I. Vessel Breach

When the Roman General Titus slashed the ark's curtain, blood miraculously spurted from the gash. Tosafot comments, "This was to serve as notification of the severity in which G‑d regarded the Temple's devastation."

At first glance, one wonders what is the relevance of blood to Titus's deed. The explanation is that G‑d indicated to the Jews what their transgressions brought about.

Let us illustrate this concept with an example from the physical blood that flows inside the body's limbs. Within the blood resides the soul's lowest level, the Nefesh. The abode of the Nefesh is inside the liver, from whence it ejects spiritual light and life-force into the blood. Should a limb be punctured, blood spurts forth. Previously, the blood was contained within the confines of the limb, but now it gushes outward.

Similarly it is concerning the Alm-ghty, who is called "the Living G‑d". While certainly G‑d neither has a body nor resembles one, nevertheless the analogy does apply to realms of divinity.

In the world of Atzilut shine G‑d's Ten Attributes, called sefirot. A sefira is constructed of an inner element, its light, and an outer one, its vessel. Just as a person's soul is enclothed within his limbs, so, too, the vessels of the sefirot encase their lights. Kabbala's oldest text, Sefer Yetzira, is explicit in its comparison: "The attribute of chesed is the right arm", and, "You have made for the sefirot a number of bodies." The Lower Three Worlds…
sefirot originate from Atzilut's template attributes…

When Jews perform the 248 positive commandments, their physical actions "make" the supernal vessels above. How is this possible - weren't the sefirot previously emanated directly by G‑d? Genesis's six-day creation-process actually refers to the emotive attributes' emanation.

Kabbala states that G‑d established Atzilut's sefirot in a perfected state. However, this only applies to their natural functioning. That is, the worlds' life-force is processed by further sets of sefirot, which operate in the Lower Three Worlds. These low-level sefirot originate from Atzilut's template attributes. In this manner, the universe continues to function.

But G‑d's Infinity isn't revealed in the world. It remains hidden above. How can it be brought below? This, Chasidut explains, is the meaning of "making" vessels.

We recite in our daily prayers a verse uttered by King David: "L-rd, Yours is the Kindness (chesed), the Might (gevura), the Splendor (tiferet), the Victory (netzach), and the Majesty (hod)." (Chronicles 29:10) Enumerated here are five of Atzilut's six attributes. One of the principles of Kabbala is that each sefira includes an aspect of all ten sefirot. For example, chesed is subdivided into ten sub-sefirot. Its highest sub- sefira is chochma of chesed; its lowest is malchut of chesed.

The verse informs us that the Egyptian exile commenced when Jacob brought his extended family to Egypt: "All the people of Jacob's household who came to Egypt [were] seventy." (Gen. 46:27) These seventy souls' spiritual source is the seventy sub-sefirot of Atzilut's emotive attributes. Light that had been reserved for the realm of divinity, oozes out of the wound…

This, then, accounts for the above-mentioned statement that the observance of positive commandments "makes" Atzilut's sefirot. For, by means of their performance, an unprecedented feat is accomplished, namely, G‑d shines forth new, additional Infinite Light down into Atzilut's vessels. There it is guarded as a "hidden treasure" until the Messianic Era, when the world will be a consummate vessel, able to receive the revelation of the Infinite Light.

According to the natural progression of divinity, Atzilut had been relegated only "low-level" Infinity. Through observance of the mitzvot, however, Atzilut obtained a greater magnitude of Light than was its due. In this sense, the practice of mitzvot "makes" sefirot above.

Atzilut's aforementioned newly acquired Infinite Light is deposited exclusively in the realm of divinity. Its vessels restrain the Light from shining outward, just as a body's limbs hold back the overflow of its spiritual light and life-force.

Evil spiritual forces extant in non-holy domains have no access to this Light. Rather, their vitality is suckled from an extraneous spiritual waste-matter that sinks below. Chasidut compares the method of their nurture to a person who doesn't want to give an object to someone else but must. What does he do? He tosses it backward over his shoulder. In a like manner, a most diminished residue of vitality sustains denizens of impure domains.

What happens when one of the Torah's 365 prohibitions is violated or if a person deliberately fails to perform one of the positive mitzvot? His transgression produces a blemish and deficit in the King's body - the supernal vessels. The Zohar finds support in Isaiah's final verse, "those who violate Me." (Isaiah 66:24)

One of Atzilut's emotive sub-sefirot is punctured. Now, Light that had been reserved for the realm of divinity, oozes out of the wound. Evil receives an unearned ration, empowering it with unbounded energy.

II. Organ Manufacture

Since the Jews' transgressions pierced the supernal vessels, G‑d chose a miracle that would communicate the character of their travesty. That's why Titus's curtain-slash exuded blood. G‑d wanted everyone to know that a similar crime had been perpetrated against Him. G‑d wanted everyone to know that a similar crime had been perpetrated against Him…

It is inappropriate that G‑d's Light reach the extraneous forces, which is intended solely for the Jewish people. The verse informs us, "G‑d shines His Face on you." (Num. 6:25) The Hebrew word for "face" is derived from the same root as the word "inner". G‑d's Inner Light shines only to Jews.

What is unique to Jews that they alone deserve G‑d's radiance? Only Jews perform mitzvot, and mitzvot make vessels for the Infinite Light. The verse confirms this, "And you shall observe all My decrees and all My ordinances, and you shall do them; I am G‑d." (Lev. 19:37) Jews make the organs and vessels of the World of Atzilut.

Here's how it works. Atzilut has six emotive attributes: chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, hod, and yesod. Kabbala calls their partzuf Zeir Anpin. Every partzuf is a self-contained entity. No realm, though, can function without higher intelligence. The attributes of chochma, bina and daat operate on Zeir Anpin's six sefirot.

Kabbala makes the following calculation: When the three intellectual attributes are added to Zeir Anpin's six sefirot, they total nine. Each attribute contains an element of the others; multiplied together, 49 is produced. Every attribute also possesses an inner, intermediate and outer dimension, making 243 dimensions in all. Now add the five attributes of Kindness, which direct the flow of the life-force. What's the grand total? 248. These are the 248 organs of Zeir Anpin

These are the 248 organs of Zeir Anpin, also called the Adam Kadmon of the World of Emanation, that correspond to the 248 organs in the human body. They also match the 248 positive commandments of the Torah, each of which makes its corresponding organ-vessel above.

Chasidut provides an alternative explanation of making vessels. Not only do mitzvot cause the vessels to expand, they bring about their actual construction.

Vessels are, after all, relatively finite entities, far removed in value from the Essence of G‑d. The Sefer Yetzira says of the Essence, "You don't possess any of these attributes at all". That's why Atzilut's vessels are called mere products of G‑d's action.

All of Atzilut's vessels must be "built" and brought into existence to enable the Infinite Light to become enclothed in them. To accomplish this, there must first be an arousal from below. An object is nullified to G‑d. That elicits a Divine Response: G‑d shines his Infinite Light and vessels to make Adam Kadmon. By our transforming physicality into spirituality, G‑d transmutes His spirituality into the "physicality" of vessels.

Isaiah says, "My Thoughts are not your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8) This verse speaks of three levels of thought; the highest of which is Thought of Thought, the intermediate is Speech of Thought, and the lowest is Action of Thought.

Jewish souls derive from G‑d's Thought of Thought. That's why they have the ability, through Torah and mitzvot, to affect G‑d's lower Speech of Thought. From there are emitted vessels and Light in Genesis's Ten Creation Utterances: "And G‑d said 'Let there be light." (Gen. 1:3)

But what caused Speech of Thought to emit the letters of Creation? King David reveals the secret, "For I said the World of Chesed is built." (Psalms 89:3) Here G‑d speaks out His heart - the highest Thought of Thought. From there, G‑d's innermost Thought descends to the level of Speech of Thought to enact Beriya. That's why David's verse concludes, "the World of Chesed is built," referring to the vessel of chesed of Atzilut.

Jews cause G‑d to emanate vessels and additional Infinite Light into Atzilut. Atzilut itself is radiated from its specific source, Arich Anpin, found in the external dimension of keter of Atzilut. But that refers to Atzilut's standard Lights, and here we are referring to new, additional lights. Their source is the Essence of G‑d, completely removed and beyond the creation process. This aspect of G‑d, called the Infinite One (Ein Sof), shines forth Infinite Light (Or Ein Sof). That's the Light Jews bring down into the world of Atzilut. When Jews' misdeeds puncture one of its vessels, Infinite Light cascades into the netherworlds…

Atzilut's vessels expand as Jew-inspired Infinite Light showers into their midst. Vessels are strengthened and broadened as they acclimate to new Infinity. This is the Light, which now shines, in Adam Kadmon. And when Jews' misdeeds puncture one of its vessels, Infinite Light cascades into the netherworlds.

A question arises: How is it possible that Light, which originates at the most sublime of levels, bestows undeserving vitality to evil and impurity?

Chasidut explains that Infinite Light's source is from the external aspect of Essence. Its infinity precludes differentiation - just as a circle has no beginning or end. Before this aspect of G‑d, light and darkness, good and evil, small and great are all equal, for the Essence equally transcends everything. That's why evildoers can also enjoy Infinite Light's benefit. This is similar to the Jews' condition before the Giving of the Torah. Tracking through the wilderness, the Jews complained, "We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge." (Num. 11:5) "Free of charge" is interpreted as without mitzvot.

At Mount Sinai things changed: G‑d introduced mitzvot. Mitzvah-vessels have a unique character. When an object is used for a mitzvah it becomes subjected to G‑d's will. As a result, it loses its sense of self-identity. Now the object can receive revealed Infinity.

Likewise, above, Adam Kadmon's new vessels receive Infinite Light. By encasing the Light, they ensure its illumination stays solely in the realm of Divinity.

A verse makes this clear, "To guard all of my mitzvot." (Lev. 19:37) By means of performing mitzvot, G‑d's Infinite Light is protected. Conversely, transgressions pierce open the vessels. No longer able to restrain the Light, it shines unfettered into domains of impurity

III. First Temple

During the First Temple Era, the majority of Jews were guilty of idolatry, adultery, murder or other major crimes. G‑d punished them by allowing the Babylonians to conquer Israel. The Temple was razed, Israel's inhabitants were killed and their remnant was taken into captivity. Seventy years later G‑d relented. The Second Temple was erected and the exiled returned to Israel. Four hundred and twenty years later, it, too, was destroyed.

A distressing question arises. It's known that Second Temple Jews lived more or less exemplary lives. They didn't practice idol worship or other severe sins. Yet, the Temple still hasn't been rebuilt. How is it that the First Temple, destroyed on account of vile sins, lay in ruins for a scant seventy years, yet the Second Temple, whose Jews were virtuous, hasn't been reconstructed for two thousand years?!

First Temple Jews may have been sinners, but they studied Torah. In that merit, G‑d overlooked their nasty deeds and had the Temple rebuilt. On the other hand, Second Temple Jews were scrupulous in observing G‑d's commandments, with two exceptions: gratuitous hatred and neglect of Torah study. And as mentioned earlier, "G‑d forgives cardinal sins, but not neglect of Torah." Jeremiah prophesied both Temples' destruction, and, regarding the later Roman Exile, he asked, "Why does the land perish? And G‑d says, 'Because they have forsaken my Torah.'"

This is difficult to grasp. Recall that the cause of the Temple's downfall was the desolation of Atzilut's vessels, brought about by transgression. As the Jews of the First Temple were idolatrous, murderous, and licentious, surely their crimes caused far greater spiritual calamity than the neglect of Torah by the Jews of the Second Temple.

Not opening a text can't be compared to cardinal sins; study is a positive commandment, whose lack of performance is a mere non-accomplishment. It would appear that First Temple Jews harmed Atzilut more than did Second Temple ones.

First Temple Jews studied the Torah, and Torah possesses remarkable life-resurrecting powers. King Solomon informs that, "Torah is Light." (Proverbs 6:23) Analogized to a bleeding limb, Atzilut's ruptured vessels had lost Light and life-force. Torah's Light, though, shone down into the injured vessel and Atzilut's lost Light was replenished.

An example from medicine elucidates this concept. A person is stricken with an injured outer limb. His internal organs, though, are healthy, By taking medication, his inner powers return the outer limb to its former strength and restore the blood to its proper composition. Now that his blood is in order, new abundant life-force and light shines out of his soul into his blood. Automatically, his earlier deficiency is corrected.

Solomon reveals Torah's healing power, "It will be a cure for your navel and marrow for bones." (Proverbs 3:8) Torah study also cures the physical world, in dire need of a remedy. The verse tells us that Elijah "healed G‑d's destroyed altar." (Kings I 18:30)

In like manner, Torah study cures the supernal vessels of Atzilut. Torah study invokes G‑d to emanate abundant, fresh Light into Atzilut's stricken vessels and restore the vessels' Light to its former robust state. And since it is healing Light, the damaged vessels are repaired.

IV. Second Temple

This accounts for the prompt reconstruction of the First Temple. But what happened during Second Temple times? Although its Jews weren't guilty of cardinal sins, nevertheless, they did commit lesser infractions, which poked smaller holes into Atzilut's vessels. The problem was that Jews didn't learn Torah. Consequently, Torah's healing Light failed to descend into Atzilut. Bereft of replenished rejuvenating Light, the vessels couldn't heal.

This then explains the Sages' astonishing assertion, "G‑d pardons idol worship, incest and murder but not neglect of Torah". This also explains why G‑d chose the miraculous emission of blood from Titus's curtain slash to drive home this point. The absence of Torah's Light causes Atzilut's Inner Light to spill into evil realms. Conversely, had Torah's Light shined in Atzilut, then blood wouldn't have spurted from the Temple's curtain, as Torah's healing Light would have cured the vessels. Only Torah has this power, as the verse says, "G‑d shines His Face on you". G‑d's Inwardness is in the Torah and shines exclusively "on you", meaning upon those who study Torah.

[Translated and adapted by David Rothschild from Ohr HaTorah, parashat Vaetchanan]

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