In the Midrash, we are told that when God was instructing Moses how to build the vessels for the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Moses has difficulty imagining the appearance of the menorah. Then God showed him the image of a menorah made out of fire and Moses understood.

The Baal Shem asks: Of all the vessels in the Tabernacle, why was it the menorah that Moses was unable to visualize? The answer, the Baal Shem says, is hidden in the process of the creation of the world.

The world was created through the medium of ten Divine utterances. These ten utterances embodied the energies of the ten sephirot. In the Midrash we are told that Bezalel, the architect of the Mishkan, knew how to combine the letters that were used to create the heavens and the earth. This means that Bezalel also drew on the energies of the ten sephirot in order to build the Mishkan. Therefore, the Baal Shem concludes, there is a spiritual correspondence between the ten utterances of creation and the different parts of the Mishkan.

When we study the words of the Torah, we see that there are in fact only nine Divine utterances – only nine times that the Torah says “And God said” as part of the process of creation. However, according to the tradition, the words bereshit – “in the beginning” – the first words of the Torah are also considered as a Divine utterance, even though it does not state “and God said”. The Baal Shem explains that this first primal ‘utterance’ expresses the initial movement from the Infinite to the finite – from the realm of the Absolute to the universe of manifestation and form. The Torah does not say “and God said” for this utterance because it relates to a part of the process that is utterly beyond our grasp.

The Baal Shem then goes on to explain that the menorah is the part of the Tabernacle that corresponds to this first utterance of “Bereshit” because it touches on the same transcendent place. Therefore, when God initially explained to Moses how to make the menorah, it is no surprise that Moses was unable to comprehend, since the light of the menorah comes from a place that is beyond words – beyond the reach of the mind and the lower self. Once God ascertained that Moses had understood this spiritual truth, He then showed him the menorah’s true form.

 

If we want to understand the nature of reality, if we want to reach the light of the Infinite, then we must go beyond the realm of words.

Sri Ramana Maharshi teaches:

“Silence is the true spiritual instruction. It is the perfect spiritual instruction. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore they require words to explain the Truth. But Truth is beyond words. It does not admit of explanation. All that is possible to do is only to indicate it. How is that to be done?” [1]

The Truth is infinite like its source. How do we get a glimpse of this eternal teaching? The Torah is the expression of God’s truth and we have been contemplating it for thirty-five hundred years.  Thousands of words of wisdom have emerged out of the teachings of the Torah and thousands more are yet to come.

Rabbi Akiva, who was one of the greatest expounders of the Torah, states in the Ethics of the Fathers: “a fence for wisdom is silence” (3:13)

The Baal Shem explains that silence is a fence for wisdom because silence takes us into our inner reality. Through silence we can reach up beyond all words and forms into the world of pure thought. In this supernal realm, we can contact the truth directly at its source. We can see the truth as it is engraved in the Universal Mind of God.

It was not an ordinary image of the menorah that God showed to Moses, like the pictures that we visualize in our imagination. God showed Moses the image of the menorah as it appears in the Mind of God. It was the very essence of the menorah that he ‘saw’. Moses then was able to bring this Divine essence down into the physical world and create its physical reflection.

The Talmud Moed Katan 3A states: “God did not find a vessel that holds blessing like peace.”  The Baal Shem teaches that to receive God’s blessing there must be both the emanation of Divine grace and also a vessel to hold it. The emanation of Divine grace is ever-flowing but the problem is that we do not have a suitable vessel in which to receive it. We are in a state of constant movement in both our bodies and our minds. We are filled with tension and agitation, we are never quiet and at rest. We may receive an abundance of grace one moment, but then a moment later it disappears. We will only be able to hold on to God’s blessing when we learn to be at peace. Without this shlaimut – without a sense of inner completeness – our vessel will always be full of holes and the Divine blessing will swiftly seep away.

An episode at Sri Ramanashram beautifully illustrates this point:

A swami once came to Sri Ramanashram and stood in front of the Maharshi reciting out loud verses from the Scriptures throughout the day. This routine continued for three or four days without a break, with the speaker becoming more and more agitated all the time. Then, suddenly one morning, everything was quiet and the swami was seen sitting silently in the corner drinking in the Ramana’s grace just like everyone else. He had finally understood that it was only by being calm, still and silent that he would receive Sri Ramana’s blessing. [2]

God is not found amid words and arguments. God is not found through endless discussion and talk. God is found by going beyond words into the stillness and the silence. God is found by touching the place of the Infinite and Absolute. It is in this place beyond words that we can hear the voice of the other. It is in this place of silence that we can reach beyond our own ideas and opinions and discover the image as it appears in another man’s heart.

The Torah states that before he began making the vessels for the Tabernacle, God filled Bezalel, the architect of the Mishkan, with hochmat halev – wisdom of the heart. This heart wisdom is the reason why Bezalel knew how to combine the letters that were used in the creation of the world. It is why he knew how to draw on the energies of the ten sephirot to build the Mishkan. Bezalel was able to link into the heart of true wisdom – into the infinite wisdom of the Eternal Self.

We think that to harness the power of the letters in the Torah we must discover some kind of secret pattern or code. But the truth is that the power of the letters is found by delving into our inner silence. This inner silence is a bridge that links the finite with the infinite. When we reach into this inner space, we break out of the narrow confines of physical reality and enter into the undifferentiated still ocean of pure consciousness. In this boundless ocean there is unlimited power and knowledge. In this timeless space there is stored the primal creative force out of which God formed the universe.

Because the menorah embodied the Divine utterance of “bereshit”, it was a living symbol that the Divine Presence filled the Tabernacle and was radiating out into the world. When we uncover the place beyond words inside ourselves, we are building a sanctuary for God to dwell within us. When this inner silence begins to vibrate with life, then we will know that the Lord has entered into His Temple.

 


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Sri Mungala S. Venkataramiah, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 528
  2. David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Part II, p. 73-74