The Holy Whole
“Not true!” my four-year-old denied the allegations. “I didn’t hit him, my hand hit his face!”
I stood there for a moment, unsure how to proceed, until, after what was probably a full minute of silence, my four-year-old explained, “I didn’t want to hit him. It was an accident. So it wasn’t really me hitting him, it was just my hand hitting his face.”
I was struck by the depth of this four-year-old logic. If he had lifted his hand intentionally to hit his brother, then it would be fair to say that he had done the hitting, and that he had hit his brother. But since the blow was unintentional, it did not come from him, only from his hand, and he hadn’t hit his brother, only his brother’s face.
I directed both boys back to their trains with a warning to please be more aware of what their hands were doing, especially around faces. And then I stood for a while in the kitchen, watching them and thinking about the very compelling argument my four-year-old had just made.
There is action, and then there is the will that drives the action. They are not one and the same, but they are not really separate either. Imagine how painstaking it would be to have to issue an explicit command to your hand every time you wanted to move it, or to your foot if you wanted to walk or hop, or to your mouth to form a certain sound or word. Thankfully, that’s not how our bodies are designed. Instead, our neurons almost instantly transmit our will to the specific limb that will express it.
When you watch an artist paint a picture, what you see is the movements of the artist’s hand as he guides his brush over the canvas. You don’t see the firing of those many millions of neurons, bringing the messages from the artist’s will to his hand and guiding his hand to the brush, the brush to the paint and then to the canvas, to make the artist’s desire to paint a reality. Yet when you see the final masterpiece, you would never think that the artist’s hands created it by mistake.
The same is true of the world we live in. We see the various processes around us, but in truth there is an underlying will that guides each process. Unlike my four-year-old, though, G‑d doesn’t act without intent, and nothing happens by chance. Every occurrence is the express will of G‑d.
The Tabernacle and the Temple were designed to teach us how G‑d is present in every detail of the world, and the service performed therein was a further reminder of His presence and the ways in which we can connect to Him.
Each of the vessels of the Temple served as an expression of G‑d’s relationship with the world. Just like a mouth cannot walk and a foot cannot talk, each vessel was used for only its specific purpose.
The copper altar, upon which animals, meal cakes and wine were sacrificed, guided people to sacrifice their animalistic tendencies and give of themselves to G‑d. The incense altar helped further refine the relationship with the One Above. The menorah lit the Temple, spreading the light of G‑dliness to the world. The shulchan held the showbread, emanating the blessings of livelihood to the entire nation. Each vessel had a specific, manifest holiness.
But equal to, and possibly more important than, the vessels of the Temple were the walls that surrounded them. The Torah issues very specific instructions for the making of the curtains that served as walls in the desert, including which materials to use and what their dimensions should be. And most importantly, the curtains were fashioned before the vessels. These weren’t just any curtains; they were the walls of the house of G‑d, and they gave innate holiness to the vessels themselves. Beyond the manifest holiness of each specific vessel, the vessels were innately holy simply because they were found within the walls of the Temple.
This manifest and innate holiness can be seen in the entire world. Each moment manifests individually, like an individual piece of furniture, and some moments seem more holy and G‑dly than others. And each person has his or her own talents and strengths, and some seem more suited to the service of G‑d than others. At the same time, each moment and each person is part of a greater, innately holy whole. We are within the walls of creation, the whole of G‑d’s world, created by His word, and powered by the neurons of the universe—the will and desire of G‑d.
Just as every synapse and neuron is integral to the final action, and each brushstroke is integral to the final piece of art, so too each moment and each person is integral to the purpose of creation. It is our job to uncover this innate holiness in every moment and every person, so that the world can be filled with manifest G‑dliness in the most complete way possible, with the coming of Moshiach and the final redemption.
Based on the maamar “Mitzvas Binyan Mikdash” in Derech Mitzvosecha, by the Tzemach Tzedek.