The Tabernacle and the World of Hasidic Mysticism


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Truth and the Tabernacle

By Yechezkel Gold

Entrance into the world of Hasidic mysticism begins with the person's desire to know and have God in his life. A basic outline of its structure, its terms and concepts, is an important second step. These terms and concepts are meant to connect the person and his reality to God. Each person has his own, individual portion of Torah, and hence his own understanding. However, an overly individualistic approach might purport to be based on Torah but rely on mistaken or superficial understanding. Understanding grows progressively, probably endlessly. Accordingly, it is best to have an outline of the structure, but not to rigidify understanding of its meaning.

Indeed, before embarking on a theoretical outline of Hasidic mysticism, we should examine the notion of there being mystical structure, and more generally, there being Torah, a set of ideas, commandments and actions considered to be true, absolute and Godly, and other ideas and actions that are not. After all, ideas, commandments and actions are not God Himself. How then do we attribute Godliness and absolute truth to them? What do we even mean by absolute truth?

To a great extent, although these questions may trouble us, they reflect the manner in which culture shapes our minds. The religious, mystical mind is unimpressed with questions and issues arising only from a culture's biased outlook, often finding them to be irrelevant after truer, Godlier ways of thinking develop. Hasidic mysticism understands truth differently.


The work of mysticism is to discover how each element of reality connects - and connects us - to God, thereby revealing God and life, His creation, to be sublime in all the ways the myriad details of creation can reveal them. As the Talmudic sages (end of Pirkai Avos) said: "All that God created in His world was created only for His glory". Before an element of creation is embellishes in this manner, it is defective, in a state of imperfection and chaos.

Only a modicum of spiritual sensitivity is required to perceive the need, importance, and above all the duty to elevate our lives and our world to this state of embellishment, called Tikun. The world's painful problems and suffering, caused by social, physical, psychological and spiritual imperfections and chaos, make the need for Tikun clear. Part of the work of Tikun is to labor to correct the world's practical problems.

Another, more purely mystical dimension of this work, is to develop a spiritual system. a way of looking at things that will contain and reveal the Godly Light above and within the creation. This too is important for embellishing the creation, because material existence without concomitant spirituality is barren and forlorn. Hence it is unstable. We all find areas of life where our ability to recognize Godliness is very limited, so although being generally spiritual is important, it is not sufficient by itself. Studying and contemplating Torah and in particular, Hasidic mysticism, provide the mental and spiritual tools to significantly elevate those areas of life. Also, without a spiritual, mystical system to point the way, we are unable to know some particularly esoteric areas of Hasidic thought that greatly enrich life's spirituality once we become aware of them. A system like that must take account of God as He is revealed in each element of the creation in its own unique way. Generally, this means studying Torah. Torah shows how each element of reality connects to God. This also includes elucidating, acknowledging, contemplating and endorsing the soul's reality and higher mystical levels.

The soul will readily acknowledge that God created the world for this purpose, for Tikun. A spiritual system accomplishing this intrinsic purpose of the universe when applied to all elements of reality is Godly. Torah applies to each detail of life and hence fulfills the criteria for this system. Moreover, it is effective: those who follow its ways, in particular, the tzaddikim, the righteous, and more generally the Jewish people throughout history are its "proof".

For people with exclusively deductive, linear cognitive inclinations, this notion of proof is unconvincing (although paradoxically, they do accept science's inductive approach). However, that picture of reality is flawed. We know that logical consistency and deduction operate only within the framework of fixed, finite assumptions. Life's reality is not fixed. Our perceptions and assumptions continually change and advance. The framework is intrinsically unstable. New experiences, perceptions and understanding bring us to discard former assumptions and our world view and expectations change. Accordingly, notions of truth cannot be determined by linear deduction.

With this in mind, some people reject entirely the notion of truth. They err. They are applying a simplistic, linear approach to an issue that is more than nonlinear and complex: it is a life issue, not only a logical one.

According to Hasidic mysticism, for something to be true means that it reveals Eternity. It links each element of reality with God, rendering time and circumstance transparent before the light of the Eternal and Absolute. This notion of truth is not defined by logic, but if we think and contemplate carefully, it comes much closer to what we really mean by truth than simply logical consistency. Torah and Mitzvohs are truth. An approach that does not accomplish Tikun is not truth. I believe that Torah and Mitzvohs are the exclusive truth. They permeate all levels and aspects of reality, evincing the Godliness in all. Torah does work and it commands us Jews not to forsake its ways. Leaving (God forbid) Torah and Mitzvohs hides Godliness and insults the sanctity of reality. As far as I can tell, there is reason to be greatly skeptical that other approaches work.

The Tabernacle the People of Israel built in the wilderness had that mystical transparency. It encapsulates the mystical system we have been discussing, and being the locus of the the Divine Presence's dwelling on earth, it is a particularly rich source of mystical insights. It is also a model reflecting how the Divine Presence resides within the individual. Someone entering the Tabernacle (or its successor, the Temple in Jerusalem) was greatly inspired by the experience because of the Tabernacle's transparence to the Godly Light. Today, lacking the Tabernacle and Temple, we can still study them. While this lacks the impact of direct experience, mystical knowledge still affords us tremendous insight through that study. Though access to the Tabernacle's world may seem difficult, studying it creatively and with a perspective informed by mystical knowledge remains an effective opening to the Godly world.

The Tabernacle had three main areas. The Tent comprised two of these areas, the inner sanctuary or the Holy of Holies, and the outer sanctuary, separated by a curtain. The walls of the Tent were made of adjacent, upright columns each supported by two silver ground sockets and crowned by gold rings. Wooden bolts covered by gold half-sheaths and rings ran along the outside of these walls. A screen marked the entrance into the Tent. The yard was the third area. It was an open area enclosed by a net-like, linen fence supported by columns spaced from each other. A screen marked the entrance into the Tabernacle yard.

The curtain between the inner and outer sanctuaries was held up by four columns with golden ornaments and silver ground sockets. A screen held up by five columns with golden ornaments and copper ground sockets interposed between the tent and the yard. The yard's linen net was held up by columns each supported by a copper ground socket, with silver ornamentation and hooks at the top. A screen held up by five columns with silver ornaments and copper ground sockets marked the entrance to the yard from the outside world.

The three types of metal described here represent three different modes of mystical connection. Gold, the most precious of these three metals, symbolizes mind; the function of mind is to unify with (the idea and essence of) its subject as much as possible. Thus the Hebrew word for gold is zahav, akin to ziv, meaning luster. Like light revealing its source, insight and understanding "shed light", elucidating and revealing the character of a subject being dealt with. The Tabernacle's deepest, most lustrous truths and greatest transparency to the Divine, Eternal Light were in the inner sanctuary where the golden ark was housed, and more generally, in the Tent, all of whose vessels were gold.

Silver is called kesef, and has the same stem as kosef, meaning yearning. It represents emotion. The Hebrew word for copper, nekhoshes, has the same etymological root as nakhush, meaning "determined ". Emotion is heartfelt, spontaneous and changing, unlike determination which is constant and forceful, uninfluenced by changing moods. Determination is the human faculty most suitable to effective action.

The Tabernacle's ground sockets on the ground and ornaments at the top of the different column display a particular mutual relationship. Thus, mind's inspiring idea, ideal or awareness, is reflected "below" by excitement and exultation. Reciprocally, profound emotions elevate and exalt the mind. They can lead the mind to mystical, holy matters. The spirituality of the Tent, representing the most exalted spiritual level, was defined by mind and emotion, as reflected by the columns having gold ornaments on top and silver ground sockets.

The yard represents a spiritual realm intermediary between the exalted inner sanctuary and the outside world. Dealing with the outside world requires constancy and determination, symbolized by the copper ground sockets. They interact with the silver ornaments, the realm of emotion. Our feelings bring us to determined action and, reciprocally our interactions with the outside arouse our emotions.

The columns at the entrance between the tent's inner and outer sanctuaries, and between the yard and the outside world, have the same metals as the columns surrounding and defining those respective areas. However, the columns marking the entrance between the tent and the yard are different: the ornaments are gold but the ground sockets are copper. Gold represents inspired mind, but copper symbolizes a practical orientation to the outer world, characterized by determination. This discrepancy points to an idea pertinent to our discussion. There is no easy access between the holy, mystical realm symbolized by the Tent, on the one hand, and a worldly, practical orientation, on the other. The gold ornaments at the top of the columns and copper ground sockets at the bottom at the interface between these two areas have a symbolic message: if one has difficulty entering the mystical world, access is through constancy and determination, learning the unfamiliar, abstruse concepts and working on them until they become meaningful. And if one is mystically inclined but has difficulty translating this into practical expression, this too is achieved through constancy and determination.

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from the February 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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