"And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: 'Command Aaron and his sons, saying, 'This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall put on his linen garment and shall put his linen breeches on his flesh, and he collect the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.'" (Lev. 6:1-4)

In this passage, which opens this week's Torah-reading, the Torah describes the commandment known as "lifting up the ashes". (Rambam, Mishna Torah, Tamidim uMusafim 2:10-15) This was one of the first things done in the daily Temple service, after the fire on the altar had been burning the sacrifices all night. In this ritual, the priest would collect a certain amount of the ashes on the top of the altar and place them on the ground next to the altar; these ashes would be absorbed into the ground on the spot. This was done every morning. In addition, whenever the ashes on the altar accumulated such that there was no more room for the wood, the priest would collect these ashes and take them outside the camp (or, when the Temple was built in Jerusalem, outside the city walls) and deposit them there. When he did this, the priest had to wear his regular linen garment. The Arizal discusses the significance of this.

The priest personifies the attributes of silver, the whiteness of chesed.

The Temple service was divided between two classes of the tribe of Levi: the priests, which were those members of the tribe of Levi who descended directly from Aaron, and the Levites, which were all other members of the tribe. The priests officiated at the offering of the sacrifices while the Levites fulfilled other functions pertinent to the maintenance of the Temple. The Levites also formed a choir and an orchestra which accompanied the offering of certain sacrifices. The Levites…represented the upward soaring of man's heart…

Spiritually, a sacrifice consists of both an "upward" and "downward" spiritual movement. The animal ascended in flames on the altar, signifying and effecting the elevation of man's animal nature into holiness. This elicited a downward flow of divine beneficence in response. The priests represented the downward response of the offering, since, as a result of the rituals they performed (slaughtering and burning the animal), divine fire descended from heaven onto the altar to consume the sacrifice. The Levites, in contrast, represented the upward soaring of man's heart - as expressed in the consumption of the sacrifice in the flames - in their music and song.

These two movements reflect the natures of the first and principle two sefirot of the emotions: chesed and gevura. The downward flow of G‑d's beneficence into the world expresses His chesed, while the ecstatic, upward soaring of the soul expresses the ardent power (gevura) of human love and yearning for G‑d expressed in the song accompanying the sacrifice. In terms of color-imagery, the sweet, downward flow of chesed is reflected in the pure transparency of water or the purity of the colors white or silver, while the fiery flames of gevura are reflected in the brilliance of red or gold. Accordingly, the two metals silver and gold are associated with the sefirot of chesed and gevura, respectively.

Shining forth from him is the whiteness of the head of Arich Anpin. The greater the intellectual understanding of a given concept, the greater…the emotional response to it…

Although the emotions are inspired by the intellect, they do not originate in the intellect. The intellect is a detached, cold, objective faculty, and therefore cannot produce an emotion, which is an excited, subjective response. All the intellect provides the emotions is their inspiration, that is, the subject material to which the emotion responds. In fact, the greater the intellectual understanding of a given concept, the greater and more intense the emotional response to it. But although the intellect can stimulate and feed the emotions, it cannot produce them, since they are not intellectual by nature.

Therefore, the emotions must have their own independent source in the soul apart from the intellect. This source is in the partzuf of Arich Anpin, which is higher (and precedes) both the partzufim of the intellect (Abba and Imma) and that of the emotions (Zeir Anpin). And here we see an interesting thing: while in the conscious part of the soul the intellect is higher and precedes the emotions, in the super-conscious will (Arich Anpin), the situation is reversed: the source of the emotions is higher and precedes that of the intellect.

In other words, up there in the super-conscious parts of the soul, the emotions are superior to and more "real" than the intellect. It is only in our conscious lives that the intellect is superior to the emotions, because in the process of becoming conscious, the emotions suffer a fall in that they become tainted by the ego. But "up there", in our purer selves, our emotions are more the "real thing" than our intellect.

This is reflected in our conscious lives as well, in the fact that the emotions are the true test of a person's personality. It is easy to spout allegiances and philosophies of life on an intellectual level, but the extent to which these have been truly integrated into a person's life becomes evident only when we see how he reacts emotionally to things.

In any case, the root of chesed in the super-conscious is the whiteness of Arich Anpin.

The sefira of chochma, as well, refers to the High Priest.

The High Priest was distinguished in a number of ways from the rest of the priests, most markedly by the four extra garments he wore (the breastplate, the ephod, the headband, and the robe) and the fact that only he was allowed inside the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple, and then only once a year, on Yom Kippur. His relationship to the rest of the priests was analogous to that between the priests and the laity, in that he wore special garments and had both special privileges and special duties. He was thus the most special of the special, a sort of super-priest, who embodied all the aspects of the priesthood but in a much more absolute way.

Therefore, if a priest in general may be said to be a manifestation of the sefira of chesed, the High Priest would be the manifestation of the sefira directly above chesed on the sefira-tree, chochma.

This is why [the High Priest] had to wear linen clothes [on Yom Kippur], as it is written, "he shall wear a holy linen robe…" (Lev. 16:4) This is because sackcloth [which is linen] manifests the 400 worlds. On the head of Arich Anpin there are 13 strands of hair…

The text of the Arizal's teaching now refers to his explanation of these "400 worlds" in another text, which we will now quote. The dominant symbolic imagery in this passage is that of hair. Hair is considered to be alive, since it is constantly growing, but the life force it possesses is very limited, since it can be cut without causing any pain to the person. It therefore signifies the transference of a highly limited and diluted level of life force from the area of the body from which it issues.

On the head of Arich Anpin there are 13 strands of hair and 13 white [i.e. bald] areas…. Four of the white areas together with four strands of hair extend behind and below the head of Arich Anpin and reach down to the head of Zeir Anpin. These hairs thus cover Abba and Imma.

Thus, Arich Anpin - the will - produces hairs, through which its intense spiritual energy is transmitted in a highly diluted form to the lower levels of Creation. They bypass the intellect (Abba and Imma) altogether; the intellect plays no role in the creation of the emotions (Zeir Anpin).

These four hairs and four white areas are manifestations of the four yuds in the milui of the name Havayah whose numerical value is 72.

Four yuds are used when spelling out the name Havayah such that its numerical value is 72. This spelling out of the Name is associated with the sefira of chochma.

[The numerical value of] each of these [four] yud's [is 10, and they] each inter-include another 10. This yields 400, which is the numerical value of the word for "sackcloth" [in Hebrew, "sak"].

Inter-inclusion is the hallmark of holiness. [See Mystical Significance of Hair ]

Now, the strands [i.e., the threads of the sackcloth] manifest the hairs aritextof the above-mentioned four strands [of the hair of Arich Anpin], while the holes in between the threads of the sackcloth manifest the four white spaces. The latter looked like black white paper on which is written black letters, i.e. the [dark] hairs. And in fact, on the head of Arich Anpin they are as white as white snow.

Corresponding to these, in the realm of evil, opposite the world of Atzilut, there are 400 red [hairs]. These are called the "garment of hair" (Gen. 25:25) of the red-haired Esau.

Almost all aspects of the created order have corresponding entities in the realm of evil, as it is written, "You have made one opposite the other" (Ecclesiastes 7:14). This is in order to afford man the possibility of free choice. Nonetheless, the choice is weighted in favor of good and holiness, as the ensuing discussion will demonstrate.

Whereas Abraham personified the divine attribute of chesed, Isaac personified gevura. Esau, the son of Isaac, personified the fallen, evil aspect of gevura. He is therefore associated with the color red.

This accords with what I have taught you, that in the evil realm opposite the world of Atzilut, the only evil that has been rectified is that opposite Zeir Anpin and its Nukva, which are [the archetypes of] the wicked Esau and his wife. But the evil that is opposite Abba and Imma of the world of Atzilut did not undergo the rectification process of becoming a partzuf, but rather remained simple points, similar to how the primordial kings [i.e. the sefirot of Tohu] were before they were rectified. On the side of evil, intellect is always subservient to emotions…

Herein lies the essential superiority of intellect over emotion. Whereas the evil emotions (evil love, hatred, etc.) can function harmoniously (i.e., behave as a partzuf), the evil intellect cannot. On the side of evil, intellect is always subservient to emotions, that is, it serves simply as a way to justify and rationalize the emotions (and devise plans to satisfy them) rather than as a way to direct or influence them. In contrast, since the holy intellect can behave as partzufim, it has the power of its combined elements working together and can therefore influence the emotions.

Now, you already know that in the holy [side of Creation] there must be hairs in order to achieve proper rectification, that is, in order to diminish the light such that it can be channeled through the tubes of the hairs in a highly filtered way. This is necessary in order that the lower realms be able to bear the light without being nullified and dying, as happened originally.

The concept of these hairs, which form part of the rectification process, are not to be found in the evil that is opposite Abba and Imma of the world of Atzilut, only in the evil opposite Zeir Anpin and its Nukva, which are [the archetypes] of Esau and his wife.

Hair, as an element of rectification, appears only in the context of a partzuf.

The phenomenon of hair which occurs in the realm of holiness at the level of Abba and Imma occurs in the realm of evil at the level opposite Zeir Anpin and its Nukva. This is why Esau was born entirely covered with red hair, while Jacob - who was [the archetype] of Zeir Anpin of holiness - was not hairy (Gen. 27:11). This is because the entirety of Atzilut is completely rectified, and therefore hair is necessary only at the level of Abba and Imma, leaving Jacob [i.e. Zeir Anpin] without hair.

The intensity of light at the level of Zeir Anpin, the emotions, is dim enough that there is no "danger" of it producing hair. The evil life force that will be channeled into the world as a result of this hair (i.e. that of Esau, the evil Zeir Anpin) will be enough to sustain the realm of evil, but not enough to empower it to perpetrate its designs on Creation. As we said above, the existence of a minimal amount of evil in the world is necessary in order to afford man free choice.

This is the mystical meaning of the 400 men who accompanied Esau (Ibid. 32:7). They correspond to the 400 [levels] mentioned above, which in turn are referred to as the 400 silver shekels [with which Abraham paid for the Machpela cave]. (Ibid. 23:16)

Now, the forces of evil seek to overcome this situation and undergo the rectification process [of becoming a partzuf] as well, all the way up to the levels that are opposite Arich Anpin, Abba, and Imma of Atzilut, and thus be able to channel their light through hairs the same way as is done in the side of holiness. Referring to this, Scripture states, "If you will ascend like an eagle, and put your nest amongst the stars, I will pull you down from there, says the L-rd." (Obadiah 1:4) For if, G‑d forbid, evil would be allowed to undergo this rectification process at the levels of Arich Anpin, Abba and Imma, the world would be destroyed! The sackcloth will then become white like silver and become like the holy linen tunic worn by the High Priest on Yom Kippur…

That is, a contraction of the life force of holiness through the channel of hair to the realm of evil would be disastrous at these levels, since the intensity of their light is much greater than that of Zeir Anpin. Transmission of life force this way from them to the realm of evil would grant evil much too much power.

Now, when a person puts sackcloth on his loins, he weakens the power of those 400 hairs whose numerical value is that of the word for "sackcloth". [This is so also because] these hairs are similar to sackcloth, which is made out of strands of hair-like material. He causes these supernal hairs to be whitened like white snow, and then the 400 white areas between them, called the "400 silver shekels", together with the [energy in the] empty holes between the strands of the sackcloth, will shine forth through the holes in the sackcloth.

The sackcloth will then become white like silver and become like the holy linen tunic [worn by the High Priest on Yom Kippur]. For the word for "linen" [in Hebrew, "baad"] transforms into the word for "sackcloth" ["sak"] in the system of Atbash.

[Thus ends our citation from elsewhere in the writings of the Arizal. We now return to the original text we began with.]

Now, when an [ordinary] priest performed the duty of "lifting up the ashes" of the altar, he also had to wear a linen garment.

The truth is that the priestly garments (other than those of the High Priest) were all of linen, and all the priests wore these linen garments whenever they performed any of the rites in the Temple. However, it is interesting to note that the fact that they were made of linen is not specifically mentioned when the commandment to prepare these garments is given (Exodus 28), but it is mentioned here, with regard to the commandment of "lifting up the ashes". This would seem to indicate that the fact that the priestly garments were made of linen is somehow intrinsically connected to this mitzvah.

The ashes are produced by the residual holiness of the altar and its inassimilable elements, such that what is left is only ash, similar to dust.

The fact that in the process of burning the sacrifice there is a part of the animal that cannot ascend on high, i.e. the ash, indicates that this element of the animal cannot be assimilated into holiness.

When he removed this element, the priest had to wear linen garments in order to accomplish that which was described above in reference to the sackcloth.

In other words, removing the residue of the sacrifice that could not be assimilated into divinity is analogous to neutralizing the 400 evil hairs of Esau, which provide sustenance for the forces of evil.

In Chasidut, the Kabbalistic dynamic just described is translated into psychological terms reflected and relevant to daily life, as follows: The sacrificial service is paralleled by the process of prayer. In both cases, the animal elements of man are elevated and refined by the fiery passion of the heart aroused by singing G‑d's praises and contemplating His infinity. However, also in both cases, there is an element of residual animal life force that cannot be elevated. In man, this "ash" is the depression he feels over his own animal nature after having experienced the transcendence of divine reality in prayer. Feeling the closeness of G‑d and the ecstasy of ascent should grant a person enough frustration with his material nature to inspire him to work on it, but not throw him into depression over it. Depression, though not an explicit sin, is the gateway to all other sins, since it engenders despair and hopelessness. How tragic it would be for the holy experience of prayer and divine closeness to leave a person with the dejected feeling of his own worthlessness that would in turn make him give up!

Thus, before one even begins to pray, a person should separate himself from this negativity, this leftover ash that will result from his ardent, fiery service of G‑d. Therefore we read this passage of the Bible before morning prayers, in order that it be as if we performed this rite in the Temple. We are thus protected, with G‑d's help, from any negative side effects of ecstatic meditation and prayer.

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot and Shaar Ruach HaKodesh; 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.