Last week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, described the infamous incident of the Golden Calf. The Arizal sees the beginning of this week's Torah portion as referring back to that incident and describing the means by which the Jewish people could restore their spiritual status to what it was before the sin.

We are taught that although the majority of the Jewish people worshipped the Golden Calf, the instigators of this incident were not the Jews themselves, but the "mixed multitude" which accompanied them out of Egypt (Ex. 12:35). These were the first converts to the Jewish people.

When a non-Jew seeks to convert and be accepted as part of the Jewish people, the rabbi or rabbinical court overseeing this process has to make sure his motives are pure and that he is not seeking to convert out of any ulterior motives. It is for this reason that no converts were accepted during the reign of King Solomon and none will be accepted once Mashiach has come: when the Jewish people are as materially prosperous as they were in King Solomon's reign and as they will be in the messianic era, it is impossible to ascertain if a would-be convert's motives are pure.

Similarly, the "mixed multitude" of non-Jews who joined up with the Jewish people when they left Egypt are the classic example of insincere or opportunistic converts. Since they witnessed the Ten Plagues (which took place over the space of a whole year), it is not hard to imagine that they sided with the Jewish people out of the common human weakness for power and success, rather than a sincere devotion to truth at any cost.

Thus, when the going started to get rough, the weakness of these people's commitment was exposed in great relief. Moses was not coming down from the mountain; the people were left without a leader, someone to intermediate between them and G‑d. The answer was all too ready to this mixed multitude who only recently renounced their old, idolatrous religions in order to accompany the Jews:

"And this people saw that Moses was late in coming down the mountain, so they congregated around Aaron and said to him: 'Get up, make us a god who will go before us, for this man Moses who took us out of Egypt - we know not what has become of him.'…So [Aaron] took [the gold] from them…and made it into a molten calf, and they said: 'These are your gods, O Israel, who took you out of Egypt.'" (Ibid. 32:14)

Notice that the makers of the Golden Calf address Israel in the second person, meaning that they themselves were not the original Jewish people.

Since both Moses and the generation of the desert were on the [spiritual] level of yesod Abba, Moses had to congregate them and gather them to him in order that they return to their source and become part of him. In this way [he cured them] from the sin of "they congregated around Aaron," shined upon them the light of holiness, and removed the impurity of [serving] the [Golden] Calf from them.

As we have explained previously, Abba is the name of the partzuf [i.e. full array of sefirot] that develops out of the sefira of chochma. Chochma in general is the fundamental insight or wisdom of Creation, i.e., the Torah, which G‑d used as his "blueprint" for creating the world. Every new insight an individual receives regarding some or another aspect of reality is - in its truest, purest form - an insight into the Torah. Moses, who was the human channel through which G‑d gave the Torah to the world, thus personified and embodied this spiritual level.

In particular, the Arizal says, Moses personified the sub-sefira of yesod of Abba. Yesod is the sefira of connection and transmission; all the preceding sefirot coalesce in it and are channeled through it. In the correspondence that exists between the sefirot and the body, yesod corresponds to the organs of procreation. Those of the generation of the Exodus…were also elevated to this profound level of consciousness…

Because those of the generation of the Exodus were the pupils of Moses and the original recipients of the Torah, they were also elevated to this profound level of consciousness. Thus, in the Talmud, this generation is referred to as "the generation of knowledge."

In Judaism, sin is defined as something that in some way degrades or perverts a person's awareness or consciousness of G‑d. There are of course many levels of this, ranging from the subtle, "innocuous" sins of indulging in some permitted pleasure (glatt kosher chocolate cake…) to the out-and-out overt sins which incur serious punishments. Their common denominator, however, is that to a greater or lesser extent they all involve being overpowered by the "temporary insanity" or heresy that G‑d doesn't care, or doesn't notice, or doesn't exist. The law of inertia dictates that "innocuous" trespasses can very easily degenerate into bona-fide sins.

Such was the case with the sin of the Golden Calf. Despite their intense awareness of G‑d's reality in their lives, and in fact because of it, this generation knew that there had to be some leader, some Moses, who could serve to channel G‑d's messages to them. When he did not return from the mountain at the appointed time, the thought of continuing without such a medium was intolerable. Instead of relying on G‑d's providence, they relied on their own understanding (they had in fact miscalculated the day of Moses' return). The subtle lack of reliance degenerated into the full-blown sin of idolatry, since both are just different degrees of denying G‑d's presence in one's life.

Thus, by committing the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish people fell from their former state of consciousness, yesod Abba. Instead of using their power of yesod to channel and bring the wisdom of the Torah - the awareness of G‑d - into the world, they used it to "gather around Aaron" and force him to produce an idol, a proclamation that G‑d has relinquished His involvement in the world to subordinate forces. In their minds, the divine message was no longer focused and channeled through Moses, but dissipated throughout the forces of nature, which it now became necessary to honor and cajole ("serve") in order to sense the spirituality behind the curtain.

This dissipation of focus is the root of sexual sin, in which a person spreads his creative power in many directions instead of focusing it into one, consecrated channel. Instead of using his creativity to build and strengthen a family, a setting through which the consciousness of divinity can be increased on earth, he diffuses it into nature, following the deception of fulfillment offered by the temporary thrill. We are thus taught that the worship of the Golden Calf involved not only idolatry but an orgy as well. The cure, of course, is to re-gather the spiritual focus back to where it belongs, to Moses, the legitimate channel of divine energy and wisdom into Creation.

Thus it is written, "And Moses gathered together all the congregation" (Ex. 35:1) The word for "congregation" [in Hebrew, "adat"] may be permuted to spell the word for "knowledge" [in Hebrew, "daat"].

By focusing on Moses and seeking spiritual enlightenment from the Torah, the Jewish people restored their knowledge of G‑d to its proper form. This is alluded to by the fact that the words for "congregation" and "knowledge" contain the exact same letters, just in different order.

Now, the words for "mixed multitude" [in Hebrew, "erev rav"] also have the same numerical value as the word for "knowledge" ["daat"]. This is because they also possessed this [sublime] aspect of divine knowledge, albeit just the dregs of it.

Because they, too, committed the sin of the Golden Calf by congregating against Aaron, as it is written: "and the people congregated around Aaron", they needed another, [holy] congregating to rectify them, as it is written: "And Moses gathered together…"

On the one hand, the mixed multitude experienced the divine miracles in Egypt and the divine providence that had so far accompanied the Jewish people during the ensuing three months.1 The result of this was that they had achieved something of the awareness that was being imparted to the people. On the other hand, since their motives were not pure, they could not assimilate as purely as the Jewish people themselves could.

Furthermore, since they sinned by using the word "these" - as they said: "These are your gods, O Israel" - the opposite [and holy usage of this word] was used to rectify them, as [Moses] said [in the present context]: "These are the things…" Someone who serves idols is considered as if he had denied the entire Torah….

We would have expected the mixed multitude to say to the Jewish people, "this is your god, O Israel", since, after all, there was only one calf. The fact that they chose to phrase their call to idolatry in the plural means, as we are taught, that the intensity of the degeneration was so great that "they desired a multitude of gods to serve". (Rashi on Ex. 32:1) In order to rectify this dissipation, the same term had to be used to focus them back on the proper source of spiritual enlightenment.

Since someone who serves idols is considered as if he had denied the entire Torah, [Moses] commanded them concerning two things that are also considered equivalent to the entire Torah. [The first was] the Shabbat, for a person who observes the Shabbat is considered as if he observed the entire Torah. By observing the Shabbat, the Jew declares that G‑d created the world…

As we said, idolatry is the declaration that G‑d either does not exist or has delegated His power to subordinates and has no direct involvement in the world. Thus, idolatry is a clear denial of the message of the Torah, which is exactly the opposite: that G‑d does exist and that He cares very intimately about what goes on in the world.

By observing the Shabbat, the Jew declares that G‑d created the world. First of all, by resting from work he re-enacts the first Shabbat of Creation, when G‑d ceased the work of Creation. Secondly, by resting from work he declares his faith that G‑d runs the world and can provide for his needs even though he does not work the full week. As is known, the ancient Romans considered the Jews lazy for taking a day off from work once a week. Although it is nowadays common to work formally even less than this, people still use their off time from work to take care of things they cannot take care of while at work, so the message of Shabbat is still pertinent.

[The second was] the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle…was the instrument through which G‑d's presence returned and remained in their consciousness…

The Tabernacle, the portable Temple that the Jewish people constructed and carried with them in the desert, was the instrument through which G‑d's presence returned and remained in their consciousness. As the Torah puts it: "Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell amongst them" (Ex. 25:8). Since the Tabernacle accomplished the goal of the Torah in general, the establishment of a dwelling place for G‑d on earth and within man, its construction was also considered equivalent to the fulfillment of the entire Torah. What the Shabbat accomplishes in time, the Temple accomplished in space; Shabbat is a sanctuary in time, while the Temple is a physical Shabbat.

Obviously, in both these cases, when we say that they are equivalent to the observance of the entire Torah, we do not mean that they can be substituted for observance of the Torah. Man needs the particular as well as the general, and the particular details of how G‑d is brought into our lives through the observance of all the Torah's commandments is just as important as the overall accomplishment of this goal through these general mitzvot.

[Moses] began with the commandment to construct the Tabernacle, and said: Six days shall work be done…. (Ex. 35:2) This refers [not to work in general, but specifically] to building the Tabernacle, which is why it is phrased in the imperative. Shabbat and the Temple constitute the consummate rectification for the sin of the Golden Calf…

Our sages in the Talmud derive the categories of work forbidden on the Shabbat from the types of work that were necessary to construct the Tabernacle. Here we can see why this is so: they are juxtaposed as being essentially equivalent to one another; when you are doing one, you do not need to do the other, and vice versa. A Jew is meant to be constantly involved in promoting divine consciousness in the world. During the week, he does this by "building the Tabernacle", i.e. making the physical world a fitting setting for divine revelation. On Shabbat, he does this by ceasing from actively improving the world, instead simply opening himself to the Divine Presence for which he has prepared the setting during the week. Thus, the Tabernacle and the Shabbat are simply two sides of the same coin: the preparation and fulfillment.

[Moses used the passive voice] and said "shall work be done" instead of [the active voice,] "you shall work" to indicate that the work will be done by itself. Similarly, it is said: "[…no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in] the House in its being built" (Kings I 6:7)

Nonetheless, even while engaged in actively purifying and elevating the world, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing so on our own power. It is only by virtue of the talents and capacities G‑d has placed within us that we can make the world into a holy place. Therefore, it is at all times as if G‑d Himself is doing all the work. Hence the use of the passive voice in Moses' description of how we should go about building the Tabernacle.

In this way, "on the seventh day it will be holy for you" (Ex. 35:2). Since you sanctify yourselves on the weekdays, while building the Tabernacle, it will assuredly be holy for you on the Shabbat. You will experience an additional measure of holiness, and possess an additional [level of] soul.

If we fulfill both conditions, that is, engage in the physical world throughout the week in order to elevate it to holiness, and maintain awareness throughout this process that we are doing so simply as G‑d's agents in the process, we will, by Shabbat, have fully sensitized ourselves to the holiness we have brought into the world, and will be fully able to experience it throughout the holy day. The celebration of Shabbat will not be a simple cessation from work, but a palpable experience of holiness in prayer, feasting, Torah study and social and family life. Even the mundane aspects of life will take on G‑dly dimensions and become encounters with the wondrous reality of G‑d Himself. This is described in the Talmud as the familiar metaphor of possessing an "extra soul" on Shabbat.

Together, Shabbat and the Temple constitute the consummate rectification for the sin of the Golden Calf, the denial or pollution of the idea of G‑d's unified presence throughout all reality - time and space.