ESSAY: The Vessel
The purpose of a vessel is that it be filled; but it is the
making of vesselsrather than filling themthat
is lifes greatest challenge and its most revolutionary
INSIGHTS: The Insignificant Coat
The soul of a law
A TELLING STORY: Superfluous Legacy
Why do we tend to give people what they have, rather than
what they need?
Why are we here?
This, the mother of all questions, is addressed in turn by
the various streams of Torah thought, each after its own style.
The Talmud states, simply and succinctly, I was created
to serve my Creator.
The moralistic-oriented works of Mussar describe the
purpose of life as the refinement of ones character
traits. The Zohar says that G-d created us in order
that His creations should know Him.
Master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria offered the following reason for creation: G-d is the essence
of good, and the nature of good is to bestow goodness. But
goodness cannot be bestowed when there is no one to receive
it. To this end, G-d created our worldthat there should
be recipients of His goodness.
Chassidic teaching explains that these reasons, as well as the reasons given
by other Kabbalistic and philosophical works, are but the
various faces of a singular divine desire for creation, as
expressed in the various worlds or realms of G-ds
creation. Chassidism also offers its own formulation of this
divine desire: that we make a home for G-d in the material
A Home For G-d
What does it mean to make our world a home for G-d?
A basic tenet of our faith is that the entire world
is filled with His presence
and there is no place void of Him. So its not that we have to bring G-d into the material
worldHe is already there. But G-d can be in the world
without being at home in it.
Being at home means being in a place that is
receptive to your presence, a place devoted to serving your
needs and desires. It means being in a place where you are
your true, private self, as opposed to the public self you
assume in other environments.
The material world, in its natural state, is not an environment
hospitable to G-d. If there is one common feature to all things
material, it is their intrinsic egocentrism, their placement
of the self as the foundation and purpose of existence. With
every iota of its mass, the stone proclaims: I am.
In the tree and in the animal, the preservation and propagation
of the self is the focus of every instinct and the aim of
every achievement. And who more than the human being has elevated
ambition to an art and self-advancement to an all-consuming
The only thing wrong with all this selfishness is that it
blurs the truth of what lies behind it: the truth that creation
is not an end in itself, but a product of and vehicle for
its Creator. And this selfishness is not an incidental or
secondary characteristic of our world, but its most basic
feature. So to make our world a home for G-d,
we must transform its very nature. We must recast the very
foundations of its identity from a self-oriented entity into
something that exists for a purpose that is greater than itself.
Every time we take a material object or resource and enlist it in the service
of G-d, we are effecting such a transformation. When we take
a piece of leather and make a pair of tefillin out
of it, when we take a dollar bill and give it to charity,
when we employ our minds to study a chapter of Torahwe
are effecting such a transformation. In its initial state,
the piece of leather proclaimed, I exist; now
it says, I exist to serve my Creator. A dollar
in the pocket says, Greed is good; in the charity
box it says, The purpose of life is to not to receive,
but to give. The human brain says, Enrich thyself;
the brain studying Torah says, Know thy G-d.
The Frontier of Self
There are two basic steps in the endeavor of making our world
a home for G-d. The first step involves priming the material
resource as a vessel for G-dliness: shaping the
leather into tefillin, donating the money to charity,
scheduling time for Torah study. The second step is the actual
employment of these vessels to serve the divine
will: binding the tefillin on the arm and head, using
the donated money to feed the hungry, studying Torah, etc.
At first glance, it would seem that the second step is the
more significant one, while the first step is merely an enabler
of the second, a means to its end. But the Torahs account
of the first home for G-d built in our world places the greater
emphasis on the construction of the home, rather
than its actual employment as a divine dwelling.
A sizable portion of the book of Exodus is devoted to the
construction of the Sanctuary built by the children of Israel
in the desert. The Torah, which is usually so sparing with
words that many of its laws are contained within a single
word or letter, is uncharacteristically elaborate. The fifteen
materials used in the Sanctuarys construction are listed
no less than three times;
the components and furnishings of the Sanctuary are listed
and every minute detail of the Sanctuarys construction,
down to the dimensions of every wall-panel and pillar and
the colors in every tapestry, is spelled out not once, but
twicein the account of G-ds instructions to Moses,
and again in the account of the Sanctuarys construction.
All in all, thirteen chapters are devoted to describing how
certain physical materials were fashioned into an edifice
dedicated to the service of G-d and the training of the Kohanim
(priests) who were to officiate there. (In contrast, the Torah
devotes one chapter to its account of the creation of the
universe, three chapters to its description of the revelation
at Mount Sinai, and eleven chapters to the story of the Exodus).
The Sanctuary is the model and prototype for all subsequent
homes for G-d constructed on physical earth. So the overwhelming
emphasis on its construction stage (as opposed
to the implementation stage) implies that in our
lives, too, there is something very special about forging
our personal resources into things that have the potential
to serve G-d. Making ourselves vessels for G-dliness
is, in a certain sense, a greater feat than actually bringing
G-dliness into our lives.
For this is where the true point of transformation liesthe
transformation from a self-oriented object to a thing committed
to something greater than itself. If G-d had merely desired
a hospitable environment, He need not have bothered with a
material world; a spiritual world could just as easily have
been enlisted to serve Him. What G-d desired was the transformation
itself: the challenge and achievement of selfhood transcended
and materiality redefined. This transformation and redefinition
occurs in the first stage, when something material is forged
into an instrument of the Divine. The second stage is only
a matter of actualizing an already established potential,
of putting a thing to its now natural use.
You meet a person who has yet to invite G-d into his or her
life. A person whose endeavors and accomplishmentsno
matter how successful and laudablehave yet to transcend
the self and self-oriented goals.
You wish to expand her horizonsto show him a life beyond
the strictures of self. You wish to put on tefillin
with him, to share with her the divine wisdom of Torah.
But hes not ready yet. You know that the concept of
serving G-d is still alien to a life trained and conditioned
to view everything through the lens of self. You know that
before you can introduce her to the world of Torah and mitzvot,
you must first make her receptive to G-dliness, receptive
to a life of intimacy with the divine.
So when you meet him on the street, you simply smile and
say, Good morning! You invite her to your home
for a cup of coffee or a Shabbat dinner. You make small talk.
You dont, at this point, suggest any changes in his
lifestyle. You just want her to become open to you and what
Ostensibly, you havent done anything. But
in essence, a most profound and radical transformation has
taken place. The person has become a vessel for G-dliness.
Of course, the purpose of a vessel is that it be filled with
content; the purpose of a home is that it be inhabited. The
Sanctuary was built to house the presence of G-d. But it is
the making of vessels for G-dliness that is lifes
greatest challenge and its most revolutionary achievement.
Based on an address by the
Rebbe, Chanukah 5747 (1987)
All the vessels in the Sanctuary required immersion [after
each festival] except for the Golden Altar and the Copper
Altar... because [the altars] were coated...
Talmud, Chagigah 26b
In the majority of cases, even the most deficient and
sinful of Jews will sacrifice his life and suffer the harshest
tortures rather than deny the one G-d... as if it were utterly
impossible for them to deny Him... This is because of the
divine essence that is enclothed in each soul's faculty of
chochmah, which is beyond any graspable or understood
Tanya, chapter 18
During the three annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot
and Sukkot), when the entire community of Israel would come
to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the vessels of the Temple
were exposed to contact with many individuals, including some
who might not have been well-versed in the complex laws of
ritual purity. Thus, following each festival, all the vessels
of the Temple were immersed in a mikveh to cleanse
them of any possible contamination by a visitor who might
have been ritually impure.
The law is that wooden vessels that are used only in
a fixed place are not susceptible to contamination.
The two altars (the indoor Golden Altar and the
outdoor Copper Altar),
which were used only in their fixed places, were made of wood
and covered with gold or copper. This is the meaning of the
above-quoted law that the altars did not require immersion
after the festivals because they were coated:
although a metal vessel could become impure under such circumstances,
since the altars' metal was only a coating, it was buttel
(nullified) in relation to their wooden bodies
and they were thus immune to contamination.
But Torah laws always have more than one meaning. The Torah,
as the human being it comes to instruct and enlighten, consists
of both a body and a sou.l Each law,
story or message in Torah also has a deeper, spiritual import;
each legal technicality also addresses the inner world of
the human soul.
The Sanctuary is more than a physical edifice dedicated to
the service of G-d; it is also the model after which man is
to construct his own self and life as a sanctuary
to house and express the divine. G-d commanded that, They
shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within them; as our sages point out, The verse does
not say I shall dwell within it but I shall
dwell within them, meaning, within each and every one
of them. Thus, the Torah describes in
great detail the various components and
vessels of the Sanctuary, for they each correspond to another
of the faculties and attributes that comprise the human being.
This is the deeper significance of the immunity of the Sanctuary's
altars. The other vessels of the human sanctuary,
representing mans various intellectual and emotional
may, at times, become tainted by negative influences. But
the altars of the soul, her capacity for selfless
devotion and sacrifice for her creator, are not susceptible
True, this inner core of purity is not always visible or
readily accessible. The glitter of material life, or, conversely,
the despair of hardship and poverty, may obscure the souls
intrinsic commitment to her G-d. But these encumbrances, be
they of copper or gold, are mere coatings
on her altar. Coatings that are nullified in the
face of the incorruptible well of sacrifice within.
Based on a letter by the Rebbe's, Cheshvan 15, 5711 (October
In Radin, Lithuania, hometown of the famed Chofetz
Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933), there lived
a G-d-fearing man who was an accomplished Torah scholar as
well as a successful businessman. His children, too, were
wealthy men, but they had departed from the ways of their
father to assume a more modern and secular lifestyle.
The father was a great admirer of the Chofetz Chaim and
consulted with him on everything he did. One day, he came
to the Rabbi to show him the will he had drawn up, in which
he bequeathed his money to his children and his extensive
library of sefarim (Torah books) to the local yeshivah.
The Chofetz Chaim smiled and said: Your children do not
lack for money. But if there were more sefarim in their
homes, perhaps their lives would be more in keeping with the
ways of the Torah. The yeshivah, on the other hand, has walls
and walls of books, but is in dire need of funds to pay its
teachers and feed its students. Your estate would be put to
far better use if you gave each party what it truly needed....
Adapted from the teachings
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Talmud, Kiddushin 82b.
. Zohar, part II, 42b.
. The Holy Ari, 1534-1572.
. Etz Chaim, Shaar HaKelalim, ch. 1.
. Tanya, ch. 36 (after Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16); Yom Tov Shel
Rosh Hashanah 5666, p. 7; ibid., p. 446; see Likkutei
Sichot, vol. VI, p. 21, notes 69 and 70.
. Gold, silver and copper; blue-, purple-, and red-dyed
wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed rams skins, tachash
skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, and spices for
the anointing oil and the incense; shoham stones
and gemstones for setting in the ephod and in the
breastplate. The above verses are from Exodus 25:3-7,
in G-ds initial instructions to Moses; the list again
appears in full in Moses repetition of these instructions
to the people of Israel (ibid., 35:5-9), and a third time
in the Torahs account of the peoples donation
of these materials and G-ds appointment of Betzalel
to head the construction of the Sanctuary (ibid., vs. 22-35).
. In G-ds instructions to Moses (ibid., chs. 25-27); in
G-ds instructions to anoint the Sanctuarys parts
and vessels (30:26-28); in G-ds appointment
of Betzalel (31:7-11); in Moses instruction to the
people (35:11-19); in the Torahs account of the making
of the parts and vessels of the Sanctuary (36:8-39:32);
in the Torahs account of how the finished parts and
vessels were brought to Moses (39:33-41); in G-ds
instructions to Moses to erect and anoint the Sanctuary
(40:3-11); and in the account of the Sanctuarys erection
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXV, pp. 424-435.
 See discussion in Talmud (and commentaries), Chagiah
 The outdoor copper altar existed only in the Mishkan
(tabernacle), the portable sanctuary built in the desert.
In the Holy Temple the outdoor altar was built of stone.
 Reishit Chachmah, Portal of Love, chapter 6; Shaloh,
Portal of Letters, Lamed
 Thirteen chapters in the book of Exodus (or 35%
of the book) are taken up with the details of the Sanctuary's
construction.  See Derech Mitzvotecha, pp. 172-174.
 See Derech Mitzvotecha, pp. 172-174.
 Likkutei Sichot vol. III pp. 910-912.