Toward the end of this week's Torah portion is the command to prepare "showbread" (Lev. 24:5-9). There were twelve loaves of this special bread, which were placed on a special table in the sanctuary before Shabbat and replaced with newly-baked loaves a week later.

[We will now explain why] there were twelve loaves of showbread and why they were [miraculously] warm even [a week later] when replaced.

Our sages state that the showbread remained warm the entire week. (Chagiga 26b) This is derived from the words: "to replace it with warm bread on the day it was taken away" (Samuel I 21:7), referring to the showbread. Although the simple understanding of the verse does not imply that the showbread stayed warm the whole week, the homiletic interpretation is based on the fact that the phrase "warm bread" refers to the bread of the previous week: "warm bread on the day it was taken away".

To clarify: It has been explained that a number of different couplings [between various partzufim] above [in the spiritual realms] are termed "eating". The beard is seen in Kabbala as the seat of mercy…

The sefirot metamorphose so that that may interact among each other. These couplings are termed "eating". The purpose of the transformation (or metamorphosis) of the sefirot into partzufim was that they be able to interact and cross-fertilize each other. These unions produce "fruit" or "offspring" in the form of divine "light" that shines into the lower partzufim and the lower worlds. The reason some of these couplings are termed "eating" is explained below.

This is the mystical meaning of the phrase "Eat, O beloved companions." (Songs 5:1) [This verse] refers to the coupling of Abba and Imma, which is occasioned by the [flow of energy from the] holy mazal of the beard of Arich Anpin. (Shaar HaMitzvot, parashat Emor)

In order for Abba and Imma to conjoin, they must receive an influence of higher consciousness from the partzuf above them, that of Arich Anpin. In a parallel passage in the Arizal's writings, (Taamei HaMitzvot, parashat Emor) the phrase "the mazal of the beard of the Atika Kadisha" is used instead of "the holy mazal of the beard of Arich Anpin". Although the term Atik Yomin refers specifically to the higher of the two partzufim of keter, the term Atika Kadisha ("the Holy Ancient One") is a general term for keter.

The beard is seen in Kabbala as the seat of mercy (rachamim). Kabbalistic works identify thirteen components of the beard (either tufts or parts of the face that are devoid of hair and thus outline the beard), corresponding to G‑d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. (Ex. 34:6-7) Indeed, Arich Anpin connotes "patience" a concept closely allied to that of mercy. The thirteen components of the beard of Arich Anpin are called mazalot (sing. mazal), which means a "source of flow" or influence.

As is known, [the beard of Arich Anpin] is composed of three iterations of the divine name Havayah, which together give 12 letters, corresponding to the 12 other parts of the beard [besides the 13th mazal]. The numerical value of these three names [3 x 26] is the same as that of the word [in Aramaic for "mazal",] "mazla" [78]… The thirteenth tribe, Levi, officiates at the Temple, reconciling the twelve tribes of the Jewish People…

These thirteen mazalot are divided into two groups. Twelve correspond to the four-letter divine name Havaya repeated three times (giving twelve letters). The thirteenth mazal stands by itself and summarizes or encapsulates the other twelve. This is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of three times the divine name Havayah, 3 x 26, equals the numerical value of the Aramaic word [the Zohar is written in Aramaic] for "mazal", "mazla" (78). It is this thirteenth mazal that must shine upon Abba and Imma in order for them to couple.

In Kabbala and Chasidut, it is explained that the thirteenth mazal transforms the entire set of mazalot into attributes of mercy. This is because numerically, twelve is a closed, rigid, perfect system; reflected in the physical world by the twelve lunar months and the twelve signs of the zodiac; in the Jewish people, by the twelve tribes; in the spiritual realm, by the twelve permutations of the letters of the divine name Havaya, and so on. In each of these sets, however, there is a (sometimes hidden) thirteenth element that adds the flexibility and adaptive quality that makes the set alive, pliable and viable. This is perhaps most clearly evident with regard to the twelve lunar months. In the Jewish calendar, a thirteenth month is added in 7 out of every 19 years in order to align the lunar year with the solar year. Here, the thirteenth lunar month makes the twelve original ones into an empathic system that can coexist with its solar "mate." Similarly, the thirteenth tribe, Levi, officiates at the Temple, reconciling the twelve tribes of the Jewish People with their "mate", G‑d. The showbread is the physical manifestation of this thirteenth mazal

This passage therefore means that in order for Abba and Imma to couple, they must receive a flow of mercy - or compassion-consciousness. This is, of course, a lesson pertinent to marital relationships, as well, and indeed all types of interpersonal communication: the underlying consciousness and approach toward the other partner must be one of compassion, empathy, and mercy.

…and of the word for "bread" ["lechem", which has a numerical value of 78].

This indicates the dependence of coupling ("eating bread") on the flow of consciousness from the mazal.

Corresponding to these twelve letters are the twelve loaves [of showbread]. This is because the [holy, thirteenth] mazal expresses the concept of the double-vav, which equals 12 [since the numerical value of the letter vav is 6].

[This is why the showbreads were arranged in two stacks,] six on one side and six on the other.

They also express the two letters hei of the divine name Havayah, whose combined numerical value [when spelled out with an alef] is also 12.

Hei-alef hei-alef, 5+1+5+1 equals 12.

In any case, this exposition indicates that the showbread is the physical manifestation of this thirteenth mazal, which, as we said, encapsulates and includes all the other twelve.

Now, since the coupling of Abba and Imma is termed "eating", it never ceases.

The two main pairs of partzufim are Abba and Imma, and Zeir Anpin and its Nukva. Whereas the coupling of the former pair is constant, the coupling of the latter is not. The continuous, steady-state relation between Abba and Imma is therefore termed "eating", for it is far less "charged" and ardent than the love-relationship between the "younger" pair, Zeir Anpin and Nukva (the offspring of Abba and Imma).

This is to be expected, since Abba and Imma are the partzufim of the intellect while Zeir Anpin and Nukva constitute the emotions and their expression. Priests are in the sefira of chochma

For the world to continue to exist, the union of the intellect must be constant. The union of emotion and expression, however, can be intermittent, although the quality of life improves the more frequently this union occurs. This is the union that results from our observance of the Torah and performance of the mitzvot.

Accordingly, this bread - which alludes to the supernal mazal that arouses them [i.e. Abba and Imma] to the [constant] coupling termed "eating" - had to remain on the table [in the sanctuary] at all times. And so it is written: "And you shall set showbread on the table before Me at all times" (Ex. 25:30).

The fact that the showbread had to be on the table at all times indicates that the union of Abba and Imma is constant, since this union is dependant upon the thirteenth mazal, which is, as stated above, the spiritual correlate of the showbread.

This is also why they remained warm constantly, as it is written: "to replace it with warm bread on the day it was taken away" (Samuel I 21:7). This alludes to the continuous stimulation of the warmth of the coupling.

The Ari now discusses why it is that the priests who served in the Temple eat the showbread.

Now, the priests would eat this bread. This is because the supernal [spiritual] priests are in the sefira of chochma. It is at this level that the high priests of all ten sefirot begin.

This is the mystical way to understand the verse "the priests, the Levites" (Deut. 17:9) As you have noticed, several times the priests are called Levites [by Scripture], as it says, "and the priests, the sons of Levi, approached…" (Ibid. 21:5) and so on.

Although the priests, being descended from Aaron, are of course members of the tribe of Levi, they are not usually referred to as "Levites". That designation is reserved for the other members of the tribe (i.e. non-priests), who have an entirely different set of duties to perform in the Temple.

The reason is that the supernal priests and Levites are the sefirot of chochma and bina, respectively. Since the union of these two sefirot is constant and the Levite at this level is completely "sweetened", without any severe judgment, the Levite is consequently strongly bound to the priest. They are considered one.

Bina must stay connected to chochma, so that the development of the idea must be constantly checked and evaluated against the experience of the initial insight. Chochma is the initial flash of insight; bina is the development of that insight into a full intellectual structure of thought. In the process of analyzing and developing the insight, the mind can sometimes lose track of the original idea, going off on tangents and trains of thought that were never implied in it. The end result is a perversion of the original truth. In order to prevent this, bina must stay connected to chochma; that is, the development of the idea must be constantly checked and evaluated against the experience of the initial insight. Then the pristine brilliance of the inspiration can keep the intellectual process on track.

So, in the upper worlds, where chochma and bina are in a state of constant union, as we have said, bina, or the Levite, is constantly being purified by chochma, the priest. Down here below, however, where chochma and bina are not always connected, and indeed, bina can stray far from the pristine insight of chochma, matters are different, and the Levite personifies stern severity.

Therefore, the showbread was eaten [only] by the priests, who personify chochma.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot and Taamei 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.