The desert is a desolate place, where neither plants nor grass can grow. Such an environment is antithetical to the spirit of holiness, where beneficence is the rule. Life and vitality come from G‑d. He is called a "tzadik", from the word "tzedaka", meaning "charity", since He is a benefactor and a philanthropist.

Indeed the entire realm of holiness shares the attribute of kindness. However, whereas G‑d's kindness stems from His attribute of greatness, the kindness of created beings in the realm of holiness stems from humility. The holy created being is nullified to G‑d and sees itself as nothing. It therefore considers the other to be more worthy. For example,

Abraham considered himself dust and ashes and was therefore kind and giving to all people. The passage of the ark and the Israelites through the desert subdued the negativity…

On the other hand, a person who sees himself as a "something", and is not nullified, needs everything for himself and does not give to others. For example, Timna, a member of a royal family, sought to convert to the faith of Abraham. She was refused and instead became a concubine of Eliphaz, son of Esau. She said, "Better a maidservant to this nation than princess to another!" (Sanhedrin 99b) Even if she could not convert she wished to be related to Abraham and therefore married his great-grandson. Why indeed was she not accepted as a convert? The answer can be found in her name, which means "withhold" and connotes selfishness. Because she was a selfish person, she was unworthy of joining the family of Abraham, a family distinguished by a generous spirit. Eliezer, servant of Abraham, knew, for example, that Rebecca would become Isaac's wife only after she demonstrated her kindness by offering to draw water for Eliezer and his camels.

The importance of generosity in Torah is reflected in all of its laws. For example, desert sand, because it is incapable of "giving" and producing fruit, is invalid for use in the mitzvah of covering the blood of a slaughtered animal. (See Ohr HaTorah, Bereishit, 5:886.)

The desert is therefore a place of snakes, serpents and scorpions (Deut. 8:15), the three kelipot, which are the source for all separateness and lack of nullification.


The passage of the ark and the Israelites through the desert subdued the negativity of the desert. The revelation of divinity in the Tabernacle as they carried it through the desert automatically neutralized the negative forces.

This neutralization served as a preparation for the Messianic Era, so that it will then be possible for divinity to be revealed in our lowly world. This revelation will be possible only because of the previous neutralization of the source of concealment and separateness in the desert.


What is this future revelation of which we speak?

In reality, from the perspective of the Divine Essence, there is no concealment of divinity at all. Before Him all is naught. There is no difference between pre-Creation and post-Creation. Even after Creation, He is the only existence as He was before Creation. In the concealment will obscure the Divine reality…

All of Creation comes into being, from nothingness, by virtue of the divine letters. This is as the verse states, "By the word of G‑d were the heavens created". (Psalms 33:6) By examining the nature of human speech, which reflects the nature of Divine speech, we can understand why speech is used as a metaphor for creation. Human speech is nullified and subordinate to thought; it is totally insignificant. It is only for the listener that speech is a "something".

So it is with divine speech: The letters that make up the "Ten Utterances" of Creation ("Let there be light", "Let there be a firmament", etc.) are only significant in the eyes of the creatures that come into being from them. From the perspective of the Divine Essence, however, they are as naught. The letters make the world a "something" in our eyes; but for Him there is no concealment at all.

In the Future, with the revelation of the Divine Essence, no concealment will obscure the Divine reality, even in the lowest world Asiya. The physical mind will see divinity. This revelation will be possible because of the passage of the Tabernacle through the desert.

A Personal Tabernacle

The above is a description of the purpose of the actual passage of the Tabernacle through the desert, on the level of "Olam" (literally "world"), referring to Space. This takes place now as well on the level of Nefesh (literally "soul"), referring to Human. (In addition to these two categories, the Sefer Yetzira also discusses the realm of Time.) The dynamic of the Tabernacle exists within every soul…

The dynamic of the Tabernacle exists within every soul. All of its details and particulars have their parallel in the human condition. When G‑d commands the Israelites to construct the Tabernacle, He says, "Build for me a temple, and I shall dwell within you". (Ex. 25:8) He does not say "I will dwell within it" - but rather "within you".

Every person must create a tabernacle within himself; he must allow divinity to be revealed in his being. This is achieved through worship of the heart, prayer - through purification of the heart, as King David asks of G‑d: "Create for me a pure heart". (Psalms 51:12) When a person's heart is pure of any dross and is entirely devoted to G‑d, it is then called a "tabernacle".

The creation of the human tabernacle neutralizes the concealment created by the animal soul. The coarseness of the animal soul makes the world appear separate from divinity. When the heart is purified, however, divine reality becomes apparent. Even within the realm of concealment there is no concealment.

Just as the Tabernacle neutralized the desert, so the human tabernacle neutralizes the human desert. The human desert is the place of all deeds, words and thoughts that are not directed toward divinity. This is a desolate and uninhabitable place - the evil inclination, which must be subdued.

Note: Good deeds may precede the total eradication of every vestige of evil. In the same way that he introduction of light automatically subdues negativity and a small amount of light dispels much darkness (Tanya ch. 12 based on Ecclesiastes 2:13), similarly the passage of the Tabernacle automatically subdued the kelipot, as in the verse "When the ark would travel…and your enemies will flee". (Num. 10:35) So it is in the soul. The introduction of light through Torah study and prayer, the body and animal soul are automatically subdued. (Tzemach Tzedek's gloss)

Let us now explain the spiritual significance of the beams that made up the walls of the Tabernacle. The Torah calls them "standing acacia wood". (Ex. 26:15) Angels, too, are called "standing" (see Isaiah 6:2) and indeed the Midrash draws a parallel between the dutiful standing of the angels and these beams.

Standing implies silence…

Standing implies silence (Sotah 39a) - silence of all sense of self, a quieting of all foreign desires that man craves and fancies. When one's cravings are permitted expression, it is "negative movement". "Positive movement", on the other hand, refers to the movement of the soul in its ever-growing love and desire for divinity. Indeed the soul is called a "mehalech", one that moves and advances in a positive sense, as opposed to the angels who are called "omdim", standing stationary.

But in order to graduate from "negative movement" to its positive form, one must experience "standing", silencing of the lower modes of movement.

The "standing acacia wood" of the human tabernacle symbolizes this phase. All further spiritual achievement is founded upon this basis. It can be compared to the bones of a person upon which are added flesh, sinews etc. Similarly, the beams are the base upon which was added cloths of blue and purple wool. These cloth coverings in the human tabernacle are the "positive movement" of ecstatic love for the Divine.

It was specifically the sons of Merari, whose name connotes "bitterness" in Hebrew, who carried the beams, since it is through honest introspection and attendant contrition that one attains the level of "standing". This, in turn, leads to the cloth coverings of the Tabernacle - experiences of love and ecstasy.

Adapted from a discourse in Likutei Torah (first published in 1807).

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