An abridged teaching by Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir, from Or HaMeir, Parshat Behar.
Throughout the land of your holding, you shall give redemption for the land. וּבְכֹל אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם גְּאֻלָּה תִּתְּנוּ לָאָרֶץ Leviticus 25:24
The true meaning of our service in this world is to make from our individual acts of service a “body” for the Shekhinah (1). For clearly we are all one, and every single one of us is one of the Shekhinah‘s limbs, together making for Her a complete body. The more we strive to serve the Creator, the more complete and beautiful a body we make. So, when we fulfill the command to “open your hand to the poor and needy,” we mend Her hand, and likewise any mitzvah we do with our feet or any other part of our body makes the parallel spiritual limb above (2). In this way we perform a tikkun, a healing, in all the parts of our own bodies (3) and in the corresponding parts of the “body” of the Shekhinah, and our souls establish their holding in Her.
But if instead of ruling over our own bodies we let them rule over us, then, God forbid, we create a “body” for the Other Side (4). This thought should make us tremble in fear, and we should consider everything we do, from the smallest movement of our hands, feet, or lips. For man, who is made of dust, can with each action give birth to the Shekhinah or, God forbid, to the Other Side, shaming the Shekhinah so that She hides Her shining face from us. This is the meaning of the verse, “The heavens are the heavens of the LORD, and the earth He has given to man” (5): for the Shekhinah is called “earth,” and it has been put into our hands to form Her body and beautify Her. So all of our desires should be for Torah and prayer and good deeds, so that we become vessels for the blessings of heaven and create a beautiful “body” for the Shekhinah.
This is hinted at in the verse, “Thus said the LORD: In an hour of favor I answer you…restoring the land, allotting anew the desolate holdings, saying to the prisoners, ‘Go free,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves'” (6). The meaning is that the truly wise and discerning person knows that even darkness can be the “garb” of Godliness, the spark of which is imprisoned there, because no one has come to illuminate the darkness with heavenly light. But the righteous person, by recognizing the Godliness there and rousing his heart to serve the Creator everywhere, frees and redeems those sparks, and that is how he builds the body for the Shekhinah, and this is why the sages say, “The righteous are called builders” (7).
Now we can return to our original verse. In all the land of your holding, that is, in all the “land” of the heavenly upper world — that is the Shekhinah — from her head to her heel, “your holding” is there. You hold in your hand the power over the heavenly “hand.”
1) The Shekhina, literally “in-dwelling,” or “presence” of God, is the immanent (and usually feminine) aspect of God. Tradition holds that when the Temple was destroyed and Israel exiled, the Shekhinah, which had until then dwelt with Israel in the Temple, chose to go into exile with the people rather than return to Her home with the transcendent aspect of God. 2) Deuteronomy 15:11 3) The idea that the 613 commandments correspond to the 613 parts of the body can be found in Mishna Ohalot 1:8 and Masechet Makkot 23b-24a. This was developed in the mystical tradition so that, not only do the mitzvot purify the corresponding part of our body, but of the Shekhinah‘s spiritual “body” as well. (See Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 18, 32b.) 4) The Other Side, or Sitra Achra, is the profane “shadow” of God’s holiness: for every possibility of holiness there is an equal possibility of profanity. The Sitra Achra is the source of evil and suffering in the world. Opinions differ as to whether the Sitra Achra is an unintentional biproduct of creation that is actually opposed to God, or if it is all part of the divine plan and actually serves God in its own way. 5) Psalms 115:16 6) Isaiah 49:9 7) Shabbat 114a
For a related teaching from the Meor Einayim, see G!d’s Tailors.
Jeff Amshalem is a graduate student of Hasidic thought at Ben-Gurion University.