A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 30 – Collective Grace

Kabbalah teaches that each of the twelve tribes of Israel represents a particular sensitivity of soul: Yehuda relates to speech; Issachar to thought; Zebulin to movement; Reuben to sight; Simon to hearing; Gad to work; Efraim to sexuality; Menasseh to smell; Benjamin to sleep and dreams; Dan to righteous anger; Asher to eating; and Naftali to laughter. Of course, each idea encodes a wealth of information that must be developed in depth to be appreciated. It is also important to remember the principle of inter-inclusion, that each of the twelve senses contains a trace of every other one within it. They are not mutually exclusive, but rather essentially connected and inter-woven with each other, forming a single unified whole.

During the time that the Temple in Jerusalem stood, the High Priest wore a breastplate which contained twelve different precious stones, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. This breastplate contained the power of oracle. It was one of two methods for resolving questions of special importance to the community, where human error was particularly unacceptable. Most such decisions were made by the Sanhedrin, a council composed of seventy-one wisest sages of the generation. Each sage was distinguished for having achieved a superior degree of Torah knowledge, such that even his instinctive responses to questions and life experiences were consistent with the Torah’s truths. Even so, personal prejudice was further minimized through the requirement of majority rule. Nevertheless, for certain questions such as whether or not to go to war, Divine counsel was sought through the breastplate. Engraved upon its stones were the names of the tribes as well as the names of the patriarchs. In response to the High Priest’s questions, certain letters would glow. The High Priest was gifted in those moments with Divine inspiration, meaning that he was given access to realms of information beyond what is deducible by human reasoning alone. He would determine the message by recombining the illumined letters to form a statement that became the final word in the matter.

This establishes an important metaphor. In the same way that each individual must first identify his or her individual talent before being able to express the innate beauty of the soul, so must the community of Israel do so collectively. The composition of the High Priest’s breastplate shows that only when each tribe is fulfilling its role and making its unique and necessary contribution to the nation as a whole, can the collective soul of Israel achieve completion and fulfillment. And only then can God’s objective will for creation, as represented by the glowing letters of the breastplate, become manifest as a state of grace, peace, and harmony both within Israel and among the nations.

Put another way, the High Priest sought Divine counsel through the breastplate when it was necessary for the Jewish people to know God’s will in relation to a specific issue at hand. The oracle contained twelve stones, arranged in a grid, each representing one of the twelve tribes, and as such it symbolized the perfect harmonization and unification of the twelve archetypes or personality types within the Jewish people. When each was fulfilling its highest potential, both individually and in relation to the others, then the harmonious perfection,which was the revelation of God’s will, came through as prophecy through the breastplate.

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