The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tetsaveh: all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom

In this week's Torah portion, God describes to Moses how to prepare the priests, including the High Priest, for consecrating the Tabernacle, and how the priestly duties are to be performed. There is a very detailed description of the High Priest's garments. God tells Moses:
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. [Exodus 28: 2-4]
The expression "wise hearted" is in Hebrew, חַכְמֵי-לֵב, or chokmei-leiv. The term Chokmah appears as the second Sefira of the Tree of Life, the immediate state of consciousness after the initial first impluse. It is also the word for wisdom in Hebrew. Leiv is the Hebrew word for heart. The Hebrews regarded the heart as the seat of consciousness. Thus it describes a person whose consciousness is infused with the highest possible wisdom. This is reiterated in the same sentence by the expression "the spirit of wisdom", or רוּחַ חָכְמָה in Hebrew, or ruach chokmah. Ruach is one of many Hebrew words for soul. As the Inuits have many different words for snow, Hebrew has many different words for soul.

The crudest concept of the soul is that of the נֶפֶש, or nefesh. This can also mean "breath", or "life force". Everything that breathes air has a nefesh. That is why Kosher laws classify meat one way and fish another. To the medieval understanding, fish did not breathe air (since they did not understand the function of gills), and thus did not need to be sacrificially slaughtered in a way that took their souls into account. Sometimes this is called the "animal soul". The nefesh is inclined to sin, and in the Mussar tradition, needs to be tamed by higher principles. It is where our impulses, urges and addictions manifest themselves. In a sense, the Entered Apprentice degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his nefesh.

The next most sophisticated concept of the soul is that of the רוּחַ, or ruach. This can also mean "wind", or "spirit". This is particular to man. It is sometimes called the "intellectual soul". It can be moved by reason, and can be strengthened by study, meditation and prayer. The Christian concept of the Holy Spirit originally comes from Judaism, where it is called the ruach ha-kodesh, or literally, "Holy Spirit". When used alone, however, the ruach is the rational soul of an individual, that is, when it does not refer to a ghost. In a sense, the Fellowcraft degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his ruach.

The subtle concept of the soul is that of the נְשָׁמָה, or neshamah. This also translates as "breath", but in a much more subtle sense. This is a portion of the Divine housed in the human soul. Jews believe that the neshamah cannot be tainted by sin. In Jewish mysticism, the first objective in starting one's spiritual path is to waken the neshamah. The morning prayers includes the line: "My God, the soul (neshamah) that You have placed in me is pure." The last line of Psalm 150 states: כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה, תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ, or "Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD." [Psalm 150: 6]. I would translate line as "Everything that has a neshamah, by breathing praises the Lord."

It is a focus of Jewish meditation to pull the center of consciousness from the nefesh, to the ruach, to the neshamah. In a sense, the Master Mason degree is designed to make the candidate aware of his neshamah.

So who made Aaron's garments? Those whose hearts are directed by the spirit of the highest conceivable form of wisdom, those whom God has infused with the spirit of that wisdom. This is what Freemasonry aspires to, and what alone qualifies us to do our Work.

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