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The Curtain Parted
Glimpsing The Week Ahead


by R. L. Kremnizer
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Altars Of Gold And Copper

In the Mishnah,[1] it states that in the Mishkan (Sanctuary) there were two Altars, one covered in gold and one covered in copper, and neither could ever become ritually impure.

A famous point of explanation in Chassidus is the posuk in Torah where Moshe is commanded to make a Mikdash (Sanctuary) and HaShem then says He will dwell amongst them (plural). It is explained that "them" (rather than "it") connotes every Jew - the heart of every Jew.[2]

We learn from this that is the duty of every Jew to build a personal Mishkan and if properly constructed, HaShem makes the promise that He will dwell amongst you (plural), amongst each and every Jew.

Now it is a deep observation that every man, as he makes his own Mishkan, finds reflected in his relationship with HaShem that service Am Yisrael undertook in the first Mishkan. Just as there were many keilim (vessels) in the Mishkan, so there are many facets to every Jew's neshamah.[3]

We learn in Chabad Chassidus of seichel (intellect) and middos (emotions). There are three levels of intellect, Chochmah, Binah and Daas[4] and seven levels of emotion. Life's imperative for a Jew is to have seichel rule emotion, not emotion, seichel. We know that everything exists in physicality because of its source in the spiritual.[5] An animal walks on all fours because the seat of his middos (its heart) is at the same level as at the seat of its intellect (its brain). A human being walks upright because his seichel is designed to control his middos, his brain is to rule his emotions, hence his head is above his heart. In a spiritually mature adult human being, intellect therefore rules emotion.

We have a fascinating example of this recounted about the Rebbe when he arrived in New York.[6] Until that time the Rebbe, married to the Previous Rebbe's daughter, was marooned in Europe, waiting to escape to the USA. The two Rebbes had not seen each other for years. Upon his arrival in New York, while being escorted from the ship to the Previous Rebbe's headquarters, the Rebbe's concern was whether he should first daven minchah (pray the afternoon service) or go to the mikveh in preparation for audience with the Previous Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe, in turn, also forced his seichel to dominate his excitement. He made the Rebbe wait 3 days before seeing him, to ensure his excitement was under control!

Every neshamah, as we have learned, has various facets mirroring the keilim in the Mishkan. In addition to intellect and emotion there is ratzon (will) and taanug (pleasure, delight). Even when intellect rules emotion there is the risk of an ulterior motive. This ulterior motive is forged from a person's will or need for pleasure. When the keilim in the Mishkan became impure they required purification through fire. So too, when a Jew's intellect and emotion are seduced into error by his will of thirst for pleasure he needs to bring them to be burned on the altar of his soul.

The two altars, one covered in copper and one covered in gold represent two categories of Jews, separated by wealth of spirit. Those rich in spirit are the Jews of gold and those poor in spirit are the Jews of copper. The distinction is not one of achievement but rather endowment. Some people are created with more abilities than others and each man is tested in terms of exploiting his givens and realizing his own potential. In the Mishkan offerings were brought on these two altars. These offerings included animals, slaughtered and burned. The processes were complex but the key to their secret lies in appreciating that every Jewish neshamah is made up of Nefesh HaElokis and Nefesh HaBehamis, a G-dly soul and an animal soul.[7] When a level of impurity is manifested it can be removed by an offering brought from the animal soul burned and consumed by the Nefesh HaElokis, by the G-dly soul.[8] This fundamental process existed in the Mishkan and then in the First Temple (which replaced it) and continued into the era of the Second Temple. The process continues today, without accessing the need for the physical activity. The process continues because each and every Jew has his own altars, whether of copper or whether of gold in his neshamah. We each offer on those altars our Nefesh HaBehamis to be consumed by our Nefesh HaElokis with varying degrees of success for each person and at each time. Neither altar can ever become impure because, explains the Rebbe, no Jew can ever come to a level where he is prepared to be separated from HaShem. Every Jew has immediate, direct access straight back to his Source and needs to utilize this access.[9]

For every Jew, whether of gold and copper, both are external coverings. The essence of each altar, is the neshamah of every Jew, which is always pure and which cannot be changed to be impure, whether a Jew is rich or poor in his spirit.

Until such time as we have the Third and final Temple, at which time the altars of gold and copper will again be in use, a Jew needs to tune into the secret that as Torah is Eternal, so are these altars. This is the week to focus on their existence. Within, each Jew performs his private Temple service in the Sanctuary of his soul.



  1. (Back to text) Tractate Chagigah 3:8.

  2. (Back to text) Terumah 25:8; see Sheloh p. 69a; Raishis Chochmah, beginning ch. 6.

  3. (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Naso p. 20a, see also Likkutei Torah Derushim LeSuccos p. 79d regarding the altar specifically.

  4. (Back to text) See The Ladder Up, Building Block No. 3, explaining Tanya, Ch. 3.

  5. (Back to text) Tanya, Ibid. See also Sefer HaMaamarim 5700, p. 164.

  6. (Back to text) Yimei Melech, Vol. I, p. 545.

  7. (Back to text) See The Ladder Up, Building Block No. 6.

  8. (Back to text) See Sefer HaMaamarim 5710, p. 113ff.

  9. (Back to text) See HaYom Yom, entry 11 Shevat, 25 Tammuz. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIX, p. 38.

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