Inner Dimension Weekly Torah Message
(due to some technical difficulties this week we will continue our series on the "Study of Kabbalah" next week, with G-d's help)
Rachel’s Tomb and Women’s Mitzvot
Rachel’s Tomb is one of the most important places in the Land of Israel . Clinging to it with all of our hearts and minds helps us to hold on to and connect with the rest of the Land and hastens the imminent coming of the Mashiach.
Rachel’s Tomb is also naturally related to Jewish femininity. In Kabbalah, Rachel is the archetypal figure of the sefirah of kingdom—the Divine channel of creation that is most related to women.
In the Torah there are three mitzvot that are particularly related to women, as it is women who either mostly or exclusively perform them:1
Two of these mitzvot—challah and nidah—are prescribed by the Torah itself, while the third, the lighting of Shabbat candles is one of the seven mitzvot prescribed by the sages.
Being that Rachel’s tomb is the zenith of Jewish femininity it is appropriate for us to focus on these mitzvot, in particular.
In Hebrew, the first letter of the word for each of these mitzvot spells a name: Chanah. The first letter of “challah” is a chet, the first letter of “nidah” is a nun, and the first letter of “hadlakathaner” is a hei. Chanah is of course spelled: chet nun hei.
Like in every word in Hebrew, the primary letter of Chanah is the first one, in our case the chet hich stands for challah. So, we will begin by looking at the mitzvah of challah. As we shall see later, the separation of challah relates specifically to our matriarch Rachel.
Often in Kabbalah these three mitzvot are corresponded to particular holy vessels that were in the sanctuary.2 The lighting of Shabbat candles clearly corresponds to the Menorah, the seven-candle candelabra that was lit every day in the sanctuary, and was located on its southern wall; the separation of challah corresponds to the Face-bread (lechem hapanim) that was baked once a week and placed on the Table of the Face-bread (shulchan hapanim), which was located on the northern wall, facing the Menorah.
Nidah , the laws of family purity, correspond to the Alter of Incense (mizbe’ach haktoret). The Hebrew word for “incense” is k’toret. In Aramaic this word means “bond.” When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, taught his students on his day of passing, he quoted the verse: “I am to my beloved and He yearns for me.”3 He then explained: “All the days that I have bonded, I have bonded singularly, with the Almighty, and now He yearns for me.”4 The “bond” between the Jewish people and G-d that is created by the Alter of Incense corresponds to the singular bond created between husband and wife by the laws of family purity.
These three vessels also correspond to the three emotional attributes, the sefirot of the heart: the Menorah corresponds to loving-kindness; the Table to might; and the Alter of Incense to beauty, whose inner experience is one of mercy, or compassion (midat harachamim)—the ideal sentiment upon which to base marital relationships.
One of the basic doctrines of Kabbalah taught by the Arizal is that everything has a source in a higher realm, which in practice acts as its inner essence, described as enclothed within it. This is true of these three vessels and of their corresponding sefirot, whose source is in the intellectual sefirot: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, which constitute the inner life-force of the soul: loving-kindness originates in wisdom, might originates in understanding, and beauty originates in knowledge.
An illustration for these relationships can be found in the Amidah, the main part of Jewish liturgy. In the first benediction (b’racha) we say: “Blessed are You G-d our Lord and the Lord of our forefathers; the Lord of Abraham, the Lord of Isaac, and the Lord of Jacob.” Each patriarch is the archetypal figure for one of the emotional faculties: Abraham for loving-kindness, Isaac for might, and Jacob for beauty. According to the syntax of this benediction (and as explained in the Talmud5), each one had a different conception of G-d, which corresponds to each of their souls’ origin in the Almighty, just as each emotional faculty has a separate source in the intellectual faculties of the soul.
So now we have that challah corresponds to might, and its inner source is in understanding. Since the sefirah of understanding in Kabbalah corresponds with the “mother principle” (partzuf Ima) we have another justification for identifying it as the most central of the three mitzvot for women discussed above. In addition, the numerical value of the word “Chanah” in Hebrew is 63, which is the filled value6 of the essential Name of G-d, Havayah, which corresponds to the “mother principle.”
As for the remaining two elements in this correspondence: family purity, or the “laws of nidah” clearly relate to the sefirah of knowledge, as knowledge is the source of the ability to connect and bond in the soul.7
The light given by candles in general and Shabbat candles in particular, is a metaphor for the sefirah of wisdom. Shabbat in general is identified in the teachings of the Arizal with the sefirah of wisdom, the experience of the light of new insight.
Challah , Nidah, and Candlelighting on Shabbat Eve
Let us look at the order in which women perform these three mitzvot in preparation for Shabbat—the ultimate manifestation of the feminine in the context of time.
Challah is the first mitzvah done when the challah loaves for Shabbat are baked (as we shall see later on, there is a deep significance that the Shabbat bread has come to be known as “challah,” even though challah is taken from weekday bread as well), usually long before Shabbat (on Thursday night or Friday morning). Candle-lighting time is next, as the Shabbat candles must be lit before Shabbat. Finally, the holiness of family purity is revealed on the Shabbat eve, after the Shabbat meal.
The order here is hei yud vav. Because it begins with a hei, we know that it corresponds to the left line of the sefirot. But this time it corresponds to the sefirah of hod, majesty and aura. This sefirah is strongly related with the first three words we say when waking up in the morning: “I acknowledge before you” (Modeh ani lefanecha) whose numerical value is equal to the numerical value of “woman” (isha), in Hebrew, as this is a feminine quality: the ability to acknowledge and give thanks for something.
(The name Rachel is inscribed in the Modeh ani, in an equidistant skipping of letters that allows it to continue cycling through infinitely. This is considered the most optimal distance between letters).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, that in an extended way, the mitzvah of challah includes all the laws of keeping kosher (kashrut): feeding the whole family and guests. As explained in the Talmud, when the woman gives charity in the form of ready-to-eat-food, it is considered much greater than the monetary charity that her husband gives. This mitzvah is the essence of nutrition and nourishing the family.
1. See Mishnah Shabbat 2:6.
2. In this month’s (Adar I) readings in the Torah (parashot), especially the Torah portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh, we read of the commandment to construct the Tabernacle—the first instance of a sanctuary for the Almighty. Moreover, the Tabernacle and its vessels of service hold a special significance for women. The Tabernacle was tended by the priests, or, in the time of the wanderings in the desert by Aaron and his sons. Moses connected with God through the prophecy he heard as it came from between the cherubim seated on top of the Holy Ark. But, Aaron and his sons connected with God by their service in the Tabernacle. The priests’ holy duties in the Tabernacle were in many respects similar to the types of tasks every homemaker is responsible for, making them relatively feminine with respect to the duties of Moses. Today, every woman can take inspiration from the duties of the priests by realizing that every Jewish home can be and should be a sanctuary for the Infinite light of God.
3. Song of Songs 7:11.
4. Zohar III, 288a.
5. Yoma 69b.
6. The filled value is found by “filling out” each letter of a word as that letter would be spelled out. The letters of the essential Name of G-d, Havayah are: yud hei vav hei. Because both the hei and the vav can be “filled” in three different ways each, there are altogether twenty-seven different way to “fill out” the Name Havayah. Of these twenty-seven, the Arizal identified four as major, one of which is 63, the value of the word “Chanah.” To get 63 the letters are “filled out” as follows: yud vav dalet, hei yud, vav alef vav, hei yud, which have the numerical values: 10 6 4, 5 10, 6 1 6, 5 10, which altogether equal 63.
7. See also “Bridging Mind and Heart.”
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