As we have seen, man has a potential for deviating from the middle path, lower than reason and understanding; this deviation [by which he sinks to the level of an animal] is called the folly of unholiness.

Similarly he has a potential for a deviation above reason and understanding [and by means of this deviation he can approach self-transcendence].

This level of conduct is also called folly, the folly of holiness.

Thus we read (Kesubbos 17a) that "it was said of Rebi Yehudah the son of Rebi Ilai that at weddings he would twirl a sprig of myrtle as he danced before the bride."

The Talmud goes on to say that "as Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak danced, he would juggle three ('twigs of myrtle' — Rashi). Said Rebi Zeira: 'This venerable sage is embarrassing us' ('by making light of the respect due to Torah scholars through his undignified behavior' — Rashi).

When Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak passed away, "a pillar of fire appeared, separating him from all those who were near him."

Rebi Zeira thereupon retracted his previous remark.

[Three versions of his retraction are recorded in the Talmud.]

The first:

"The venerable sage has been well served by his sprig" (Shot-ie-ah), ('the sprig of myrtle with which he used to dance' Rashi).

The second version:

"The venerable sage has been well served by his folly" (Shtusay), ('for he clowned like a fool' — Rashi).

The third version:

"The venerable sage has been well served by his policy" (Shitosay), ('by his customary course of conduct' (Rashi).

Folly of this kind transcends understanding, and thus represents a wondrously superior mode of conduct.

[The following citation from the Talmud throws light on the nonrational — i.e., superrational — conduct of the above-named Sages at weddings.]

"If a man (Ish) and a woman (Isha) are found worthy, the Divine Presence abides between them.

For Ish is composed of Esh ('fire') and the letter Yud; Isha is composed of Esh and the letter Heh.

When a man and a woman are found worthy, [i.e., when they approach marriage in a G‑dly way], the letters yud and heh combine to spell the Name of G‑d: the Shechinah dwells in their midst." (Moreover, the Divine Presence then becomes manifest in the kind of marriage that is called — "an everlasting edifice.")

Because a marriage thus elicits such prodigious spiritual power, the joy of the Sages at weddings would burst the conventional bounds of propriety.

Indeed, in the wake of the dancing of Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak, he was granted a sublime revelation of Divine favor: "a pillar of fire appeared, separating him from all those who were near him" — a true revelation of Divine light.

The explanation [for the necessity for this folly of holiness, for this pattern of behavior that transcends reason,] lies in the following teaching regarding the infinite Ein-Sof light:

"No thought can grasp Him at all."

For G‑d transcends the very category of understanding.

The subtlest of spiritual concepts is still within the reach of the mortal mind, but that which transcends the very category of understanding is beyond the grasp of mortal thought.

The Tanya (chapter 18) expresses the concept as follows:

"In relation to the Almighty, Who is beyond intelligence and knowledge, and Who can in no way be comprehended by any thought — all men are like fools before Him. As it is written, 'I am foolish and ignorant, I am as a beast before You — and I am constantly with You...,' meaning that 'because I approach You as a fool and a beast [i.e., through the irrational power of faith] — precisely therefore and thereby am I constantly with You.'"

In order to relate to G‑d's Essence one must make a self-effacing commitment that transcends the bounds of reason. Hence this level of spiritual attainment is also called folly.

Similarly, we find a prophet referred to as a madman, as in the verse, "Why did this madman come?"

For during the revelation of prophecy a person has to divest himself of materiality; he has to step beyond his understanding and emotions, and to attain a level of self-nullification beyond all limits of reason.

For this reason too prophets would remove their clothing during prophetic revelation.

Thus we find, "Shaul also removed his clothes and prophesied."

The need for clothes first came about as a result of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Before the sin "[Adam and his wife] were naked, and they were not ashamed."

After the sin, man's feelings [hitherto instinctively good] comprised both good and evil — indeed, this is the core of their sin — as is implied in a later verse, "They knew that they were naked." At this point they first felt the need for clothes.

The ultimate source for the experience of feelings comprising both good and evil is one's awareness of his own intellect and emotions.

Prophecy thus demands "divesting oneself of one's clothes," i.e., divesting oneself of this awareness of one's own intellect and emotions, and nullifying one's own faculties and sensibilities.

Thus Rambam writes in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah:

"It is one of the fundamental tenets of the faith to know that G‑d grants prophecy to men. Prophecy will rest only on a man who is wise and courageous, who overcomes his desires, and whose desires never overcome him in any matter."

Such conduct, which entails a deviation that transcends the accepted norms of reason and understanding, is called folly.

* * *

Having now understood the two levels of folly (shtus), we can now revert to the explanation of why the Mishkan had to be built specifically of acacia wood (shitim).

As stated above, the intent of the divine service in the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash was to transform darkness into light to the degree where the darkness itself would be luminous; i.e. to transform the spirit of folly that stems from "the Other Side" into the folly of holiness.

The Mishkan was therefore made of acacia wood, whose very name in the Holy Tongue (shitim) echoes the word for folly (shtus).

For it thus embodied the principle that conduct which is folly — in the sense that it is lower than reason — ought to be transformed into conduct which is folly in the sense that it transcends reason.

We may now more fully appreciate the teaching, "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell within them."

G‑d dwells "within each individual" through his divine service of personal refinement which transforms darkness into light, and through his efforts at turning the sub-rational elements of the world into the superrational.

[On a practical level]:

There are things that people do only because everyone does them.

Certain folkways that are conventionally held to be proper, for example, crystallize into unalterable laws.

Such unreasonable habits ought to be transformed through one's own endeavors: instead of remaining below reason, they should be elevated above reason.

Business commitments, for example, pressing as they may be, do not generally overrule the times that convention prescribes for eating and sleeping.

They do, however, sometimes set aside (or even cancel) the fixed times that should be regularly scheduled for Torah study and prayer.

A man who feels accountable to his soul should ask himself: "Is there any wisdom in such conduct?"

For who is the man who knows when his time will come?

In the words of Midrash Rabbah, "It is not given to man to tell [the Angel of Death]: 'Wait until I have settled my accounts and arranged my household...'" How, then, can a man expend his soul's energy on goals that have no substance, and utterly forget the purpose for which his soul descended to this world?

Let him realize that this possibility comes only from the spirit of folly, which he was given to elevate and transform.

With that realization, he will stand fast and fix times for the study of Torah. And then "I will dwell within each one of them" — Divine light will be revealed within his soul and illuminate it.

This is the meaning of the above-quoted statement of the Zohar.

"When the sitra achra is subdued" — i.e., when the foolishness of the animal soul and the excitement of worldly pleasure have been transformed into holiness through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos — then "the glory of G‑d rises thereby [and is diffused] throughout all the worlds": the transcendent light of sovev kol almin will shine forth in lustrous revelation.


The above chapter explains that [just as there is a folly that derives from the unholy side of the universe, so too] there is a folly of holiness, a deviation above the bounds of reason.

An example of this is the fact that prophecy requires that one first divest himself of the awareness of his own mind and emotion [i.e. that one transcend one's own mind and emotion].

The fact that the Mishkan was made of acacia wood (shitim) is a reminder of how in one's daily life one can transform the folly of evil (shtus) into the folly of holiness.