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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Vayakhel: Chokmah, Binah and Da'at

The Torah is divided by the rabbis into 54 Torah portions, or parashiot. The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, meaning it is based on both the sun and the moon. The Islamic calendar is lunar; it is defined by twelve months, each of which is defined by the moon from new to waxing to full to waning to the next new moon. The challenge is that twelve lunar months is 354.37 days whereas the solar year is 365.24 days. That means that the two means of reckoning the year diverge by about 11 days. So a date in a purely lunar calendar will drift throughout the seasons as the years progress. The sacred month of Ramadan can appear in the winter when days are short, or in the summer when days are long and heat increases people's thirst, or anywhere in between.

The Jewish holidays are seasonal. Passover is a celebration of springtime. Shavuot is a celebration of summer, and Sukkot is a harvest festival in the autumn. The Jews wanted a lunar month but wanted to keep their seasonal festivals, so they came up with a lunisolar calendar. Each month is lunar, so to adjust the calendar to keep the months aligned with the seasons, they have a leap month every few years. The month of Adar becomes the months of Adar I and Adar II. The rabbis of the Talmudic era divided the Torah into 54 portions so that, with a few special Sabbaths outside of the cycle (like during the High Holy Days), they would fit into the 13 month calendar. On non-leap years, like 5772, the current year, some of the shorter Torah portions are doubled up so that the cycle fits into a 12 month year. This week is the first such double parashah, where Vayakhel and Pekudei are bundled together as Vayakhel/Pekudei.

In blogging about each Torah portion, I had to make a decision this week as to whether to consider each portion separately, or to treat Vayakhel/Pekudei as one portion. I have decided to treat each portion separately, although each treatment may be shorter than my regular treatments (which is fine: the passages themselves are shorter).

Vayakhel is not the first mention of the craftsmen Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur (B'tzalel ben Uri ven Chur) of the tribe of Judah in the Torah, but it is the first in which he appears in person. Previously (Exodus 31: 2-3), God told Moses about Bezalel, and told Moses that He had filled Bezalel with wisdom, understanding and knowledge. These words in Hebrew are Chokmah, Binah, and Da'at, and the first two are Sephirot on the Tree of Life, holding the second and third positions. Da'at is sometimes considered a Sephirah, but more often it is considered a pseudo-sephirah, or something inferior to an actual sephirah. This is strange, and needs some explaining.

The first Sephirah on the Tree of Life is Keter, or the Crown. This is the first manifestation of Being, as Ain Soph precedes Being. Keter is utterly abstract, the Prime Movement of the Prime Mover, the first inkling of the first actuality. It immediately emanates into a polarity: yin and yang, male and female, the first dyad. The male pole is called Chokmah, or wisdom. The female pole is called Binah, or understanding. These one-word translations do not do these concepts sufficient justice. They cannot be conceptualized without a lot of meditation.

The synthesis of the two is called Da'at, or knowledge. It sits inside a hexagon of the first six Sephirah, but is often not considered a Sephirah itself. In the Golden Dawn system, Da'at sits in the Abyss, the barrier between the three lesser worlds of Ideas, Formations, and Action (Briah, Yetzirah, and Assiah) and the greater world of emanations (Atzilut).In the Western Hermetic tradition, this Abyss is absolutely perilous. The adept has to cross the abyss, but if they tarry or get bogged down, or if they try to keep their egos from being annihilated in the process, they will fall into the abyss of which there is no escape. Aleister Crowley claims that the Abyss is populated by the demon Choronzon, whose number is 333,, who will devour your soul if he detects any trace of ego remaining in you when you encounter him.

All this is much more innocent in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition. Da'at is knowledge. It is the synthesis of Chokmah and Binah, wisdom and understanding. It is not a Sephirah, but it valuable nonetheless. In the form of Hasidism under the Chabad Lubovich school, ChaBaD is itself an acronym. Chokmah, Binah, Da'at. Chabad philosophy is encapsulated in the Tanya, the magnum opus of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. The Tanya is a plain language treatise on Lurianic Kabbalah written as to be understood by the layman as a rational philosophy. At the time, this was an extraordinarily controversial thing to publish, as Kabbalah was a closely-guarded secret whose adherents required proficiency with Torah and Talmud from any potential student. Chabad believes that it is information that should be made accessible to any Jew whatsoever. Chabad also has its own unique interpretation of proper Jewish orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which can sometimes be controversial.

So Bezalel was chosen because God had filled him with Chokmah, Binah, and Da'at, and that gave him the power to construct the Tabernacle. In a very real sense, he is to the Tabernacle what Hiram Abiff is to the Temple, with the noted exception that there is nothing in the legends about Bezalel's death. The Kabbalists regarded Bezalel as able to form letters out of nothing, and to rearrange them to shape the substance of the universe as he saw fit. The name B'tzal-el means in the shadow of God. Midrash says that although God twice showed Moses the design of the Menorah, or lampstand, Moses was unable to grasp the complexities of God's concept for it. When Moses described what he understood to Bezalel, however, Bezalel understood immediately, and was able to create it from a single giant piece of hammered gold. The Talmud says that Bezalel was only thirteen when he fashioned the Tabernacle, but was of great wisdom, and Midrash says that he was the grand-nephew of Moses, through Bezalel's grandfather Hur (Chur).

No comments:

Post a Comment