Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh

Vayekhel through to Vayikra

This weeks Torah portion is Vayakhel.- P’kudei and I’m going to loosely cover those and the first reading of Vayikra.

I’m going to look at this Torah portion beginning with commentary from the Halachah of the Ben Ish Hai. Born Yosef Chaim in 1935 in Baghdad, Iraq, his book “Halachot” moves through each weeks Torah portion, taking a handful of passages and then bringing a number of statements and storytelling about that passage, giving a deeper sense of what’s happening. It has more of a spiritual feel than a ritualistic or legalistic feel, which we find in some texts and commentaries. This Torah portion re-emphasizes (or repeats) the instructions of the building of the Mishcan, the temporary tabernacle which was constructed and carried in the dessert by the Jews where it was a place for HaShem’s presence to dwell.


This week we have a double set of Torah portions, so I will start by looking at Vayakhel first. Ben Ish Hai opens with the pasuk; “והמלאכה היתה דים לכל המלאכה לעשות אתה, והותר”. This roughly translates as “the work was enough for all and the work you will do is permitted”. He also say’s the following; “We need to the understand what work that there is within the heart”. The Ben Ish Chai tells us of the work of Bezalel and his companion Oholihav in building the tools of the Mischan and he states that with the physical work that they performed, came thereafter something spiritual. He describes their physical work in creating these tools for holy use as having a connection to what is above the physical, creating some kind of metaphysical path, and for the heavens having in turn a path back to them, as if there is some type of interaction taking place between the physical and spiritual when engaged in this activity. Even though they are creating objects that will be used for divine purposes which is higher than normal, I interpret this to have a wider meaning; that like when we put words of Torah in our mouth we come closer to the divine, that also in physical actions we can also come close to the divine. He say’s the following “ומעשה הגשמית כפי שרשה למעלה, בזה הורידו אור קדושה על הכלים הגשמיים האלה”, “that according to the roots of the physical actions, that there is an upward motion and that in reverse there is a downward motion of the divine light onto these physical tools“. He goes on to state that these tools have an advantage and he is referring to what will be their use in their service in the Mischcan. The Ben Ish Chai goes on to state that if the physical work we do is empty then it will contain loss and annihilation and will contain no infinity and as the builders of the Mishcan, their activities had a high level and purpose.

The roots of the Mischcan’s building were already in fermentation hundreds of years before, when on his way down to Egypt, Jacob planted Acacia trees, instructing his descendants to take them on their way out of Egypt in the future, knowing that their time there would not be forever. At the time of construction, Bezalel was only 13 and the Torah tells us this about him:

God spoke to Moses saying, ‘See I have called by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah. And I will fill him with the spirit of Elohim — with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.” [Exodus 31:1-3, see also, 35:30-31, 38:32]

The first thing we see is the use of his name, denoting it might have special qualities, second we see his heritage. Oholihav on the other hand was from a humble background and from this contrast between the two, we learn from Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Tisa 13) that when it came building a home for HaShem that everyone was equal. What is special about Bezalel’s heritage? In Sh’mot Rabbah (48:3) we learn that his grandfather Hur tried to stop the Israelities from building the Golden Calf and was subsequently killed for this and for this reason, his grandson was selected in this high role. Other midrashim contradict this and say that he was selected from the “dawn of creation” and that his name was already “written in the book of Adama”, indicated he had superior midot from elsewhere.

Aside from the building of the Mischan, what’s also interesting about this Torah portion is that we are reminded of the supremacy of Shabbat. In the opening 3 pasuk portion about Shabbat, there are 40 words (39 plus ‘HaShabbat’). Is this a symbolic reference to the 39 types of Melacha that went into building the Mishcan and which were later forbidden on Shabbat. How do I connect this with what the Ben Ish Chai is telling us? Because G-d commanded us in the practice of Shabbat, we learn from the Baal HaTurim that the word ‘La’asot’ in the phrase “these are the things that G-d commanded us to do” is spelled with a lamed (ל) which is 30 in gematria and is an anagram for ‘teisha’ (the number 9) and 30+9=39, therefore, the act of ‘doing’ is reminding us of Shabbat and even though creation is forbidden on Shabbat, the types of forbidden work are a constant reminder of Shabbat. The Baal HaTurim notes that the vav is not present in La’Asot and this reminds us of the six weekday’s. An example of forbidden Melacha on Shabbat is given in the Torah portion that is not to kindle fire “in all your dwellings on the Shabbat day”, but this is not forbidden in the Mishcan on the command of G-d. The Ben Ish Hai also mentions the heart, referring to an internal organ. The Mishcan itself has several internal layers and the body itself is a vehicle for the Jewish soul. Ashkenazim sing songs in a minor note even though they are about joyful topics, because they come from a profoundly deep place and our actions should also reflect our internal nature. The Torah portion also teaches us of how the hearts of the people were very much into what they were doing and that they were very generous givers when donating materials for the Mishcan.

The Zohar teaches us about Cholech, Hirik and At-Nach. Holech is a cantillation mark over the Hebrew letter and teaches us the character of Abraham and that he went above the normal practices and became spiritual. The Hirik is in the center and teaches us knowledge and wisdom and the general practices that man needs to progress in life. In fact, the Zohar teaches us that wisdom sits in the head where we also have the ego. In his commentary on Vayikra, the Ben Ish Hai tells us that the Chozer B’Teshuva istree acting like a Korbanot by cutting away their old life and characteristics and replacing them with something new and that they are essentially doing this to their heart. However, on the down side, we learn from the Zohar that the Chozer B’Teshuva is also at risk of becoming drunk on this new knowledge and drunkenness is associated with the left side (the Binah). In Judaism we do mitzvah’s with the right hand and the right side is in control of the left. When an individual’s malchut (shecinah) connects with a higher level, it sends up the sum of that person’s characteristics, but how does a person pull the malchut back down from above? The Ben Ish Hai, I believe covers this well in his Vayikra commentary. On Viyikra he discusses the Korbanot and asks ‘What is Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh? (from the repetition of the Amidah)’. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh is what we think, what we say and what we do. It’s when we do these things that we’re able to connect to the divine. I connect this to the Chozer B’Teshuva (or convert) that the Ben Ish Hai mentions in his commentary on Vayekhel where he say’s that they cut away (or sacrifice) part of themselves in the process of becoming more religious. The Zohar goes on to state that the left side itself is like a sacrifice to HaShem and compares the right and left sides of the brain to Abraham’s journey from Ur Kasdim to Haran. Ur Kasdim representing the left side of the brain and is the place where Avraham gained an understanding of the one G-d and did not leave there until he was ready to do so and he moved onto Harran and then onto Israel. Harran was a caravan city, considered politically stable and flourishing. It was also a place where the moon was worshiped and this may have appealed to his father Terach, an idol worshiper and as a result Avraham may have stayed there until he was able to and ready to leave. The nature of a stable society is an important learning curve in the building of the Mishcan which was designed for the Jews whilst they were in exile and on their way to the land of Israel where they would permanently settle. The Jews of Spain, when expelled on Tisha B’Av 1492, left singing as the only country we should be sad to leave is the land of Israel, the place designated as our permanent home. In the Kabbalastic tree of life Binah is the representation of understanding and appears on the left, whilst Cochmach (wisdom) appears on the rights. In this sense Binah is like the Hirik and through understanding we gain wisdom (Cholech).

Another relationship that these Torah portions have is in relation to the sin of the Golden Calf. The Mishcan was built as a place of divine service and was an act of redemption for building the idol. The Korbanot offered in the Mishcan also act as a form of atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf and a bull offering is often mentioned first in many Jewish texts about sacrifices. We also have another connection here to what the Ben Ish Hai say’s about ‘Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh’. The Olah offering (animal sacrifice) is considered by the Talmud to also be atonement for improper thoughts, showing that it’s not just our actions (or words) that we need to do Teshuva for. From these teachings we also learn that the idea of building a holy place to worship HaShem and draw in his presence and for offering sacrifices are symbolic in everything that we do. The animals used are also related to our characteristics and Daat Z’keinim reminds us that the sacrifices came from domesticated animals and not wild ones, thus preventing us from having to hunt and ensnare wild animals. In terms of our speech, the Chofetz Haim has this to say; “the bitter sin of Lashon Hora reskorbanotults in other negative consequences, such as the terrible trait of cruelty, and the trait of anger- which is a grave sin, as Chazal describe at length in Shabbos (105b). At times it can also bring one to mockery and bad middos”.

From these Torah portions, we can learn to be as the Ben Ish Hai say’s “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” in everything we do. From the inside out; our thoughts, our speech and our actions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: