Parashah (portion) T’rumah – Torah and Kabbalah
Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

This week marks the transition between two midot/values that we, as a community, are seeking to bring more fully into our lives. January’s focus was on Compassion; February’s is Service. The word I translate to mean Service is Avodah, in Hebrew, a word which also means Worship. Perhaps the Hebrew is seeking to teach us that true service is an act of worship, a prayer, a practice to support our awakening to the Oneness that is all, the Oneness that is every one.

I am also aware that both compassion and service are the essential attributes of the kind of leadership that our guests, Joel and Michelle Levey, so eloquently described during our BALI event this past weekend. A leader who allows Wisdom to infuse his/her actions would be moved to become a selfless compassionate servant of the greater good.

In Judaism, how to manifest those Sacred Dimensions of Leadership through our lives, how to become a compassionate servant-leader, is defined through the threefold path of Torah, Avodah (that word again!) and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving-kindness.) In this week’s Torah portion it is symbolically expressed through the Divine instructions Moses receives for making the Ark of the Covenant (Torah-Wisdom,) fashioning the golden Menorah/Lampstand (Avodah-service,) and carving the gold-layered Table of the Bread (Gemilut Chasadim.) Needless to say, the above description departs from the literal and enters the realm of kabbalistic interpretation.

For the Kabbalists, the Ark of the Covenant is seen as the interface between the non-manifest and the manifest worlds. The Ark is a wooden box which top is layered with gold, luminous and eternal qualities. This gold top is raised around its perimeter and shaped like a crown/keter. In Kabbalah that crown/keter is seen as the highest spiritual dimension, that of Atzilut/Emanation. Atop that gold cover are carved two golden cherubs/cherubim (fierce angelic creatures,) reminiscent of those God set to guard the way to the Garden of Eden. In between them is the space where the Divine Presence, the Shechinah, dwells. The Ark of the Covenant with the Torah inside is that container suspended between Heaven and Earth, Emptiness and Form. Out of it, from the Torah, cascade down the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet; twenty-two paths of Creation and of spiritual awakening. And these are expressed through the symbol of the Menorah.

The Menorah, for our mystics, is a representation of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. For them, the three branches issuing from each side of the central lamp stand are the three sephirot on the left and right side of the Tree of Life, while the central stand represents the central pillar of identity of that Tree with its four sephirot: three at the intersection with the branches themselves, and one above them as the cup for the light. Twenty-two almond-blossom cups are carved on the Menorah, three on each branch and four on the central stand, symbolic of the flow of the twenty-two letters. This is where Avodah expresses. Our path is to let the wisdom of spiritual teachings, of Torah (as represented by the twenty-two letters) flow from the higher reaches of our Self and infuse all aspects of our self (Menorah,) from our intellect to our heart, our desires and our actions. In doing so, through worship, service, and spiritual practice, we can’t help but become servant-leaders, channels of a Wisdom expressing as compassion, care, generosity and love.

From that space, through Gemilut Chasadim (natural acts of loving-kindness,) we will set a table layered with gold for all beings to come and eat. It will be the Table of the Bread from which all creatures will be sustained, nourished and provided for. We will awaken to the sacredness of Creation and know within it the Holy Presence of Shechinah. We will manifest through our actions the Sacred Dimensions of our being.

© 2011 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.