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Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36

The same opening verses of Parashat Tsav that lend themselves to reflections about kindling new light in our hearts have received yet another interpretation in the Kabbalistic tradition. “This is the ritual of the burnt offering” becomes, in a mystical translation,

“This is the Torah of the ascending-offering. This is the ascending-offering that stays on the flame, on the altar, all night until morning the altar’s fire shall be lit upon it…A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, it shall not go out.” (Lev. 6:2-6)

With this interpretation, Kabbalists define Torah as a means to ascend, to rise upward into the “spiritual spheres.” In doing so, they transform Torah Study from an intellectual endeavor to a transcendental practice. This “ascending-offering” of Torah Study “stays on the flame…all night until morning.” This, according to our sages, points to the ecstatic “ablaze” practice of study that supports our moving from the night of ignorance into the dawning light of awakening.

“What sort of Torah Study is this talking about?” asks Dov Baer Friedman of Miedzyrzec, a disciple of the Baal Shem Too, as he continues with an answer:

“‘The ascending-offering that stays on the flame,’ meaning teachings offered in ecstasy and close attachment to our blessed Creator, not things that flow only outward from the lips. ‘Any word that does not come forth in awe and love does not fly upward’ (Tikkuney Zohar t. 10, 25b) and is not called an ascending-offering.” (Quoted by Arthur Green et al., Speaking Torah, p. 258)

A parable in the Zohar teaches that at first Adam was able to see from one end of the universe to the other as he bathed in the primordial Light of the six days of Creation. After he ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, however—after the fall into dualistic consciousness—God hid the Light away, and will reveal it again only in messianic times. Before Adam and Eve, who existed as beings of light, departed from Eden—the world of Undifferentiated Awareness and Non-Dual Consciousness—God clothed them in “garments of skin” (Gen. 3:21). Such is the reality of Creation. Every thing, every being existing in this universe, is the Light of Being clothed in Divine garments. The Light is covered, hidden beneath the garments. And we, who have identified with this outer garb, have forgotten that we too are beings of Light. We have forgotten that even the garment itself is a manifestation of God, an expression of that Light.

There is an intriguing teaching in Midrash about a pair of Hebrew homophones. Or, spelled ayin-vav-resh, means “skin.” Or, spelled aleph-vav-resh, means “light.” Though they appear to have different shapes (when written,) they are one and the same (when sounded.) The “garments of skin” are, themselves, garments of Light.

We can use this linguistic happenstance to arrive at an insight about the Torah herself. Inscribed on a garment of skin, the Torah is both where the Light of God is hidden and where it is revealed. According to our mystics, the way to rise up and break through the delusion of separateness, of identification with the garment, is to approach the Torah scroll with ecstatic fervor and look deeply into the hidden Light through her Hebrew letters. “The Torah given to Moses was written with black fire upon white fire, sealed with fire, and swathed with bands of fire” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Sh’lamim 6:1, 49d). For the Kabbalists, “This is the Torah of the ascending-offering.”

For us too, may our study of Torah lead to spiritual breakthroughs that remove the delusion of its outer garment and uncover the Light that is its Source, the Source of all being, of all Creation. May we awaken to “messianic” non-dual consciousness, return to the Eden of undifferentiated awareness, and shed our dualistic garments of skin. May we, like Adam, step into the Light of Being and see, all in the same moment, from one end of the universe to the other.