the altar can't be impure

Friday, 23 February, 2018 - 8:04 am


In the month of Cheshvan, 5711 (1950), the participants in the mishnah class in the Arizal shul in Montreal celebrated a siyum (completing) of seder Moed. . The Lubavitcher Rebbe was not yet the official Rebbe of the Lubavitch movement, but they sent him a letter, asking for his blessing. I assume that they expected to receive back a short note with blessings for success, and kudos for the achievement. But Rebbe, who was already beginning the Jewish revolution in the world, wrote them a long, four-page letter in Yiddish.

One must explain that the Rebbe’s revolution in the Jewish world was not only in sending chassidim to set up Chabad Houses all over the world – in my eyes, that is already the result. The Rebbe’s revolution was in the thoughts: he wanted to change the approach of the rabbis and leaders, as well as those of all those who came to shul. Instead of classifying Jews according to what they looked like from the outside, the idea was to get used to looking inward and seeing the beauty and the purity.

The letter, from the 15th of Marcheshvan, 5711, is addressed to: “Honored President, gabbaim and members of the Nusach Ha’arizal shul, Montreal. After a few lines of blessings and, of course, encouragement to continue to grow in quality and quantity, the Rebbe goes on to relate to the last mishnah in Seder Mo’ed, Chagigah 3:8, which states as follows: “All the vessels that were in the Temple must be immersed in the mikveh, except for the golden altar and the copper altar.” In a characteristic explanation, the Rebbe describes how a person is a tabernacle, and has within him various vessels for containing the Divine Presence within him. Like in the Mishkan, a person has vessels such as emotions and intellect, eyes and a mouth, hands and feet – tools with which he acts and through which he expresses himself in this world.

When a person uses these vessels and tools in holy and pure ways, he can become a mishkan for the Shechinah (Divine Presence). Hashem will dwell within him, inside him, through him. but there is a problem: these vessels can also become defiled. There is no need to go into details – everyone knows exactly how it is possible to cause the emotions and the intellect, the senses of sight and hearing, speech and touch – to become tameh, impure. What can be done? This is what the last mishnah in Seder Mo’ed is coming to tell us clearly: Everything can become defiled, except for the altar! What is the altar in man’s life? That is the innermost level of the soul. An altar that is already ready for sacrifices: the point of mesirut nefesh – total devotion – that exists in every one of us, what is called in chassidut Dos pintele yid.” This inner point of connection to Hashem can never become defiled.

And when we remember that in our essence we are clean and pure, we will be able to rise from that point, overcome, grow and influence the other vessels of our personal mishkan.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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