ESSAY: The Face of a Child
In the heart of the Sanctuary stood the ark that housed
the divine law. But who were the two children hovering above?
THE WRITTEN WORD: You Are What You
The Rebbe on literature, ulterior motive, and
the Jewish soul
A TELLING STORY: Rebbeitis
To think and feel is human, but it might be unhealthy
The Face of a Child
And you shall make a kapporet of pure gold... and
two golden keruvim (cherubs)... at the
two ends of the kapporet....
And you shall place the kapporet above, upon the
ark; and into the ark you shall put the Testimony which I
shall give you.
And I will meet with you there; I will speak with you
all that I will command you regarding the Children of Israel
from above the kapporet, from between the two keruvim
which are upon the Ark of Testimony....
In the wake of the divine revelation at Sinai, G-d commanded
that a Sanctuary be built to serve as a tent of meetinga
point of permanent contact between Him and His people. At
the heart of the Sanctuary, in its innermost chamber, stood
the ark that housed the Testimonythe two
stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed
by the hand of G-d. The ark (in the form of a box and open
at the top) was covered by the kapporeta slab
of solid gold, out of which rose the two winged keruvim,
hammered out of the same piece of gold. When G-d spoke to
Moses, Moses would hear the divine voice issuing from between
the two keruvim.
The Testament housed by the ark was the essence of the divine
communication to man, for the Ten Commandments encapsulate
the entire Torah. Later, the ark also held the Torah scroll
written by Moses, which embodies a more detailed rendition
of the laws implicit in the Ten Commandments. So the ark was
the container of the Torah, the vessel of the divine wisdom
and will. Yet the divine voice did not emanate from the ark,
but from a space above the kapporet, between
the two keruvim. What was the significance of
the kapporet? What were the keruvim and what
do they represent? And why do they mark the point of contact
between G-d and man?
Foremost among the commentaries compiled by our sages on
the Torah are those by Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105)
and Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270). Rashi
defines his goal by stating: I come only to explain
the simple meaning of the verse; indeed, Rashis commentary has been universally
accepted as the most basic tool for understanding the Torah
and serves as a first reference for schoolchild and scholar
alike. On the other hand, Nachmanides, a noted mystic and
kabbalist, often uncovers a deeper stratum of
significance in the Torahs words, exposing its students
to delightful things, for those who know and understand
the hidden wisdom [of the Torah].
Rashi and Nachmanides often differ in their interpretation
of a particular word or verse. One example of this is their
different conceptions of the kapporet and the keruvim.
Rashi sees the ark and the kapporet as two different
objects. The Sanctuary contained various vessels,
each with a designated function (e.g., the menorah, the altars);
according to Rashi the ark and the kapporet are two
different vesselsit is only that the designated place
of the kapporet is atop the ark.
Nachmanides, on the other hand, sees the kapporet
as the cover of the ark (indeed, the word kapporet
means cover)as a component of the ark itself,
rather than another of the Sanctuarys vessels.
Another difference between the interpretations of Rashi and
Nachmanides concerns the form of the keruvim. According
to Rashi, these were two winged figures, each with the face
of a child (a boy and a girl). Nachmanides is of the opinion that
they were a representation of the celestial figures seen by
the prophet Ezekiel in his vision of the divine chariot.
Angel or Child?
There are seventy faces to the Torah, say our sages, for the divine truth reverberates
on every level of reality and in every dimension of the mind.
The differences between Rashis and Nachmanides
visions of the kapporet and the keruvim reflect
the different faces of Torah that their respective commentaries
Speaking from the perspective of those who know and
understand the hidden wisdom, Nachmanides sees the Torah
as the essence of the bond between G-d and His people. In
the words of the Zohar, There are three knots that are bound with each other: G-d, the Torah,
and Israel.... The people of Israel are bound with the Torah,
and the Torah is bound with G-d. G-d invested His wisdom in the Torah and His
will in its commandments; the Jew studies Torah and implements
its commandments in his daily life; thus the Jew is bound
According to Nachmanides, the divine presence in the tent
of meeting radiated from the ark, the vessel of the
Torah. The divine voice emerged above the kapporet,
between the two keruvim, all of which were components
of the ark. The keruvim were in the form of the celestial
beings described in Ezekiels vision, which contains
the most profound insights into the nature of the divine perceived
by man. For the stuff of the relationship between man and
G-d is divine revelation: the revelation of His wisdom and
will via the Torah, which attains its loftiest and most intense
form in the mystic hidden wisdom represented by
Rashi, on the other hand, elucidates the simple meaning
of the verse. Often, this is mistakenly perceived as
the most literal and superficial stratum of meaning of the
Torah. But simple is not superficial. On the contrary, the
simple meaning of the verse is its most profound meaning,
its most elementary significance. It is the root from which
all other meanings and levels of understanding derive. It
is the essence of the verse, of which the others are but particular
facets and expressions.
Rashis conception of the ark and kapporet reflects
the truth that our relationship with G-d through the Torah
is but the realization of a deeper, intrinsic bond that already
exists between us; that the kapporet is not part of
the ark, but something else, something higher. That ultimately,
the divine presence in the tent of meeting derives
not from the Torah, but from the child-faced keruvim
that hover above it.
For Israel is a youth, and I love him, proclaims the prophet. On the
deepest, most basic level, G-d loves the Jew not for his wisdom
or piety, but for his childishness. He loves us because, as
the Baal Shem Tov put it, the simplicity of the simple Jew is of a piece
with the simple essence of G-d. He loves us because
we are the extension of His quintessential self, as a child
is the extension of the quintessential self of his father.
Based on the Rebbes talks on Shabbat Terumah 5741
(February 7, 1981) and on other occasions
You Are What You Write
Editors note: Eliezer Steinman was a leading figure
in Israeli literary circles in the 50s. His contact
with the Rebbe began when he was researching his famed Beer
haChassidut series, a many-volume work on the history and
philosophy of Chassidism. At the time, the chassidim he approached
refused to aid him in his research, because of his extremely
secularist and anti-religious stance; the Rebbe, however,
instructed a Lubavitcher chassid who lived in Jerusalem to
open his library to him and assist him in every way. It was
through this chassid that the Rebbe began his many years
correspondence with Mr. Steinman, in the course of which the
latter changed his entire outlook, publicly retracting his
earlier writings and becoming a believing, practicing Jew.
What follows is an excerpt of a letter from the Rebbe to Mr.
Steinman, dated Shevat 26, 5716 (February 8, 1956):
... Thank you for your consideration in sending me your recent
works... Regarding the series Beer haChassidut,
I have the following comments...
When writing about concepts and schools of thought in Torah,
which is a living teaching and a teaching of life, particularly
about that part of Torah which has a distinct emotional-experiential
and especially if one is writing for a readership to whom
these concepts are new and even alien to their world, it is
not enough for the author to read the said Torah works, study
them in-depth and transmit their gist; rather, he must immerse
himself to the greatest possible extent in the spirit of Torah
and in the experience of the founders and leaders of these
schools. This is doubly so if the authors aim is to
derive practical conclusions relating to contemporary life.
I dont know you personally, but I hope you will not
take it amiss if I allow myself to suggest that in order to
achieve your stated aim, as you yourself express it in your
introduction to Beer haChassidut, you ought to
adopt and internalize the way of life you describe in your
books, that is, life according to the Torah in thought and
practice, as expounded upon in your books sources, the
works of Chassidut. Sincerity and good faith is not
enough; although they are of foremost importance, in no way
do they suffice.
Perhaps you suspect that I am saying all this only to influence
a Jew to become fully observant of the Torah and the mitzvot,
and the standards of chassidic teaching. Indeed, I confess,
our sages words, A person is not suspected of
something unless there is some truth in the suspicion, do apply in this case. However,
the some truth of my ulterior motive does not
in any way detract from the utility, indeed necessity, of
what I have said, to your aim of transmitting the teachings
of Chassidut in the medium of your writing, in a manner
that is optimally true to their essence.
Perhaps you also wonder at my hope to influence, with a mere
letter, a writer and thinker whose way of life is doubtless
founded upon a philosophy that is interwoven in the threads
of his soulto the point that I expect that the receipt
of this letter will influence changes not only in his thinking
but in his behavior as well.
My reasoning, however, is that I am not suggesting anything
that is new or my own, but an ages-old idea, which is, at
the same time, also pristinely new and recreates worlds every
daynamely, the Torah and its mitzvot. And one who believes
in a person and his infinite potentialfor the Jewish
soul, to quote the author of the Tanya, is literally a part of
G-d above Who is infinitealso believes that in
a single turn and in a single moment, each and every man can
attain the deepest heights, regardless of where he stood a
moment earlier. The impetus might be nothing more than the
smallest matter and the smallest spark, since it serves only
to unleash the infinite treasures that lie in the soul of
the listener or reader.
With esteem and blessing
Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (Rebbe and leader of Chabad-Chassidic
movement from 1882 to 1920) suffered for many years from ill
health. A leading European physician, who had spent many hours
in conversation with Rabbi Sholom DovBer, categorized the
Rebbe's ailment in the following manner:
``This is a man,'' said the professor, ``whose heart craves
something that is beyond the capacity of the mind, and whose
mind understands more than the heart can bear...''
from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Rashi on Genesis 3:8; ibid., v. 24; et al.
. Nachmanides introduction to his commentary
on the Book of Genesis.
. Cf. Tzafnat Paaneach on Exodus 25:17
(based on the Talmud, Sukkah 5a, and Torat Kohanim 1:11):
It was not simply a cover (of the ark) but an entity
of its own; it is only that it must be placed upon the ark.
. Thus, the very same verse implies different things
to the two commentators. In Exodus 25:16, after instructing
Moses on the design of the ark properbefore telling
him how to make the kapporetG-d commands: You
shall place the Testimony in the ark. Then, in verse
21, after the kapporet is described, we again read:
And into the ark you shall put the Testimony which
I shall give you. Why does the Torah repeat itself?
According to Rashi, the repetition comes to emphasize that
the tablets are to be placed in the ark before it is covered
by the kapporet. Place it in the ark,
the Torah is sayingin the ark as it stands alone,
before the kapporet is placed upon it. According
to Nachmanides, the repetition comes to make the very opposite
point: that the Testament should be placed in the ark after
it has been covered by the kapporet.
In other words, Rashi and Nachmanides both understand
the verses repetition as serving to emphasize that
the tablets should be placed in the ark. But what
exactly is the ark? According to Rashi, the kapporet
is not part of the ark proper, but another, different component
of the Sanctuary (though obviously related to the ark, as
evidenced by the fact that it is to be placed atop the ark).
So the verse is telling us that the tablets should be placed
in the ark as it is unto itself, without the addition of
the kapporet. Nachmanides, on the other hand, considers
the kapporet to be an integral part of the ark; so
the verse comes to tell us to place the tablets in the complete
ark, not in an ark lacking its cover.
In addition to the question of when to place the tablets
in the ark, there are a number of other halachic
issues that relate to the question of whether the kapporet
is part of the ark or a vessel on its own. See
Tzafnat Paaneach on Exodus 37:6; Likkutei Sichot,
vol. XXVI, p. 176.
. Rashi, Exodus 25:18.
. Nachmanides commentary on v. 21; see Ezekiel
. Otiyot dRabbi Akiva. Cf. Talmud, Sanhedrin
34a; Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 14:12; Zohar, part I, 47b;
. Kishrin, in the Aramaic. So reads the version
of this Zoharic passage that is quoted in the teachings
of Chassidism (the standard version reads There are
three levels...). See note 12 below.
. Zohar, part III, 73a.
. Hosea 11:1; see Baal HaTurim on Exodus 25:18.
. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder
. See Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabbah, chapter
14: Two things preceded G-ds creation of the
world: Torah and Israel. Still, I do not know which preceded
which. But when Torah states Speak to the Children
of Israel..., Command the Children of Israel...,
etc., I know that Israel preceded all.
This concept is also alluded to in the Zoharic passage
cited above, which speaks of three knots that are
bound with each other. But if Torah is the link between
G-d and Israel, then what we have are three entities (G-d,
Torah and Israel) linked via two bonds (Israels connection
to Torah and the Torahs connection to the Almighty).
What are the three knots of which the Zohar
Yet Israels connection with G-d via the Torah
derives from a deeper connection: the direct
connection between G-d and His people which the Torah comes
to reveal. On this level, Israels involvement in Torah
is what connects the Torah to the Almighty, what causes
Him to extend His infinite and wholly undefinable being
into a medium of Divine wisdom and Divine
will. On this level, it is not the Jew who requires
the Torah in order to be one with G-d, but the Torah which
requires the Jew to evoke G-ds desire to project Himself
via the Torah. Thus we have three interlinked knots:
G-ds connection with Israel, G-ds connection
with the Torah, and Israels connection with the Torah.
On the experiential level, the Torah is the link between
G-d and Israel; in essence, Israel is the link between G-d
and the Torah.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXVI, pp. 175-182.
. Published in Igrot Kodesh, vol. XII, pp. 313-315.
. I.e., chassidic teaching.
. Talmud, Moed Katan 18b.
. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder
of Chabad Chassidism.