The highest level of consciousness of the Divine - that of total unity with G‑d - is embodied in the inner chamber of the Tabernacle/Temple and its Ark of the Covenant, as discussed in this week's Torah reading. The Ark housed the Tablets of the Covenant, on which were engraved the Ten Commandments, which encapsulated the entire Torah. In addition, a Torah scroll was placed on a shelf protruding from the side of the ark. This teaches us that a person can achieve this degree of intense unity with G‑d only through Torah study. Specifically, it is the study of the inner dimension of the Torah - Kabbalah and Chasidut - that enables a person to reach this level of consciousness.

This aspect of the Torah is alluded to by the two engraved tablets. When words are written on something - say, parchment - the ink and parchment are still two separate entities; the ink can be scraped off. Engraving, on the other hand, is a much more intrinsic unity; the word and the medium are one and the same.

The exoteric facet of Torah, if learned for egocentric purposes, can become an elixir of death….

For this reason, the inner dimension of the Torah is called "the Tree of Life" ("life" meaning submersion in G‑d-consciousness; (see Intro. Biurei HaZohar)), whereas the exoteric facet of Torah, if learned for egocentric purposes, can become "an elixir of death", (Yoma 72b) "death" meaning submersion in self-consciousness. This is further alluded to by the fact that the tablets could be read from either side; they had no "back". (See Tanya, Kuntres Acharon 161a) In the imagery of Kabbalah, the back of an entity signifies the aspect of it open to attack and liable to collapse.

Once engaged in the study of the Torah's inner dimension, one's study of the rest of Torah can also be permeated with union with G‑d. (See at length, Kuntres Etz Chaim, ch. 11ff.) This is alluded to by the presence of the Torah scroll (which indicates the exoteric aspect of the Torah) in the inner chamber as well.

The ark contained both the first and second pairs of tablets. The first tablets represent the Jew in his pristine state at Sinai, prior to the sin of the Golden Calf. The second tablets, which were given on Yom Kippur after the Jews had been forgiven for their sin, represent the Jew that has strayed then returned to the Ark of Torah. There is also a third Jew, one who lacks the purity of the first tablets but who has not returned to the path of the Torah enough to merit the second tablets. He, too, is represented in the Ark - in the broken pieces of the first tablets. Even when we are shattered and broken we are worthy of a place in the Ark.

[Based on Reshimot 108 and Likutei Sichot, vol. 6, p. 156, edited by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky
Copyright 2001 chabad of california /]