Parashat Terumah - Unity and Duality
מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | א אדר התשעח | 16.02.2018
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
Unity and Duality
The Letters of the Aleph-Bet
The Torah begins with the letter bet:
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth. (B'reshit 1,1)
This first letter is accorded special importance, as we see from its large size in the Torah itself. What is special about this letter bet that G-d chose it to begin the Torah and the story of the Creation of the World?
The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 1) colorfully describes a dialogue between G-d and the letters of the Torah before the world was created:
Rabbi Akiva said: There are 22 letters, with which G-d gave the entire Torah. When He wished to create the world, they all descended and stood before Him, each asking to be the one with which the world would be created.
The first one to state its case was the last letter, tuv, which said: "Master of the Universe, perhaps You would desire to create the world with me? For it is with me that You are to give the Torah to Israel via Moshe, as is written: תורה צוה לנו משה, Torah was commanded to us via Moshe (D'varim 33,4) [beginning with the letter tuv]."
Hashem responded: "No, because I am to use you to mark the foreheads of people who are destined to die, as is written, והתוית תו, you shall mark a sign (tuv) upon the foreheads of the men (Yechezkel 9,4)." The letter tuv walked quickly out, greatly disappointed.
Let us interrupt the Medrash at this point to note that the question of which letter will start the Torah is not merely a technical one, but one with profound implications. Each letter represents a methodology and comprehensive worldview. The letter tuv, for instance, represents purposefulness (its Hebrew word, tachlitiyut, begins with tuv), that is, getting straight to the goal and skipping any intermediate stages. Its claim that the word "Torah" begins with tuv refers to the ultimate purpose of the world as manifest in the Torah.
G-d answered, however, that tuv also marks those who are to die in the prophecy of Ezekiel – alluding to a different "ultimate purpose" of man, namely, death. Hashem wants life, i.e., the long journey via which the goal is attained; not only is the objective important, but also the way in which it is achieved.
Let us return to the Medrash:
Each letter then followed in reverse order – shin, resh, etc. – and they were all turned down. Finally came the turn of the second letter, bet, which said, "Master of the Universe, perhaps it would be Your will to create the world with me? For Israel recites every day: ברוך ה' לעולם אמן ואמן, Blessed is G-d forever (Psalms 89,53) [beginning with the letter bet]."
Hashem responded: "Yes! ברוך הבא בשם ה', Blessed is he who comes in G-d's Name (Psalms 118,26)."
He immediately accepted him and created the world with the letter bet, as is written, בראשית ברא אלוקים, In the beginning, G-d created… (B'reshit 1,1).
The letter bet stands for the duality of man and wife, by which – and only by which – the Divine blessing is revealed. The word barekh, "bless," is spelled with letters that represent "two," beginning with bet (2), then resh (200), and then kaf (20). It stands for multiplicity and G-d's blessing: "Be fruitful and multiply."
The Medrash concludes:
When the letter aleph saw that G-d had agreed to create the world with bet, it stood silently on the side, until Hashem called him and asked it, "Aleph, why are you silent? Have you nothing to say to Me?"
Aleph responded, "Master of the Universe, it is because I have no strength to plead before You, for all the letters represent plural – bet is two, gimmel is three, etc. – while I am only singular."
Hashem responded: "Aleph, do not fear, for you are the head of all of them, like a king. You are one, and I am One, and the Torah is one, and in the future I will teach it to My nation Israel via you [in the Ten Commandments]: אנוכי ה' אלוקיך, I am Hashem your G-d. (Sh'mot 20,2)."
The letter aleph, equal to 1 in gematriya (numerology), represents "oneness." In our physical reality, "one" has no continuity – as opposed to a pair, which creates continuity. This is why aleph is part of the spiritual world and G-d's Oneness of existence; in the spiritual reality, duality is forbidden and does not belong.
In this picturesque Medrash, Rabbi Akiva presents two very key Biblical verses, whose first letters were painstakingly chosen: The Torah's first verse, with which the world was created and which begins with bet, and the verse that opens the Ten Commandments, which starts with aleph. The depth of the Medrash must be understood in conjunction with the following assertion taught in the Talmud:
Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: All that G-d created in His world, He created male and female (Bava Batra, page 74b).
That is to say, our entire physical reality is based on duality: Front and back, right and left, up and down, plus and minus, the two poles, matter and energy, means and goal, etc. Today, given our ever-advancing knowledge of science and nature, we know that Rav's above teaching includes all of reality, and that even the smallest particles, the positively-charged protons and negatively-charged electrons, are created in this manner.
On the other hand, the Divine source in the world is One – one Creator and one G-d, in the deepest sense of the world "one." This unity is unlimited spirituality and straightforward simplicity.
Unity and Division
This world, based in duality, was created by the One G-d. Duality stemming from unity can be seen quite clearly in the Torah portions dealing with the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Two items in the Mishkan are blatantly dual and symmetrical: The cherubim and the menorah. The two angel-like, golden cherubim (Sh'mot 25,18) stand opposite each other atop the golden cover of the Ark of Testimony (the kaporet). The menorah (verse 31), with its seven branches – three on each side and one in the middle – is stationed outside the Holy of Holies, near the Shewbread Table and Golden Altar.
Given the grave prohibition against idol worship, the commandment to place two winged cherubim atop the Holy Ark appears quite questionable. This is why the Torah commands Moshe to fashion them in a very particular manner:
מִקְשָׁה תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם מִשְּׁנֵי קְצוֹת הַכַּפֹּרֶת
Hammer them out of a solid, from the two ends of the [Ark's] cover (verse 18)
That is to say, the cherubim must be sculpted out of the kaporet, and not attached to it. This shows that the source of the two cherubim is actually one. The menorah was also fashioned symmetrically, with three branches on each side – and this is why its parts must not be attached to the body, but must rather grow out of the menorah itself:
מִקְשָׁה תֵּיעָשֶׂה הַמְּנוֹרָה...גְּבִיעֶיהָ כַּפְתֹּרֶיהָ וּפְרָחֶיהָ מִמֶּנָּה יִהְיוּ
The menorah must be made out of one solid bloc…
Its cups, buttons and flowers must be from it. (verse 31)
Both of these teach us a clear lesson: All divisions stem from oneness.
Facing Each Other
Our Sages laid down a fundamental principle: "When a man and wife are meritorious, the Divine Presence dwells in their midst" (Sotah 17a). The two letters aleph and shin appear in each of the Hebrew words for "man" (ish) and "woman" (ishah) – but "man" also has a yud, and the extra letter in "woman" is heh. These two extra letters together spell G-d's Name, such that if the couple has common spiritual aspirations, it means they have merited the joining of these letters, which is a type of Divine revelation.
To give a broader context to this point, let us return to the Mishkan and consider: When G-d speaks to Moshe and gives him Prophetic guidance for Israel, from where does the Voice emanate? The answer is found here:
וַיִּשְׁמַע אֶת הַקּוֹל מִדַּבֵּר אֵלָיו מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת,
מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו
He heard the Voice speaking to him from over the kaporet on the Ark of Testimony,
between the two cherubim; and He spoke to him. (Bamidbar 7,89)
The prophetic voice originated in the slit that divides between the cherubim upon the kaporet. This leads us to one of the primary necessary features characterizing the two cherubim: they faced each other, as is written, "The cherubim would spread their wings above… and their faces were to each other." (Sh'mot 25,20)
It is not sufficient that the two figures were sculpted from the same source. They must be sculpted so that their faces were parallel to and facing each other. In the menorah, too, we can see that symmetry is a central aspect:
אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת
The seven lamps will illuminate towards the face of the menorah (Bamidbar 8,2)
Again: It is not enough that all the menorah's parts were sculpted out of it itself; it must rather be sculpted such that all the flames point towards the middle lamp.
The cherubim emanate from the one kaporet, and then are re-united in the way they face and look at each other. The branches of the menorah, too, split off from the singular middle stem, and then re-unite in the way their wicks face towards the center.
This comprehensive picture depicts the following concept: Everything comes from oneness, and everything returns to oneness. Only when there is coordination and harmony between the two sides – face to face, in unity – only then can the Prophetic Voice emanate from the slight crack where the two meet.
From where does the Prophetic Voice emanate? Can we find other manifestations of this principle in other areas of life? Let us look at the human body.
The Extra Dimension
Our bodies are dual and symmetrical. Almost everything that we have on the right side is also found on the left. We get the impression that one side was created simply for "spare parts" for the other side. This cannot be, of course, as the Divine planning for G-d's creations is perfect. Sometimes one part of one side can be used in place of the other, but it is clear that this was not the main purpose of building a dual body.
Let us rather state, with all due caution, that Hashem created His world in general, and man in particular, with duality, so that the unification of the two parts might reveal a third dimension.
The following six examples from our bodies will make this point quite clear.
- Though we can cover a measure of distance by jumping on one foot, it is obvious that stability in running, walking and standing can be achieved only when both legs are used. The benefit we gain from intelligently using both legs is much more than the sum of our gains from using each leg individually. Thus, the dual use of our legs creates a third dimension – that of stability.
- Each of our hands can act independently – but our ability to clasp an object hinges on the cooperation between the two of them, with the help of our spine. This is the "extra dimension" that we attain by using both of our hands together.
- Each of our eyes can see no more or less than its counterpart. But when using both eyes at once, i.e., by focusing both eyes on one place, we can also grasp distance and depth. This is the extra dimension attained by using both eyes in unison.
- Each of our ears can hear equally well – but it is the use of both at once, our stereophonic hearing, that gives us the ability to "localize," that is, identify the source of sound and place ourselves in relation to it.
- One can breathe through one nostril at a time – but only when we use both our lungs are we able to enjoy the full benefits of an oxygen-full breath.
- Our "right brain" is responsible for our artistic and emotional sides, including humanistic and intuitive thinking, while our "left brain" is more logical, analytical, and objective. Only tight cooperation among the various parts – intellect, emotions, character and imagination – enables us to attain the additional dimension of deep spirituality and prophecy.
We now more clearly understand why the Prophetic Voice from G-d to Moshe is revealed precisely from between the two cherubim, at the point at which they are joined.
Let us further elaborate. With the division of the "one" into "two," the "one" actually lost a central dimension. Via Free Will, we can choose on our own to re-unite, and thus restore the missing extra dimension. This regained dimension is not simply a gift or kindness from G-d, but is something that was chosen by us.
In the Torah's account of the second day of creation (B'reshit 1), the words "for it was good," mentioned on the other days, are omitted. The reason is because the waters were divided by the firmament and split into two parts (verses 6-7). When a man searches for and finds his spouse, helpmate and "other half," he thus restores the missing dimension, as King Shlomo wrote in the Book of Proverbs:
מָצָא אִשָּׁה מָצָא טוֹב
One who has found a wife, has found goodness (Mishlei 18,22)
We see that by filling out his duality, he finds the very "goodness" that was omitted from the day of creation that was marked by division.
Shamor and Zachor: The Duality of Sabbath
This beautiful concept finds expression in the following verse in Psalms:
אַחַת דִּבֶּר אֱ-לֹהִים שְׁתַּיִם זוּ שָׁמָעְתִּי
G-d spoke one thing, I heard two. (62,12)
G-d's single utterance splits up into two when it reaches our ears, for we are not able to hear the "one" alone. We must hear the positive commandment "I am the Lord your G-d" (Sh'mot 20,2), as well as the command negating other gods: "You shall not have any other gods" (verse 3). This is manifest very clearly in the fourth of the Ten Commandments. In Sh'mot, we read:
זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (20,8)
But in the Ten Commandments in D'varim, the Torah states:
שָׁמוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ
Preserve the Sabbath day to keep it holy (5,12)
The first expression, zakhor, refers to pro-active deeds by which we sanctify the Sabbath, such as prayer, Kiddush on wine, etc. The second one, shamor, tells us to refrain from performing acts of forbidden work on the Sabbath. The first tells us what we must do, the second says what we must not do. The Gmara tells us that these two opposites were said at one and the same time:
Hashem said Zakhor and shamor in one utterance, though a human mouth cannot do this and a human ear cannot hear it [as one]. (Rosh HaShanah 27a)
G-d spoke them as one, but we heard them as two. Let us explain this more clearly.
The opening words of the Ten Commandments, I am Hashem your G-d, express the exclusive, singular reality, that which is totally filled with G-d's presence. There is simply no room for any other godly entity in the world. It would seem, therefore, that the next command – Do not have any other gods in My presence – is superfluous!
Not at all. The reason we need both commands is because we are creations of duality, and we must understand things in "stereo." We cannot completely understand the "positive" without hearing the "negative" contrast as well. We must hear not only that Hashem is G-d, but also that only Hashem is G-d and that there is no other like Him (D'varim 4,35).
The same is true, Moshe learned, for the holy Sabbath day: We might have sufficed with the positive command to remember the Sabbath day, for this tells us that Sabbath is the day of special holiness and sanctity among the seven days of the week. There is simply no room for mundane, workday activities on such a sublime day! But no, the Torah saw the need to tell us this straight out: Preserve the Sabbath day, and do not work.
In fact, this is what the Sages meant in teaching that the two words were uttered as one: Hashem said zakhor in a way that left Moshe totally certain that he had also heard shamor. This is why later, when the Ten Commandments were repeated in D'varim, the word shamor was written, expressing the actual renunciation of forbidden work on the Sabbath.
For us, only the combination of active remembrance of the Sabbath together with the refrain from work grants to this day the supreme spiritual dimension so unique and precious to the Sabbath day. The two words zakhor and shamor, too, are just like the two cherubim, from in between the two of which the Divine Voice emanates.
The most prominent of the Four Species that we take on the Sukkot holiday, the lulav, is structured most uniquely. On both sides of its "spine" are long, overlapping leaves; they merge into one at the top, at a spot called the tyomet. This word comes from the same root as tamim, which means completeness and unity. If the tyomet is perceptibly divided in two, the lulav is not kosher for use. In addition, if most of the double leaves become separated from each other – i.e., they lose their unity – this also disqualifies the lulav from use. Similarly, if the leaves ascend upwards only on one side of the lulav, again it is not kosher.
In short, the lulav is kosher only to the extent that it is dual on the bottom and unified at the top!
This ties in with yet another verse in Parashat Terumah – one that seems to refer only to the physical aspects of the tall boards of the Mishkan, but which actually expresses sublime depth:
וְיִהְיוּ תֹאֲמִם מִלְּמַטָּה וְיַחְדָּו יִהְיוּ תַמִּים עַל רֹאשׁוֹ
They shall be matched evenly from below,
and together they shall be complete at the top. (Sh'mot 26,24)
The plain meaning is that the boards must be matched so that they will fit together. But on a deeper level, a most remarkable concept is expressed here: On the bottom, the boards are matched – meaning they are two – but when they reach the top, they shall be one unified whole.
Finally, let us see this concept at work in our prayers. In both the Morning and Evening Blessings of Kriat Shma, we mention G-d's creation of light and darkness. We tell of night even during the day, and of day even by night. In both prayers, this duality is followed a bold declaration of G-d's Oneness in Kriat Shma itself:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד
Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One! (D'varim 6,4)
When we recite this verse just before the break of dawn, as is recommended, we are privileged to target precisely the moment of unification of day and night. It is precisely this point – the intersection of day and night – at which the Prophetic Light and revelation of G-d's glory appear (as they are similarly revealed, as we have seen, at the intersection of other opposites). This is why this is the most select moment for us to unify G-d's Name by reciting "Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One."
In sum: We have seen many manifestations of duality stemming from One and of the return to oneness, beginning with the creation of the world by the One G-d, and continuing with the cherubim, the menorah, the human body, the Ten Commandments, and more.