Accountable For The Light
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
God spoke to Moshe, saying, "On the day of the first month, on the first of
the month, you shall erect the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting."
As mentioned before, the actual construction of the Mishkan was completed
on the 25th day of Kislev, three months prior to the day that Moshe was
commanded to actually erect it. As the Midrash explains, this was in honor
of Yitzchak Avinu, who was born on the 15th of Nisan, 2048. (Rashi,
This was because the Mishkan was the place of sacrifice to G-d, and there
has been no better sacrifice than Yitzchak himself. Even though Avraham
was prevented by G-d from carrying out the actual sacrifice of his beloved
son, it was counted as if he had gone through with it, since he would have
had G-d not stopped him.
The only thing about this is that the Mishkan represented a place of mercy,
a place where the Kohanim worked to atone for the mistakes of the Jewish
People in order to avoid strict Heavenly judgment. Concerning the
Forefathers, Yitzchak represented strict judgment, and the remedy was the
The point is that the answer was simple. The fact that Avraham, who
represented Chesed - which is like mercy - bound Yitzchak - who represented
Gevurah or judgment - and Avraham could have slaughtered him, was symbolic
of the overwhelming of judgment by mercy. In this respect, Yitzchak
represented the perfect symbol for the Mishkan, and hence, the deferment of
its erection until Yitzchak's birthday.
This is the goal. In fact, that is the way that it all began with Ma'aseh
Bereishis. As the Midrash says, in the beginning, G-d thought to make the
world with Din, that is, Strict Judgment. However, when He saw that it
would not last like that, He added Mercy to it as well.
On a simple level, this means that man makes mistakes. If the world was
run by Din, then it would mean that judgment of mistakes would be swift and
equal to the sin that was committed. Some of us wouldn't last a day past
Bar or Bat Mitzvah. G-d didn't make man just to watch him perish the next day.
Enter Mercy and enter the second chance. Now, man can make mistakes and
survive long enough to regret it, repent for it, and even do things right
next time. Mercy means being able to say "I'm sorry," and to make amends,
and we see just how far G-d is willing to wait for us to wake up and get
back on the right path.
However, there is a more Kabbalistic angle to all of this, of course, and
if we don't get lost along the way, it will allow us to better understand
the connection between Yitzchak Avinu and the Mishkan itself.
He erected the Courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he
placed the screen of the gate of the Courtyard; so Moshe completed the
work. (Shemos 40:34)
One of the greatest illusions in life is the physical world we live in and
take for granted. We are told by scientists that the world is made up of
molecules and atoms that stick to each other, and quite loosely, because of
a magnetic force. Nothing really ever comes "undone" because nothing was
really ever that together, though to the naked eye everything seems "glued"
together quite tightly.
Physical life gets even spookier once we enter the world of Quantum
Mechanics, where the mysteries of physical creation become quite
pronounced. However, even all of that pales in terms of the hidden next to
the spiritual make-up of creation, as known through Kabbalistic tradition.
The Emanator, Blessed is He, saw that the world could not last according to
Din, that is, in its original state of the b'sod "Vessels," and therefore,
He added the trait of Mercy, which is the rectification of the
"Muchin." Then the world could last. (Da'as Elokim, p. 62)
"Emanator," of course, refers to G-d Himself, Blessed is He. But what's a
"muchin?" Muchin is plural for "moach," which means "brain." However,
when we are talking about the Sefiros, which we are, then it refers to the
three first sefiros of Keser, Chochmah, and Binah.
This is because our bodies resemble the Sefiros (not the other way
around). We have been built to resemble their set-up, which had to exist
before we could even be created. They are the basis for all that exists in
the physical world, as we have discussed many times in the past.
The Sefiros are therefore divided into three parts, in the same way
Kabbalah divides the human body: head and its contents, body and its
contents, and lower body and its contents. In the Sefiros, the contents of
the head primarily include three "brains:" Keser, Chochmah, and Binah.
In life, though, the brains make up only a small fraction of the physical
person, disproportionately; they dominate the person's life. We can do
without many parts of our body, but we can't do without our brains. When a
person, G-d forbid, is "brain-dead," then they become nothing more than a
mechanical vessel devoid of any meaning, in terms of function in this
world. We were created to use our free-will, and there is none for a
person in such a state.
(However, in terms of other people, a person in such a tragic state can
still cause others to do mitzvos by taking care of them. Furthermore,
though they may lack consciousness while in this state, their soul is
attached to their body and undergoing rectification because of the
situation, which is what makes euthanasia and similar forms of death
extremely questionable, to say the least.)
Even a baby, whose brain functions quite well, but at far less a capacity
than an adult, is quite "useless" in terms of what it can contribute to the
well-being of society, aside from making propagation of the species
possible. Though we may desire to remain attached to our childhood, we
know that life only becomes truly meaningful once we assume the role of
adult, meaning that we grow up and use our brains.
It is the same with respect to the Sefiros. Without the light of Keser,
Chochmah, and Binah, the lower seven sefiros - Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes,
Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchus - become like empty vessels, devoid of any
real light and meaning. This is the "Din" state referred to above, and the
world could not survive in such a state, because it would be meaningless to
G-d to create and maintain such a state.
Thus, Gevurah does not only refer to a particular sefirah, but it also
describes such a state of creation, because it acts in very much the same
way as Din acts. As the Kabbalists explain, it is a light whose function
is to constrict G-d's light, which is what makes possible "hester panim" -
hiding of G-d's face - and therefore, free-will.
However, such a state cannot be permanent. As a permanent state, it is a
"dead" state, and therefore contrary to the purpose of creation. It is
only a positive reality if it acts as a catalyst to bring about a state of
light, and of life itself. Pain is only meaningful if it acts as a
threshold to meaningful accomplishment, and a greater sense of purpose.
The Glory of G-d filled the Mishkan . . . (Shemos 40:34)
How does it work with children? It is a combination of two things which
are co-dependent. The child has to grow up, and he has to be educated. In
other words, his "vessel" (brain) has to increase its capacity to receive
knowledge, and the knowledge has to be made available to enter his vessel.
The truth is, the child is born with the physical capacity already, that
is, most of the brain is already there from birth. Likewise, the sefiros
of Keser, Chochmah, and Binah, are also already there in the main system,
and all replicated sub-systems (like the human body, there are sub-systems
making up the larger, general system). However, at the time of "Katnus" -
literally "childhood," as it is called - they are not yet activated,
lacking the light as a child's brain lacks its own light, in this case,
And, just like a child gets his knowledge from those who are older and more
experienced than he is, so too do Keser, Chochmah, and Binah in any system
that gets their light from sefiros in the systems above them, and as they
do, they "grow up" - "Gadlus" in the language of Kabbalah - and their
functionality is enhanced.
The difference between the state of Katnus and Gadlus is the difference
between exile and redemption, literally. When Keser, Chochmah and Binah in
any system get their proper amount of light, then evil is destroyed and
good is redeemed. The more a child matures and becomes an adult, the
"freer" he becomes as a human being.
Freedom, we have learned (and many have forgotten) is more a state of mind
than a physical reality. Today's liberties have provided many people with
much physical freedom, which has often resulted in much intellectual
enslavement. The opposite is also true in some cases. This is why leaders
and teachers must also be philosophers if society is to truly achieve
freedom and maintain it. Without the light, creation remains in a
Gevurah-like state, and society dies, G-d forbid.
Therefore, the goal is to cause the Sefiros to "grow up," that is, cause
the "vessels" to receive their necessary light. We need to cause the light
of Chesed to enter the light of Gevurah, as G-d Himself did at the
beginning of creation, just enough to get all of this started so that we
could finish the job. Just as Avraham Avinu did with the help of Yitzchak
Avinu via the Akeidah.
There were two ways to view what Avraham did that day, or at least was
prepared to do that day. To the naked eye, all that appeared was a human
slaughter in progress. However, through the viewing piece of a spiritual
"electron microscope," one would have been able to see a tremendous amount
of light from the side of Chesed being drawn down into the Vessels made
from the light of Gevurah. One would have seen a tremendous "tikun" being
performed on the world. One would have seen the makings of redemption in
For, when we learn Torah and perform mitzvos, we use our lives in the
service of G-d, for which the Mishkan was solely created, we draw down the
holy and sublime light of G-d. Like water rushing into an empty channel,
it fills every empty space it can find, and brings life to where previously
only death ruled. And, there was no better way to drive this point home
than to finish the construction on the 25th day of Kislev - the future date
of Chnaukah - and to assemble it on the first of Nissan, the month of
He made the Choshen . . . They filled it with four rows of stone . . . the
third row: leshem, shevo, and achlamah. (Shemos 39:8-12)
This is the second reference to the Choshen Mishpat worn by the Kohen
Gadol, and the four rows of stones set in it, 12 gems altogether, one to
represent each of the 12 Tribes. The first reference was in Parashas
Tetzaveh. (Shemos 28:19)
When Torah scholars choose the name for their Torah works, they choose the
most meaningful name possible, though it is not always obvious to the
reader. Often, they choose a Torah phrase that has in it allusions to
their own names and their father's name, to give honor to their
parent. Other times, the name may be a reflection of the material found
I have not yet heard a reason why Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, zt"l, chose the
name, "Leshem Shevo v'Achlamah" - the names of the three stones of the
third row of the Choshen mentioned above - for his collection of
Kabbalistic works which elude description. All I personally know is that
very few works have ever had as much impact on my life and way of thinking
as these by the grandfather of present-day Torah leader, Rabbi Yosef Shalom
Elyashiv, shlita. The best I can do is say they are awesome - truly awesome.
And, true to the awesomeness of the author, whose physical countenance
belied his true Torah greatness, it is amazing how his yahrzeit - 27th of
Adar -often falls out when these stones are mentioned, either in Parashas
Tetzaveh or Parashas Pekudei (although this year it fell out in the week of
Vayakhel in Adar I, and Tazria in Adar II). He died in 1925.
It is not so easy to find his seforim, at least outside of Eretz
Yisroel. In fact, many in Chutz L'Aretz probably don't recognize his name,
though his grandson's name is quite well-known throughout the Torah
world. From one Torah authority here, I have heard that the Chofetz Chaim,
whose life overlapped with the "Leshem's," used to consult with him
regarding Kabbalistic matters.
In any case, it is from the Leshem that I have drawn so many of the ideas
over the last few years, whether they have been obviously Kabbalistic or
not. So many times it was an insight from the Leshem that has provided an
important key to unlocking an important fundamental in the parshah, or
events occurring in recent history.
To say that I am personally indebted to the Leshem for his great genius and
phenomenal ability to communicate complex ideas in an understandable way,
is a gross understatement. All I can do is thank G-d that He has allowed
such a person to live and convey such ideas, and for the opportunity to
have been exposed to these holy works, and to have gleaned whatever Torah
concepts I have learned from them, on whatever level I have learned.