Chapter 6

2 It remains valid…until morning: Conceptually, there are two objectives in placing an animal sacrifice on the Altar to burn: (a) the active objective of completing the process that began with its slaughtering, and (b) the preventative objective of not letting the deadline for its burning pass.

With regard to the first objective, the burning must occur during the same time frame as the slaughtering, in order to express the notion that it is the direct sequel to the slaughtering. Thus, since the animal must be slaughtered by day, it must also be placed on the Altar to burn by day. Once the day is over, this active objective can no longer be accomplished. Nonetheless, the sacrifice is still placed on the Altar-fire in order to accomplish the second objective—not to let it become disqualified from being placed on the Altar to burn, which happens only the following morning.

In our personal lives, burning an animal sacrifice on the Altar expresses how we dedicate ourselves, and particularly our pursuit of pleasure (signified by the fats placed on the Altar1), to God. Offering up our pleasure on God’s Altar means transmuting self-oriented pleasure—deriving pleasure from something because of its benefits for us or for the sensual gratification it gives us—into the pleasure of doing things for God.

Just as there are active and preventative aspects of burning up the fats on the Altar, there are both active and preventative aspects in the process of refining our pursuit of pleasure. The active aspect is performed “by day” and the preventative aspect “by night.”

Metaphorically, “day” signifies those aspects of our lives that are open expressions of spiritual “light,” i.e., Divine consciousness: studying God’s Torah and fulfilling His commandments. “Night,” in contrast, signifies all other, mundane aspects of our lives, whose Divine dimension is obscured by the “darkness” of materiality. Thus, the twofold obligation to place the fats on the Altar-fire both during the day and the night indicate that we must transmute our self-oriented pleasure into God-centered pleasure both when involved in spiritual pursuits (studying the Torah and fulfilling the commandments) as well as when engaged in our mundane affairs.

Thus, the fact that the main obligation to burn sacrificial fat is by day indicates, surprisingly, that our main, active obligation to transmute our self-oriented pleasure into God-oriented pleasure is with respect to our spiritual pursuits (“day”), rather than with respect to our mundane pursuits (“night”)—despite the fact that we would intuitively assume the opposite. The reason for this seemingly inverted emphasis is because the fact that we must replace the self-oriented pleasure we experience in our mundane affairs with God-oriented pleasure is obvious; if we do not do so, indulging in mundane pursuits will only feed our own materialism.

With respect to spiritual pursuits, however, we can easily delude ourselves into thinking that as long as the commandment is being performed, there is nothing wrong with enjoying its attendant benefits. In fact, however, studying the Torah or fulfilling its commandments with self-oriented motives prevents us from fully experiencing the Divine dimension of the commandment we are performing. Worse yet, it can inflate our egos no less than can indulging in material pleasures for selfish reasons. Special care, therefore, must be taken to ensure that our motives remain pure.

True, if we are not yet spiritually mature enough to hold ourselves to this ideal, then “the performance of the deed is the main thing,”2 and “one should always occupy oneself with the Torah and its commandments, even when not for their own sake, since by [doing so] not for their own sake, one will come to [do so] for their own sake.”3

Furthermore, once our motives have been purged of egocentricity, the Torah itself bids us to appreciate the benefits inherent in following its dictates, as we have already discussed at length.4

On a deeper level, “day” and “night” are metaphors for times of spiritual “light” and “darkness,” i.e., inspiration and lethargy, respectively. During periods of “daylight,” when our Divine soul shines openly, transmuting self-oriented pleasure into God-oriented pleasure comes naturally, following smoothly—almost automatically—the overall subjugation of our human/animal nature (the “slaughtering of the sacrifices”) that we engage in while in this state. All the pleasure we experience during these times, whether in Divine pursuits—studying the Torah and fulfilling God’s commandments—or in mundane pursuits, is God-oriented, a fulfillment of King Solomon’s injunction to “know Him in all your ways.”5 During periods of “night,” however, when we lose contact with our Divine soul, we must consciously ensure that we engage in both our spiritual and mundane affairs only for Divine purposes; in the words of the Mishnah, “Let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven.”6

Despite the obvious superiority of “day”-consciousness over “night”-consciousness, it is by answering the challenge of nighttime, more than that of the day, that we usher in the light of morning, the light of redemption. This is because in order for us to direct our thoughts to God when we are uninspired, we must call upon our deeper currents of spiritual connection to Him. Revealing these otherwise-hidden spiritual potentials redeems us from our own “nights,” our personal “exiles,” thereby hastening the true and final, messianic Redemption.7

All night: The fire on the Altar was kept burning throughout the night, indicating that it is possible to bring Divine light to even the darkest spiritual moments. Spiritually, the fire derived its ability to illuminate the night—thereby prevailing over the natural darkness of the night—from the Divine fire that descended upon the Altar during the preceding day to devour the sacrifices.8 Similarly, although the spirit of prophecy does not initially rest on an individual outside the Land of Israel, a prophet who began prophesying within the Holy Land can continue to do so outside the Holy Land. This was the case with the prophet Ezekiel.

Thus, although Jewish law generally views night as the first half of the following day, in the case of the sacrifices, night is considered an extension of the previous day, in that sacrifices offered up on a specific day may continue to burn into the night.9

This, indeed, is a principle that we can bear in mind when we find ourselves in moments of “spiritual night”: we can extend the spiritual inspiration of our holy days and moments into times of darkness and “night.”10

All night until morning: In the words of the 18th-century Moroccan sage Rabbi Chaim ibn[myw1] Attar: “This entire passage is a reference to exile and redemption. ‘Night’ refers to the dark night of exile, during which we suffer the pains of oppression. ‘Morning’ refers to the dawn of redemption, when God will finally reveal His glory upon us, and a new era will begin. When will that morning be? In God’s eyes, a thousand years is considered a day.11 The first half of every millennium is the night; midway through the millennium begins the day. The prophet says to God, ‘Be their strength in the mornings,’12 in the plural, meaning that a maximum of two mornings will pass once the Jews go into exile [needing God to strengthen them]; after the passage of the second one, at the latest, the Redemption will surely begin.”13

The present exile began with the destruction of the Second Temple in the Jewish year 3830 (70 CE). The first “morning” (i.e., midpoint of a millennium) after that was the Jewish year 4500 (740 CE); the second “morning” was the year 5500 (1740 CE). As we know—and as Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar himself knew (he wrote these words in 5502, or 1742 CE)—the Redemption did not occur at that time. Nonetheless, the process of redemption did begin, with the dissemination of the secret insights of Kabbalah, which, as the inner light of the Torah, is a taste of the new revelations of Torah that will accompany the final Redemption. Although the dissemination of Kabbalah began to a limited extent with Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal, 1534-1572),14 who expounded the teachings of Kabbalah to a small, exclusive circle of students, the process advanced and accelerated abruptly just before 1740, when the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760) began teaching publicly, thereby propounding the doctrines of Chassidism, through which the insights of Kabbalah are made relevant and inspiring to people from all walks of life.15

Following the same method of calculation, the year 5750 (1990 CE), midway through the second half of the millennium, corresponded to high noon. If the “dawn” (1740 CE) brought with it added light, starting us on the path to redemption, at this point, as we enter the radiance of the “afternoon,” redemption is surely imminent. This knowledge should stoke our intense yearning for the Messiah, as well as spur us on to meaningfully prepare for his arrival through performing additional acts of goodness and kindness.16

3-4He must lift out the ashes: Ash, the residue of something that has been consumed in flames, is the most “physical” aspect of solid matter, which stubbornly refuses to be transformed into energy or even into more subtle states of matter. In the case of the sacrifices, whereas the parts of the animal that are burned up and ascend heavenward signify the aspects of the physical world that can be made spiritual—i.e., those that can be used either directly or indirectly in the performance of the commandments—the residual ashes signify the mundane necessities of life that remain outside the realm of revealed holiness.

What fate awaits these ashes? The Torah provides two instructions: Once a day, the priest deposited a shovelful of ashes next to the Altar, and when, less frequently, the accumulated ashes on the Altar’s surface interfered with the fire-pile, he removed them and took them outside the camp.

We have seen17 how transmuting our self-oriented pleasure into God-oriented pleasure—as embodied in the rite of placing the fats of the sacrifices on the Altar—bifurcates into the complementary aspects of “know God in all your ways”18 (experiencing Divinity in mundane acts) and “let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven”19 (performing mundane acts without Divine consciousness but for Divine purposes). The same complementary pair of intentions applies to how we relate to those aspects of life that we do not succeed in sanctifying—as embodied in the ashes of the sacrifices.

The ashes that are taken outside the camp allegorically refer to those mundane activities for which we cannot muster enough inspiration to transform them into holy acts. These aspects of one’s life will remain “outside the camp,” outside the realm of holiness. Still, the Torah demands that they be brought to an undefiled place, meaning that they should ultimately be utilized for holy ends. To these aspects of our life we may apply the words of the Mishnah: “Let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven.”20 True, they are “your” deeds, mundane in nature, but let them serve a holy end. An example of this would be eating to satisfy hunger, but doing so with the intention that the food fuel our bodies and minds so that we can study the Torah and perform its commandments.

“Placing the ashes near the Altar” bespeaks a loftier way of performing mundane activities, to which we may apply the words of King Solomon: “Know Him in all your ways.”21 Here, we transform the mundane activity itself into an experience of knowing God; such an experience is worthy of a place near the Altar. Still, the time for this ritual was fixed for the early morning, before the sacrificial service proper began. This indicates that as exalted as this type of service is, it must nonetheless be considered only a preparation for our true task in life: studying the Torah and performing its commandments.22

A linen sash: The sash that the priest wore while performing the other parts of the sacrificial service was the only garment of the regular priests that contained the normally forbidden mixture of wool and linen.23 When depositing the ashes next to the Altar or taking the accumulated ashes outside the camp, he wore a special sash made only of linen, like his other three garments.

As explained previously,24 the prohibition against wearing a garment made out of wool and linen is intended to prevent specific varieties of Divine energy from extending into realms where their presence would be detrimental. While performing the sacrificial service, the priests ascended to such a sublime level of Divine consciousness that there was no danger of negative influences and therefore no impediment to wearing wool and linen together. This, however, was not the case when they were depositing or removing the ashes—the residue left behind from the sacrifices, which the Altar could not consume with its holy fire but had to be discarded.

As we have just seen, the ashes removed from the camp signify our mundane activities performed “for the sake of heaven” rather than as a direct means to “know Him in all our ways.” These ashes “radiate” dangerous, spiritualittty-resistant energy, and as such, it would be unwise to attempt to elevate the forbidden mixture of wool and linen when handling them.

The same danger does not exist in the case of the shovelful of ashes placed next to the Altar every morning, which, as we have also just seen, signify our mundane activities performed with true Divine consciousness. However, this procedure takes place in the early morning, before the intrinsically holy rites of the sacrificial service proper, implying that the Divine consciousness embodied even in mundane activities performed with true Divine consciousness is not as powerful as that embodied in studying the Torah and performing God’s commandments. Therefore, when we are involved in the mundane aspect of life—even while maintaining heightened Divine consciousness—we are not yet ready to refine evil. Thus, the daily depositing of the ashes, too, was performed in simple linen garments rather than in the normal, wool-and-linen priestly apparel.25

He should remove his garments and put on other garments: The same priest who performed the daily sacrificial rite of depositing the ashes at the side of the Altar was the one who, when necessary, brought the accumulated ashes outside the camp. This occasional, menial task was not delegated to a second priest.

We can learn from this, firstly, that the preliminary preparations for fulfilling a commandment are themselves a bona fide part of our Divine service, no less crucial and indispensable than the fulfillment of the commandment per se. In our commendable desire to connect to God through performing His commandments, we may understandably consider fulfilling the commandment much more important than preparing for it. Nonetheless, from God’s perspective, both the commandment and its prerequisite preparation are expressions of His will, and therefore, the more we are focused on purely fulfilling His will (as opposed to attaining our desire for personal spiritual advancement), the less partial we will be to fulfilling the commandment itself rather than preparing for it, approaching them both with the same joy and enthusiasm.

Secondly, we all understand that it is not enough to tend our own spiritual growth; we must help others grow spiritually, as well. However, once we reach a certain level of sophistication in our service of God or of knowledge of the Torah, we might be tempted to think that our calling is with people who are “within the camp,” i.e., those who have already accepted the Torah as their guide in life and do not need to be coaxed into entering a synagogue or a yeshiva. Those who are “outside the camp” and perhaps even adverse to enter it, we may think, should be someone else’s concern. The Torah therefore informs us that the very same priest who performs the sacred service at the Altar must also leave the sacred precincts to perform God’s will, not only outside the Tabernacle but outside the camp altogether. Furthermore, he must put on other, lesser garments in order to do so, meaning that we must be willing to don “street clothes” in order to establish proper rapport with our brethren “outside the camp” and communicate with them. Then, we can patiently draw them into the camp, where they belong, so they join us.

Although this may entail some personal sacrifice, it is nevertheless the path that God Himself showed us by “personally” descending into the depravity of Egypt in order to elevate His people and prepare them for the Giving of the Torah.26

He must take the ashes outside the camp: Any involvement with the ashes that must be taken outside the camp—i.e., with those mundane activities that we pursue for the maintenance and enhancement of our physical lives—is an unnatural task for a Jew. We are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”27 who belong “inside the Tabernacle,” wholly absorbed in holy pursuits: praying to God, studying His Torah, performing His commandments, and revealing and experiencing His presence in creation. True, we deposit these ashes in an undefiled place—we engage in all these mundane activities “for the sake of heaven”—but even so, they force us to leave the heightened Divine consciousness of expressly holy pursuits.

The Torah therefore tells us that we must tend to these ashes only when they accumulate to the point that they impede the fire’s ability to consume the offerings; as long as we can continue our Divine pursuits unhindered, there is no reason to be distracted by material concerns. The only real justification for engaging in material pursuits is in order to enable or enhance further Divine activity “inside the Tabernacle.”

It is therefore imperative that we remain mentally “inside the Tabernacle” whenever we venture “outside the camp.” As we have noted,28 we draw the inspiration required for this feat from the Torah’s account of the binding of our forefather Isaac. Recalling how his self-sacrifice transformed his very body into an offering, rendering even his “ashes” fit to remain on the Altar for all time, inspires us to transform our “ashes” as well into material fit to remain on the Altar. We can thus remain focused on the true purpose of life even while engaged in secondary pursuits. It is for this reason that we read the account of his binding as a sacrifice daily, before our morning prayers.29

5 The priest must kindle fresh wood upon it every morning: As mentioned previously, anyone offering up a sacrifice must intend to thereby offer up himself and draw closer to God. The different types of offerings reflect the specific aspects of the self that must be refined, elevated, and brought close to God, but the common denominator of all types of offerings is the general, all-embracing submission to God that must precede the refinement of the particulars. This underlying aspect of every offering is superior to its particular element, since our general submission to God reveals our inherent selflessness in His presence. When refining a specific aspect of the self, this inherent selflessness lies dormant, since we are, after all, focusing on and preoccupied with our self (albeit for the sake of refining it).

The submission of the total human being is expressed in the donation of the wood for the Altar, on top of which every offering was placed. In donating the wood, the donor knew that his donation would be subordinate to the chief entity—the animal being sacrificed. Furthermore, his wood would not necessarily be used to burn his own offering; it would most likely be used to burn someone else’s. The absence of the self in this offering parallels the selflessness manifest in our general submission to God.

The greatest self-effacement, however, was demonstrated by those who chopped down the trees for the wood. Unlike those who donated the wood and saw it immediately attain the holy status that made it fit for the Altar, the woodchoppers did their work long before the wood was consecrated. They did not see the logs they cut become holy and part of the Temple service, even though this was their intention. Their task, therefore, afforded the least possibility of becoming caught up in the exhilaration of achievement and thereby forgetting that true greatness and worth are achieved through serving God with complete selflessness and transparency.

The goal, then, is to be a “woodchopper”: to remain focused on serving God with consummate selflessness.30

6The fire must not go out: The fire on the Altar must be kept burning even on the Sabbath, despite the fact that starting or stoking a fire on the Sabbath is normally prohibited. In addition, we have seen31 (and will see further on32) how ritual defilement precludes a person from entering the Tabernacle and performing sacrificial rites. However, if no undefiled priests are available, ritually defiled priests are allowed to enter and perform the rites, including tending the fire on the Altar.33

The Divine fire within our hearts—our enthusiastic desire to cling to God through studying His Torah, fulfilling His commandments, and revealing His presence in the world—must also be constantly stoked and kept alive. The law that the Altar-fire must be kept lit even on the Sabbath and even in times of defilement teaches us the following lessons:

We have seen34 that the essence of the Sabbath is the ascent of consciousness from its active orientation toward transforming the world into God’s home into a passive orientation toward experiencing the world as already being God’s home. This is why we are forbidden to engage in weekday work on the Sabbath: involvement in worldly affairs contravenes the higher reality of the Sabbath. Cognizant of this fact, we might think that whenever we enter into a “Sabbath” experience—i.e., whenever our minds become entranced with God’s presence in our lives and we become absorbed in “basking” in this revelation—we are not only allowed to detach ourselves from the world but encouraged to do so, and we need not bother to make this ascent of consciousness have any impact on our emotional involvement in our daily observance of the Torah’s laws. The Torah therefore teaches us that the fire of the heart must be kept aflame even “on the Sabbath.” Our connection with God must never become a purely intellectual affair, but must always set our hearts aflame, as well.

At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, we may sometimes feel so distant from the Torah’s expectations of us or encumbered by negative spiritual baggage that it is hard for us to imagine how we could even begin to live in accordance with such ideals. In times of such pessimism, we are told to keep our Divine fire burning also in times of “ritual defilement,” even when we feel unqualified or otherwise unable to enter realms of holiness.

By keeping our enthusiasm fired even in such times, the Divine flame within us will eventually burn away all impediments to joyful, holy living. As the Maggid of Mezeritch interpreted this verse, “If the [inner] fire [of the heart] is kept burning continuously, it will extinguish all negativity.”35

But the fire can only work its magic if it is kept burning continuously; any lapse in enthusiasm is an opportunity for pessimism to creep in. An intermittent fire or the memory of recent flames is therefore not enough; we must become adept at keeping our inner fires burning no matter how our moods may vary.36

As the source of the fire for the lamps of the Candelabrum: Even though the Candelabrum stood right next to the incense Altar, inside the Sanctuary, its lamps were lit with fire taken from the sacrificial Altar, which stood outside the Sanctuary, in the Tabernacle Courtyard.

The Sanctuary structure and the furnishings within it (including the Candelabrum) represent our inner, personal spiritual refinement, the processes through which we learn to manifest our Divine soul and ascend the ladder of our relationship with God. In contrast, the surrounding Courtyard and the furnishings within it (including the sacrificial Altar) represent how we elevate the outside world to higher levels of Divine consciousness. The fact that the Candelabrum’s lamps are lit with fire taken from the Outer Altar rather than from the Inner Altar teaches us that in order to become a “Candelabrum,” a light illuminating our own spiritual journey, we must tap the resources that are only found “outside,” the great Divine potentials (“sparks,” in the terminology of Kabbalah) that inhere within physical reality, by revealing their Divine purpose, thereby elevating the consciousness of the “outside” to the Divine consciousness native to the “inside.”

By rising to the challenges of the world “outside” the Sanctuary, far removed from Divine awareness, we can not only kindle our personal light but ensure that it remains continuous and steady, as well.37

Although Divine fire descends from heaven: In general, any spiritual initiative on our part elicits a reciprocal response from God, just as any physical action elicits a reciprocal reaction. Logically, however, since our initiatives are limited by our human finiteness, they should only be able to elicit commensurately-finite Divine responses. Nonetheless, as we have seen previously,38 God bestows upon us infinite reward for our finite initiatives. Nonetheless, our initiative must bear some semblance to the reciprocal Divine reaction we wish to elicit.

Such is also the case here: Inasmuch as the Divine fire is the visible manifestation of God’s infinite presence within the finite temporal and spatial confines of the Tabernacle, the Altar-fire that elicits it must also be “infinite” in some way.

As we have seen,39 creation is by definition finite; from God’s perspective, the act of Creation was a process of contracting and limiting His infinite self-revelation in order to create specific, defined entities. Time and space are therefore inherently finite; there is no natural way we can make them infinite, either quantitatively or qualitatively (by infusing them with infinite meaning and substance). Yet, using a physical object to do something continuously and consistently evokes the sensation of eternity, of a reality that transcends the fluctuations of relative, ephemeral existence. In this sense, consistency and continuity are the human reflection of Divine infinity. Therefore, by ensuring that our fire is consistent and continuous, we make it possible for it to elicit the infinite Divine fire.

As we have seen, our personal Altar-fire is the enthusiasm with which we fulfill our Divine mission. Keeping this flame of enthusiasm constantly and consistently burning elicits God’s infinite revelation in our lives, which in practical terms is manifest as supra-natural success in our earthly endeavors.40

15Given to God by the high priest: The “high priest” within each of us is the innermost aspect and quintessential core of our soul (known as the yechidah41), which is immutably bound with God. This aspect of our soul is the source of our self-sacrifice, our readiness to suffer martyrdom rather than submit to idolatry—or any sham ideology or lifestyle that attempts to lure us with empty promises of salvation or fulfillment.

In truth, any infringement of God’s will is in effect a form of idolatry, inasmuch as at that moment, we are serving something other than God (whether it be money, fame, pleasure, despair, etc.). When we contemplate this fact and realize that we would readily give up our lives rather than openly sacrifice our integrity by serving idols, it is impossible for us to be enticed into swerving from fulfilling God’s will—either by entertaining unholy or depressing thoughts, speaking unholy or insensitive words, or performing unholy or destructive actions.42

In this context, our personal “high-priestly” grain-offering is the meditative contemplation through which we manifest the yechidah of our souls. Like the high priest’s offering, drawing upon the power of the yechidah is necessary both in the “morning,” i.e., when we feel enlightened and inspired, in order to ensure that we channel our vivacity in accordance with God’s will, and in the “evening,” i.e., when we feel confused or uninspired, in order to ensure that we resist temptation.43

Chapter 7

11If a person survived: Although our souls are eternal, in order to for us to remain alive physically, they must remain bound with our bodies. In this context, the four situations that occasion a thanksgiving-offering can be seen as four types of danger to life as reflected in the degree of the soul’s manifestation in the body:

Prison: Confinement per se does not compromise the connection of the soul to the body; any danger to the inmate’s life or health is only from associated causes, which may be anything from the conditions of imprisonment to the threat of a death sentence.

Illness: Here, the danger lies in the body’s own lack of vitality. Still, this lack of bodily vitality does not necessarily weaken the link between the body and the soul (although it can lead to this); we can continue to feel fully alive even while sick.

Desert travel: Here, the danger is the potential shortage of food and drink. Hunger and thirst weaken the connection between the soul and the body; the person might eventually faint, which results from a temporary lack of manifestation of the soul within the body.

Sea travel: The danger here is the possibility of drowning; in death, the soul is disconnected from the body and leaves it.44


[11] If a person survived either…: In Hebrew, the word for “to give thanks” (להודות) also means “to acknowledge.” In this context, each of these four situations reflects a specific spiritual danger.

· “Sea travel” refers to chochmah, for the vast expanse of Divine wisdom is called a “sea.”45 The experience of Divine insight carries with it the danger of “drowning” in the experience, thereby forgetting to process it in the intellect so that it can eventually affect and remake the emotions.

· “Illness” refers to binah. As we have seen,46 the numerical value of the word for “patient” (חולה) is 49, alluding to a person who perceives 49 of the 50 “gates of understanding” and is therefore “lovesick” for the 50th gate.

· “Prison” refers to the midot being trapped, so to speak, in the throat, blocked from manifesting themselves in the heart. The orderly development of the midot from the intellect can be blocked if we lack sufficient da’at. Da’at reveals the relevance of the intellect to our lives, enabling us to experience an emotional reaction to what we know intellectually. The passageway connecting the intellect, located in the head, to the emotions, located in the heart, is reflected physically by the narrowness of the throat.47

· “The desert” refers to malchut. Malchut comprises our faculties of expression, which, when properly inspired, can inspire others. In the words of the sages, “Words that issue from the heart [of the speaker] enter the heart [of the listener].”48 When our faculties of expression are superficial, not rooted in our hearts, they are “barren,” and do not bear fruit. Such emasculated expression is symbolized by the barrenness of the desert.

Accordingly, these four situations encompass the entire spectrum of the sefirot, as well as the corresponding facets of the human soul. If we survive or recover from all four of these dangers—by not drowning in the sea of chochmah, by progressing to the 50th gate of understanding, by manifesting the emotions born of our intellect, and by successfully communicating our inspiration to others—we thereby rectify our entire complement of soul-powers.

Yet, even after completing our full self-rectification, we must still acknowledge that God’s infinity transcends our capability to conceive, and that therefore there remain before us an infinite number of rungs on the ladder of spiritual ascent.49

12In order to give thanks: In the messianic era, communal sacrifices will continue to be offered up,50 but there will no longer be personal sacrifices, with the sole exception of the thanksgiving-offering. Similarly, we are taught that in the messianic era, all forms of prayer will cease except for prayers of thanksgiving.51

The purpose of personal sacrifices (other than the thanksgiving-offering) is to orient the animal soul toward Divinity. (In certain cases, this involves atoning for sin.) Since in the messianic era this process will have been completed—and we will no longer sin—these types of sacrifices will become superfluous. Only the thanksgiving-offering, whose function is to express our acknowledgement of our dependence upon God, will remain. Along the same lines, we will no longer need to pray for our needs: we will lack nothing, illness and poverty will be matters of the past, and harmony and spiritual sensitivity will become the hallmark of society. Prayer, in its conventional sense of beseeching God, will become obsolete, and only its thanksgiving-aspect will live on, as we continuously acknowledge God’s benevolence and wonders.

From this functional perspective, the endurance of the thanksgiving-offering and thanksgiving prayer is merely circumstantial. From a deeper perspective, both the consumption of the sacrifices in the ascending Divine flames and the soul’s passionate aspirations to dissolve in Godliness through prayer serve to disentangle us from our mundane trappings, drawing us nearer to God (“closeness” being the literal meaning of the word for “sacrifice,” קרבן) and connecting us to Him (“connectedness” being the literal meaning of the word for “prayer,” תפלה). Since the physical realm is currently the lowest spiritual rung of existence, we strive to rise above it and cleave to our Divine source. In the messianic era, however, the physical realm will be saturated with Godliness no less than the loftiest spiritual realms—and in fact, even more so; even the supernal angels will draw inspiration from the physical realm.52 As a result, we will not need to rise above our milieu, and the sacrifices and prayers will become obsolete.

But thanksgiving will persist, for rather than the endeavor to reach a higher consciousness, thanksgiving is the experience of that consciousness, the recognition and awe of God’s presence in our lives. As our Divine awareness perpetually heightens, our exultation in its experience will intensify accordingly.53


[12] In order to give thanks: In Kabbalistic terms, the purpose of the sacrifices is to elevate the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah to the level of the world of Atzilut, and to unite Z’eir Anpin and Nukva of Atzilut. In the messianic future, the three lower worlds will have risen permanently to the level of Atzilut, and the union between Z’eir Anpin and Nukva will be constant, just as the union between Abba and Ima is now. Hence, the majority of sacrifices will be obsolete.

The purpose of the thanksgiving-offering, in contrast, is to acknowledge the preeminence of the spiritual levels higher than Atzilut, particularly God’s transcendent creative light (sovev kol almin), thereby infusing the union of Abba and Ima with new inspiration. This process will continue in the messianic era.54

19The [sacrificial] flesh that touches anything defiled must not be eaten. It must be burned in fire. According to the sages,55 one of the reasons defiled meat must be burned is so that other people not confuse it with permitted meat and inadvertently eat it. In other words, even if we are certain that we will not eat, use, or even touch the meat, we must burn it so that others will not come to transgress. The Torah here demonstrates how deeply we ought to be concerned with our fellows’ safety and the pains we ought to take to spare them any wrongdoing. As we see here, God Himself instructs us to destroy His holy offerings completely so that no one be adversely affected by them.56

37 The regulation for the ascent-offering: The sages teach us that someone who studies the laws of a given sacrifice is considered as if he had offered it up.57 But if the study of the laws of a sacrifice accomplishes the same thing as offering it up, why should we bother with the sacrifice itself?

The difference between the “virtual” sacrifice and the actual one is their respective effect on the world. A sacrifice “offered up” via studying its laws can elevate the person but not the world around him. Only the physical sacrifice, which includes all aspects of creation—human, animal, vegetable, and mineral—can affect and elevate the world at large.58

Chapter 8

2 Take Aaron: Aside from the sacrifices they offered up on behalf of the rest of the nation, the priests offered up a number of sacrifices for themselves. These sacrifices can be divided into two categories:

(a) Those that were brought on a regular basis: twice daily in the case of the high priest, and one time only, on the day of initiation into the priesthood, in the case of regular priests. These sacrifices are spoken of in the first half of this parashah.59

(b) Those that were brought especially and only as part of the installation rites. These are discussed in the second half of this parashah.

These two categories of sacrifices express the two inherent qualities in the priests that qualify them as the people’s representatives before God. The first category expresses the priests’ unique status, which they received in reward for refusing to serve the Golden Calf.60 The second category, in contrast, was (at least partially) intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf, in which Aaron was involved.

The priests’ loyalty to God even in the face of the rest of the nation’s apostasy is highly commendable, but it merely protects the priest from evil. This quality cannot, on its own, atone for the rest of the nation’s sins. In contrast, with the second set of sacrifices, the priests were enabled to delve deeper into themselves, in order to reveal their innate ability to not only overcome darkness with light but actually transform it. Only then could they atone for the worshippers of the Golden Calf.61

33For seven days: As we have seen,62 the Divine Presence originally rested on earth, but the misdeeds of successive generations banished it to further and further spiritual realms. This process was reversed by Abraham, and was consummated by the construction of the Tabernacle.

Thus, the seven days of installation rites brought the Divine Presence back down to earth, as it was during the original seven days of Creation. Thus, the Hebrew word for “installation rites” (מלואים) literally means “completion,” alluding to the fact that these days saw the world return to its original state of completeness and holiness.63

Actually, however, these seven days brought the world to an even greater level of completion than did the seven days of Creation, inasmuch as the Divine revelation that accompanied the construction of the Tabernacle was able to overcome the spiritual darkness that had spread throughout the world in the wake of the original, progressive departure of the Divine Presence.64

36Aaron and his sons did all the things that God commanded through Moses: It is self-understood that Aaron and his sons did what God expressly told them to do, so the import of this verse, as Rashi explains, is rather that “they veered neither right nor left” from God’s instructions. This does not mean that they did not intentionally make any changes in anything that God had instructed,65 for this, too, is self-understood. Rather, this statement should be understood in light of the fact that God considered the Tabernacle rites so complicated that He provided the priests with seven days for practice and preparation. In this context, this verse is praising Aaron and his sons for not veering at all from the proper procedure even during these preparatory days, managing to fulfill every detail properly as God had commanded.

How did they manage such a feat? King Solomon stated:66 “No wrongdoing shall befall the righteous.” By “wrongdoing” he cannot mean sin, even unintentional sin, for someone who is susceptible to sin cannot be termed “righteous.” Rather, the righteous referred to by King Solomon are those who are in tune with the Divine energy informing whatever it is they are doing, and thus, they are automatically protected from even the slightest deviation from God’s will—even one that would not be considered a wrongdoing for an average person. Aaron and his sons reached such a degree of surrender to God; their bodies were naturally attuned to fulfilling God’s will without even the most minor deviation.

The lesson for us here is that some people feel that, at least as a start, it is enough to do just the “big things”—the most serious of the commandments—while leaving the myriad details and “minor” laws for some later time. The Torah therefore points out that Aaron and his sons, even during the educational days of setting up the Tabernacle, were careful not to veer at all from God’s express will. Every detail was by God’s explicit instruction, making its exact fulfillment crucial to their task. The same is true of every detail of Jewish law, and even every Jewish custom, for they too are integral elements of our Divine mission.67

By saying that they veered “neither to the right nor the left,” Rashi is telling us that they did not deviate even if they thought that a specific situation warranted a change “to the right,” i.e., to increase holiness, or “to the left,” i.e., as a further protection against negative influences. Rather, they fulfilled everything exactly as they heard it from Moses, without regard to their own appraisal of the situation.

The lesson in this case is twofold: Firstly, we should fulfill all of God’s directions without regard to our own appraisal of the situation, even if we mean well.

The second, more subtle lesson is that it is only Aaron and his sons who are praised for not having changed anything at all, for they were at the time in an environment of sublime spirituality, in which extra caution was not warranted. In our dangerous times, however, there is a need for both types of deviation: to go beyond the letter of the law (“veering to the right”) and to avoid even permissible activities (“veering to the left”), if such activities might lead to dangerous consequences.68