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Our ability to connect: Lessons from the feminine parts of the Mishkan

The instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle (the "Mishkan") appear twice, in nearly identical form, in the Book of Exodus.

The first set of instructions ( which I will call the Mosaic instructions) are given by G-D to Moses in Parshas Terumah (Exodus 25: 1 to 27:21). The second set (the Bezalel instructions) are given 3 Parshas later by Moses to the architect Bezalel in Parshas Vayakhel( Exodus 36:8 to 38:21).

Both sets of instructions list 4 components that are involved with the act of connecting:

(1) the sheets of curtains ( "yer'iot") that are sewn to each other ( literally "joined" , using the Hebrew verb "l'khaber").
(2) the curtain's loops ( "loola'ot") that are parallel to each other.
(3) the golden clasps used to "join" the curtains ( "yeri'ot") to each other.
(4) the pegs or tenons ("yadot") that were parallel to each other at the bottom of the planks that connected the planks to their silver bases or sockets.

While reading the "Bezalel instructions" last year, I noticed that the Hebrew words used for "to each other" in each of the four instances above was the feminine form of "one to one", that is "akhas el ekhos". There is nothing remarkable about that language, since "one to one" is a simple way to say "one to the other" and the nouns involved ( the curtains, loops and tenons) are all feminine nouns.

However, what is remarkable is the very different language used for these same statements of "to each other" in the earlier Mosiac instructions . There, a more flowery feminine metaphor is used. For example, it states that the curtains were attached "one woman to her sister " ( in Hebrew, "isha el akhotah"). This expression appears 5 times in the Mosaic instructions concerning the curtains, loops, clasps and tenons. Yet, it appears only once more in all of the Five Books of Moses (Lev.18:18) and in only one other book in the rest of the Tanakh (Ezek.1:9,1:23,and 3:13).

Why did the Torah choose to use this unusual feminine metaphor "one woman to her sister" in describing the connected items in the Mishkan?

Secondarily why does this rare expression appear , only in the Mosaic instructions and not in the Bezalel instructions?

Let us consider the meaning of the Mishkan.

The Mishkan and it components are literally and metaphorical a vehicle for connectedness. At a literal level, the Mishkan's purpose was to provide a place where G-D could connect with the Israelites here on Earth, where his presence could dwell amongst us.

At a symbolic level the use of the feminine metaphor "each woman to her sister" is meant to underscore for us the centrality of the Feminine Force in creating connectedness: connectedness between each of us and G-d, as well as connectedness between people. According to the Jewish mystical tradition ( Kabbalah) and according to Chassidism, all of our souls ( both those of men and those of women) draw from both the Masculine and Feminine forces of the universe. Men typically have greater access to the Masculine Force and women typically have greater access to the Feminine Force.

Our connection to G-D draws on the Masculine Force when we draw on the intellectual study of G-D's thoughts (by studying Torah ) to grow closer to Him. We draw on the Feminine Force when we go beyond our intellects and experience Basic Mystical Trans-Rational Faith.

Even when men and women each draw on intellect, there is a difference in the activity depending on whether they are each drawing from the Masculine Intellectual Force ( "Chochmah" ) or the Feminine Intellectual Force ( "Binah").

When either a man or a woman draws on the Masculine "Chochmah" , the intellectual result is an intense flash of isolated insight of a single "atom" of knowledge. Metaphorically, Chochmah is like lightning. In contrast, when men or women draw on Feminine Binah, the product is a broad sense of the connection between a number of pieces of knowledge, creating an intellectual "molecule" rather than an "atom," creating an elaborate theory rather than a single insight. Metaphorically, Binah is like gravity; it holds things together.

According to Kabbalah and Chassidism, there are serious limitations to a solely rational or intellectual connection to Hashem.

For example, a strictly rational view of the Holocaust makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, for people to hold on to their faith. My intellect says I cannot rationalize the Holocaust with the existence of a loving G-D. Therefore, I have to affirm my surrender to G-D by going beyond my intellect. So I surrender to a deeper awareness of G-D and I accept that "my computer does not have enough RAM to load the program called G-D." Yes, I have an obligation and a privilege to use my intellect to the fullest to grow close to G-D; but ultimately, my connection is not limited by my intellectual capabilities.

If we move from the theological level of connectedness ( how we connect to G-D) to the social-interpersonal level (how we connect to people), we again see the special role of the female force. We know that women, as a group, tend to have more social and emotional connections than do men. When men are intimately connected interpersonally, they are typically drawing on the feminine aspects of their souls. In this vein, we can understand why Torah does not command women to marry ( although Torah strongly advises them to do so) , while Torah absolutely commands men to be married. Men need to be "grounded" in the stabilizing presence of the Female Force. In a good marriage, a wife helps to nurture a man's feminine side. Women do not need to be commanded to marry, because typically they naturally have a stronger urge to connect with a spouse.

To return to our second question, why did this feminine metaphor appear in the Mosaic , but not the Bezalel, instructions?

One answer is that the Mosaic instructions are at a more spiritual level, while the Bezalel instructions are at a more practical level. Rashi (38:22) elaborates how the Bezalel instructions differed from the Mosaic by being more "practical" . Similarly, the Mosaic instructions begin with a focus on the creation of the most spiritual component, i.e., the Holy of Holies, and gradually work their way down to the construction of the more mundane outer walls of the Mishkan. In contrast, Bezalel's instructions go in nearly reverse order, starting with the outer walls and gradually working their way inward to the Holy of Holies.

May it be that we welcome the Feminine Force to guide the Masculine in an ultimate sense,
as the Lubavitcher Rebbe would describe in his quoting from Jeremiah (31:21) ,
that in the Messianic era the Feminine Force will circumscribe the Masculine,
"u'n'kayvoh t'sovev gawver "
and may that be immediately, in the literal sense of the word.