Among the topics discussed in this week's Torah portion is the preparation of the special oil used in the Tabernacle and Temple for anointing the Temple vessels and the priests. The ingredients of this compound were "choice spices: 500 weights of pure myrrh, fragrant cinnamon - half of which is 250 weights, 250 parts of aromatic cane, 250 weights...of cassia and a hin of olive oil". (Ex. 30:23,24) The amounts of myrrh and cinnamon used in the compound were the same, 500 weights, but the cinnamon had to be measured out a half at a time.

The mystical significance of the anointing oil is as follows: As you know, 500 weights of pure myrrh were used, and it was measured out all at once. Five hundred weights of fragrant cinnamon were also used, but it was weighed out a half at a time, as it says: "fragrant cinnamon - half of which is 250 weights". Only 250 weights of cassia were used, however.

The reason for this is that all these spices are manifestations of the divine name Elokim , and as you know, there are three [usages of] Elokim: sometimes it signifies the sefira of bina , other times the sefira of gevura , and other times the sefira of malchut.

There are many names used for G‑d throughout the Bible. This is because each name refers to G‑d as He manifests Himself through a specific attribute. These attributes are called sefirot in Kabbala; every sefira is associated with a specific name of G‑d. That said, we see from this passage that there is some fluidity in this, and in different circumstances the same name can refer to different attributes or sefirot.

In general, the name Elokim is juxtaposed with the name Havayah and is considered a sheath or vessel through which Havayah is expressed. Thus it is written: "For as the sun and its shield are Havayah [and] Elokim". (Psalms 84:12) In each of the three cases listed here, the sefira with which the name Elokim is identified acts as a secondary, receiving complement to another sefira. Bina is the second sefira of the intellect, which develops and focuses the intense but ephemeral flash of insight which is chochma , the first sefira of the intellect. Although it is an independent faculty of the soul, it acts upon the material provided to it by chochma.

Similarly, gevura is the second sefira of the emotions, which limits the intensity of the first sefira of the emotions, chesed. Here again, gevura is an independent faculty, but its function is to react to the actions of chesed. Finally, malchut is the vehicle through which the emotions together express themselves. Thus, though it, too, is an independent faculty of the soul, it serves to express the content it is provided with from the emotions. We see, then, that in each case, these sefirot act as vessels or filters for other, more "active" sefirot, and this commonality is the basis for their all being associated with the name Elokim.

The term used in Scripture for "pure myrrh" is "mor deror", which literally means "free myrrh." This spice is associated with the name Elokim of bina and is therefore called "free" myrrh. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "and you shall proclaim freedom [throughout the land and to all its inhabitants]", which refers to bina. The number 50 is associated with the concept of freedom..."

One of the Torah's commandments is that the high court (the Sanhedrin) proclaim every fiftieth year a "jubilee" year. This year had several legal significances, one of which was that in it all Jews who had become indentured servants were to be set free. Thus, the number 50 is associated with the concept of freedom.

Kabbala identifies in the soul six principle emotions: chesed ("loving-kindness"), gevura ("strength"), tiferet ("beauty"), netzach ("victory"), hod ("glory"), and yesod ("foundation" or "connection"). All the other emotions we are familiar with are derivatives, combinations, or inner dimensions of these. These six sefirot together with malchut, the means of their expression, form a unit of seven. As we have explained previously, every sefira subdivides into sub-sefirot, so the full experience of the emotions together with their expression is 7 x 7, or 49. This number thus represents the consummate consciousness of emotion, a state of awareness in which one interprets everything and reacts to everything base on his emotional makeup. In order for a person to rise above...the confines of his own subjectivity, he must use his intellect...

Now, important as the emotions are in the full psychological functioning man, they cannot be relied upon themselves to provide him with the proper consciousness he needs to interpret and respond properly to the world. This is because the emotions are entirely subjective. In order for a person to rise above - be free of - the confines of his own subjectivity, he must use his intellect.

Thus, we are taught in the Talmud that there are fifty "gates" of bina, i.e., fifty levels of understanding divinity. Bina is the principle sefira of the intellect, in which the insight of chochma is developed into a full mental construction and world-view.

When the mature understanding of bina permeates all ten sefirot, we have 50 x 10 = 500; this is why there are five hundred weights of myrrh in the anointing oil.

Fragrant cinnamon is weighed out a half at a time because even though it is associated with [only one sefira], gevura, there is also an aspect of the name Elokim associated with the sefira of hod. [This name Elokim], however, [is not counted] because it is considered part of Zeir Anpin.

Thus, we count only 3 names Elokim: that of bina, that of gevura, and that of malchut. It is true that there are two names Elokim in Zeir Anpin itself, but they are both together considered one.

The fact that the cinnamon is measured out in two parts indicates that the name Elokim which it represents has two aspects. The interrelations between the sefirot are usually graphically represented by arranging them along three axes. This depiction of the sefirot is known as the "tree" of the sefirot.

left axis

center axis

right axis


1. keter


3. bina


2. chochma

5. gevura


4. chesed


6. tiferet


8. hod


7. netzach


9. yesod



10. malchut


Here we see clearly the relationships between the three sefirot identified with the name Elokim mentioned above and their "partners": bina is opposite chochma, gevura is opposite chesed, and malchut is directly below yesod, the sum of all the emotions. However, there is one pair that we would expect to have a similar relationship but that was left out: netzach and hod. The reason for this is that as we explained previously, the emotions act as an aggregate, forming the partzuf known as Zeir Anpin ("the smaller face"). Thus, once we have considered the pair of chesed and gevura, we have already reckoned with the emotions. We are in fact taught that the second triad of emotions (netzach, hod, and yesod) derive directly from the first, principle triad (chesed, gevura, and tiferet).

Still, in order to allude to the fact that there is another sefira - hod - that exhibits an Elokim-type relationship with its pair, the cinnamon is measured out on half at a time, as if to say that the name Elokim that is associated with gevura is only half the picture, and together with it there is the secondary name Elokim associated with the sefira of hod.

The third name Elokim, which is manifest [in the anointing oil] as cassia, is identified with the sefira of malchut.

The number 500 is arrived at by considering the following two aspects of the name Elokim: When this name is spelled out in full its value is 300. When it is spelled out in increasing value, its value is 200. Together we have 500.

"Spelling out in full" refers to the process called milui, in which each letter is treated as a word in itself, and the numerical values of these words are then added to together. Thus, the name Elokim (alef-lamed- hei - yud -mem) becomes alef-lamed-mem lamed-mem-dalet hei-yud yud- vav -dalet mem-mem and adds up to 300. The "increasing value" of a word refers to the sum of the first letter of the word plus the first two letters plus the first three letters, and so on. Thus, the "increasing value" of the name Elokim is alef plus alef-lamed plus alef-lamed-hei plus alef-lamed-hei-yud plus alef-lamed-hei-yud-mem, which sums to 200.

Since the name Elokim in general signifies bina, the myrrh [which represents bina] is taken in a quantity of 500, and weighed out all at once. Since cinnamon represents Zeir Anpin, it is weighed out in two parts [for there are two names Elokim in Zeir Anpin] even though we count them as only one: 250 corresponding to gevura and 250 corresponding to hod. Malchut, which embodies only one name Havayah, is only weighed out once, and in a quantity of 250.

This is why all these spices are called in Scripture "choice" spices. The word for "choice" [in Hebrew, "rosh"] is composed of three letters: reish, alef, shin. The numerical value of reish is 200, representing the increasing value of Elokim, as we said. The numerical value of the shin is 300, representing the full value (milui) of Elokim. The alef refers to the name Elokim itself. One must see himself as a mere receptacle or channel for the divine blessing...

We see from the above discussion that all the spices that compose the anointing oil are in some way a manifestation of the name Elokim. As we said, the basic characteristic of this name is that it serves as a receptacle, or "filter", for other divine forces. Since the purpose of the anointing oil is to render a physical object or person fit for service in the holy Temple, we may surmise that the point here is that it should be clear to everyone that in order to serve in such a capacity, one must see himself as a mere receptacle or channel for the divine blessing elicited by the Temple service. We are taught that the Temple and the service that was (and will be) performed in it embody the mechanism whereby every individual Jew makes himself and his life into a miniature Temple, or dwelling place for G‑d. Thus, we see here in order for this to work, one must maintain consciousness of himself and all the accoutrements of his life as being simple vessels to elicit and contain the divine blessing.

As even a cursory perusal of this part of the Bible will show, constructing the Temple (or its portable version, the Tabernacle) and its vessels took considerable expense and effort. Nonetheless, the simple existence of the Temple, its vessels, and its work force (the priests) was not enough; these all had to be anointed. Similarly, when a person is properly inspired to serve G‑d in his life, he will take great pains to try to arrange things such that everything is in place for this purpose. He will stock the shelves of his kitchen with kosher food and those of his living room with Torah books; he will make sure he has a job that enables him to keep the Shabbat and holidays while still providing all the needs for his family, and so on, and so forth. Yet if he forgets to "anoint" it all, an essential element will be lacking. By taking pains to demonstrate that each ingredient of the anointing oil is a manifestation of the name Elokim, the Arizal is showing us that this essential element is the awareness that all our efforts are at best and at most in order to make ourselves and our lives receptacles and channels for G‑d's blessing.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Ta'amei HaMitzvot ; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.