We are unable to understand how it happens, but the souls of Israel are formed from the light of the Sefirot, especially from the combination of Tiferet and Malchut. Since our souls result from this combination, our deeds are connected with these Sefirot and can have an effect on them for good and for ill.
Again, it is impossible for us to grasp the tremendous mystery contained here. We must always keep in mind that the Kabbalistic descriptions of these matters must not be taken literally but express extremely profound spiritual ideas.
Now, the Sefirah Tiferet is known as the Holy One, Blessed is He, and the Sefirah of Malchut as the Shechinah. The root of this the latter word is ‘Shachan,” to dwell. It is so called because a portion of the light of Malchut dwells on earth to benefit God’s creatures.
Thus when we perform a mitzvah we assist, as it were, the combination of the lights of Tiferet and Malchut.
Hence we recite the formula referred to.
Rabbi Yosef Chaimquotes Rabbi Yecheskail Landau’s treatment of the term Shechinah, and his quotation from Maimonides but, he says Maimonides could not have elaborated the matter fully, since there had not been revealed to him the holy Zohar and the teaching of our master, Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, who received it from the prophet Elijah, may he be remembered for good.
As for the symbols of ‘male and female,’ the Kabbalists this explained that the term ‘male’ is used for the active element in the Sefirotic realm and the term ‘female’ for the passive element.
As for the terms Rachel and Leah, these refer to two different aspects of Malchut, the Shechinah, but one is not permitted to expound it further.
It is not that these two are given the names of the matriarchs. The opposite is true. The two matriarchs were given these names because each possessed in her soul a portion of that particular element on high. The Tikkun Chatzot puts right the flaws we have made by our sins in these two aspects of the Shechinah.
As for the objection that we do not understand this prayer, so why say it, Rabbi Chaim of Volozin, in his Nefesh Hachaim has rightly explained that it is the deed God requires of us even where the meaning is hidden from us. To be sure, concentration on the meaning of our prayers is extremely valuable, but a failure to concentrate or understand must never be the cause of our abandoning the deed itself. (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad – 1835-1909 – Rav Pealim, Volume I, O”C, #1)