The Building Blocks of Existence
Last week’s discussion centered on the two complementary roles and perspectives of Moses and Bezalel, as visionary and builder of the Mishkan, the portable Temple which traveled with the Jewish people through the wilderness.
The visionary sees the end in mind, while the builder appreciates the implementation process. Thus, Moses began with the purpose of the Sanctuary – the vessels which would serve the Divine, and then the actual structure that would contain the vessels. Bezalel built the Sanctuary in the order of the “the way of the world: first one builds a home, and afterwards one puts in the furnishings.”
Both elements are part of the Divine plan – both necessary components in the full picture of transforming our lives into a Divine home. Thus, even the visionary Moses, provides us with a detailed accounting of all the materials used to build the Sanctuary – as this week’s Torah chapter opens: “these are the accounts of the Tabernacle, which were calculated by Moses…”.
A visionary is someone not involved in the details. Why then, of all people, is Moses the one who invests so much time in offering this accounting? To teach us that the greatest vision is in the details. There are visionaries that remain aloof of the practical process. The ultimate tribute to Moses is his unique and counterintuitive ability to fuse the vision with the details. Thus, his deference to Bezalel to build first the structure then the vessels, “perhaps you were under G-d’s shadow and knew what G-d intended.”
With all his vision, Moses understood that the Divine scheme also includes a practical plan. In other words, building the structure first was not just a practical issue; it actually reflected the Divine will. As the second verse in this week’s Torah portion emphasizes with a subtle, but powerful wording change: “Bezalel… fulfilled all that G-d had commanded Moses” (38:22).
This poses an obvious question: Bezalel did not hear what G-d told Moses. Instead, he received his instructions through Moses. The verse should have therefore more appropriately said: Bezalel fulfilled all that Moses had commanded him?” Explains Rashi: even in things that Moses had not said to him, Bezalel’s view coincided with what G-d told Moses. When Moses commanded Bezalel to first make the furnishings and afterwards the Mishkan, Bezalel perceived G-d’s true intention that first the structure must be built and then the vessels.
Besides for the practical lessons that we derive from Moses and Bezalel’s dialogue, discussed in last week’s column, there is actually much more to this than meets the eye.
The Temple’s structure reflects magnificent architecture of the entire universe which we occupy – a complex and eloquent beauty which can only be fully understood when we uncover its inner spiritual makeup.
The mystics call this structure the “Seder Hishtalshilus,” the Cosmic Order, an elaborate development process which describes how existence came into being, developing stage after stage, from the ethereal to the tangible, the pristine to the mundane – from pure spirit into brute matter.
When you begin to study this process its’ sheer elegance strikes you with a profound resonance, as it captures an all encompassing formula that can be applied to every aspect of our existence and lives, defining the model of literally every successful venture.
In the words of the mystics: Though the very existence the material universe dictates a creator that put this existence in place, yet the manner in which He did so consists of a powerful and logical system, which explains the “gradual” process how spirit would manifest in matter.
The mystical terms used for this process is the transmission of Divine energy – light – and the development of containers which serve as “filters” and “channels” that contain and manifest the energy. In the “higher” stages of the cosmic order the light-energy is the most dominant feature, while the containers are either non-existent or invisible as they lay submerged and eclipsed by the overwhelming light. As the cosmic order evolves, the light diminishes, allowing for the containers to emerge, up till the point where, in the “lower” stages of the process, the containers become dominant and the light is all but invisible.
The material universe in which we live is one large container, comprised of countless smaller containers, whose “gravitational pull” – the seductive forces all around us – is so powerful that it barely allows any spiritual light in or out. Matter is the governing force.
Life’s purpose and objective is to reveal the inner energy and light that lies buried within every aspect of existence.
Generally speaking, the process of the cosmic order, the spiritual DNA of all existence, works like a series of circles and lines – 0’s and 1’s – that the mystics call “iggulim” (circles or spheres) and “yosher” (lines), makif and pnimi, or in Chassidic terminology: Sovev and Memale – Sovev means a “surrounding,” outside energy; Memale is a “permeating,” internalized energy.
The Kabbalists explain that the actual process begins first with the “circles” and then within the circles enter the “lines” of energy – carried there by the “kav”, the thin thread (line) of light – that manifest internally, as “lights within containers.” Consistent with this was the way Bezalel built the Temple: First the walls and structure (makif), then the “furnishings,” the lights in vessels (pnimi).
Using the classic example of the transmission of knowledge from teacher to student, first the ideas “surround” the beginner’s mind. Concepts are communicated, but initially they remain outside and “above the head” of the student. Slowly the thoughts begin to seep in and become internalized by the student’s mind. With time, as the student’s mind expands and he absorbs more information, he will integrate the concepts until he owns them and they become one with him.
Similarly, the process of personal and spiritual growth begins, climbing from the bottom up, first makif and then pnimi. At the earliest stages of our lives, our first states of consciousness and awareness begin in a state of conscious ignorance. We only perceive that which our naked senses can experience. We may sense a deeper reality “outside” of ourselves as we begin to explore, but our earliest internal experiences are sensory in nature, even narcissistic, as we begin to get acquainted with a new world.
As we progress and grow, that which was beyond us begins to become part of our consciousness. We study, observe, learn and mature, allowing us to integrate deeper states of awareness both of our own inner selves and that of those around us, as well as of the inner, invisible forces within and which shape the universe at large. The very possibility of a mature, intimate relationship with another is possible only due to the fact learn to recognize an inner self, and that we are able to transcend our own immediate needs and forge inner bonds with another. In one word: love.
In simple terms, this shift can be classifies as moving from a physical “body” oriented perspective to a sublime “soul” oriented one; from a material consciousness to a spiritual consciousness.
However, all this is the actual process of creation. In contrast, from the perspective of the visionary – who sees the end at the outset, before the entire process even begins – everything begins with the purpose of the entire cosmic order, and that purpose is: Integration.
Given, the way to achieve integration in a world that initially conceals the light (and purpose) within requires an elaborate process which begins first with “surrounding” circles, which slowly allows us to acclimate ourselves and absorb deeper truths. But, with the end in mind, the visionary recognizes that it all begins with the internalization of the “vessels,” which then dictates that the process of building commence, first with the outer structure followed by the vessels.
Indeed, the vision of integration does not merely remain an abstract reality in the mind of Moses, but it actually has a practical application as well. As the Kabbalists explain: At the earliest stage of the cosmic order, even prior to the first “circles,” we have the “kav,” the thin thread of light, which pierces the great “Tzimtzum” (the utter concealment of the Divine light). And it is this ray of light that carries the Divine force that will shape the circles and the lines that will follow. In other words, metaphorically speaking, above the earliest circles, is a section of the “kav,” the line. Then, this line will proceed to crate the first circle, followed by a continuation of the line, then another circle, and so on.
Thus, Moses’ visionary perspective actually manifests in the first step of the cosmic order: Even before the building process begins, integration – the light of the “kav” – stands supreme at the top of the picture. And this vision, which takes the form of the “kav” above the circles, informs and defines all the following stages.
For this reason Moses preceded the Temple’s vessels before the actual structure: The primary vessel was the Holy Ark, which contained the Torah. Torah is the level of the “kav” that precedes the “circles” and the “lines,” and, indeed, infuses them with the power to fuse as one.
Yet, when it comes to actual construction, Bezalel’s order defines the process: “circles” followed by “lines.” But, now they have the power to become one, due to the fact that Moses revealed the purpose of integration, which paves the way and empowers all levels, even the earliest stages of development, with the ability to ultimately internalize the highest levels of the Divine – in a total fusion of form and function.
As we conclude the book of Exodus and we read about the Temple’s assembly and the Moses’ accounting of all the material used to construct it, this is the time for all of us to do an accounting of the personal Temple we are building in our lives – the very purpose of existence: To build a Divine home from our material universe.
We each have the surrounding “walls” of our personal Temple and the “vessels” within.
At all times, there are forces that surround and are beyond us, and then those that we absorb and assimilate. Growth = the ongoing process of internalizing new truths, while even newer ones emerge above us. As we climb the mountain of human development, we conquer new frontiers, as new horizons appear.
A vital component in steady and sustainable growth is to go at your own pace, to assess where you stand and know what higher truths are ready to integrate in your life, and what still remains around you. But at all stages, even at the earliest stage, integration is always the driving force and ultimate goal.
With the latest tragic news coming from Jerusalem, home to the Temple Mount, we each carry responsibility to act. When one person is killed, let alone many more, something inside us all dies; especially the death of Torah students, is equated with the Temple’s destruction.
In addition, to the obvious deterrents and defenses that must be implemented, in addition to the physical Jerusalem that we must rebuild and fortify, we also have the ability and responsibility to rebuild our spiritual Jerusalem and Temple.
We are taught that by constructing the Jerusalem and Temple above, the Jerusalem and Temple below will follow.
Something to think about. But above all: Action is paramount.
May we all recommit to do something to fortify our inner Temple, through intensifying Torah study (the ark), prayer (the altar) and acts of virtue (the table), and inspiring and illuminating others in kind (the menorah). Surrounding it with strong walls of protection, trusting the Divine forces beyond us, and forging ahead with the confidence in the promise that “G-d watches” and protects the Land all year round.