Two Layers of Wisdom

by Rabbi Chanan Morrison

Two spun coverings stretched out across the roof of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of God’s service in the desert. The inner covering was a resplendent work of fine linen and colorful wool, dyed indigo, purple, crimson. The outer covering was a simpler affair, made solely of goat-wool. One might think that the magnificent inner covering was the greater of the two. Yet the Talmud notes that the outer wool covering required greater wisdom to make.

The Torah describes the women involved in spinning the multi- colored covering as being wise-hearted. Regarding the simpler, outer covering, on the other hand, the Torah indicates that the women utilized a special, sublime wisdom. They were “women whose hearts uplifted them in wisdom” (Ex. 35:25).

And what was this special wisdom? According to the Talmud in Shabbat 99a, the wool was washed and spun — while still attached to the goats!

Abstract and Practical Wisdom

The Sages compared the building of the Mishkan to the creation of heaven and earth. The details of the Tabernacle construction correspond to the configuration of the universe, both physically and spiritually.

Rav Kook explained that these two Tabernacle coverings relate to two separate layers of wisdom, the basis for spiritual light and holiness in the world. The first layer of wisdom is abstract and general in nature, while the second is practical and detailed. The abstract wisdom shines brilliantly with the multiple facets of the intellect and the varied hues of the imagination. This general wisdom deals with inner, sublime matters, and thus corresponds with the colorful, inner covering.

Practical wisdom, on the other hand, would appear to be a simpler matter, serving primarily to protect and guard the abstract concepts of the inner, hidden wisdom. But in truth, the practical wisdom of how to apply abstract principles in everyday life is both profound and uncommon. Spiritual abstractions may be revealed through normal prophecy and divine inspiration; but the eternal Torah of deeds and mitzvot was revealed to the world only by means of Moses’ unique level of prophetic vision.

“The women whose hearts uplifted them in wisdom.” These women were blessed with the gift of innermost wisdom. By virtue of its profound depth, they were able to elevate the heart — all feelings and emotions, all actions and deeds, all of life. Their wisdom was so great that “they spun [on] the goats.” Even life’s material and vexing aspects — as symbolized by the goat — were bound and tied to the supernal light of eternity.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 245-246)

Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

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