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Refinement of the Refined

Adapted from Likutei Torah and V’achaltem 5747. by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

Then you will eat, yes eat, and be satiated…(Joel 2:26)

[We do it several times a day, every day—we eat. What is the kabbalistic significance of this ritual?]

Two things are accomplished through eating: 1) the human being gains strength—body and soul are kept together, and 2) the food is elevated. Mineral, vegetable or animal is elevated by becoming the flesh and blood of a human being. Furthermore, when the human then uses the strength gained from food to serve G-d—“I was created to serve my Master” (end of Kidushin)—the food then ascends to a level that is beyond the world of creations [and enters the realm of the Creator.

This elevation of the food is part of the avodas habirurim, the task of elevating the sparks of holiness that are scattered through the physical world.]

In the Messianic era, a second elevation and refinement will take place.

[See essay on Vayeishev, Silent Bundles, where it is explained that the spiritual significance of the gathering of bundles by Yosef and his brothers is the gathering of sparks that exist in the world of separateness and elevating them to the world of oneness where they become one bundle. The significance of the bundles then bowing to Yosef’s bundle, represents the idea of the second refinement and elevation, which is effected by Yosef.]

In kabbalistic terms, the elevation and refinement that is accomplished now is that of Ban thorough Mah. In the future, Mah itself will undergo a refinement and elevation.

[MAH and BAN (bahn): The Name Mah represents the full spelling of G-d's Name Havayah that equals 45, or Mah (spelling out each of the letters, e.g., yud would be yud vov dalet.) The word Mah means "what [are we?],” the word used by Moshe to express his and Aharon’s existential selflessness. The vessels of Tohu with their sparks of life-force are referred to as the Name Ban, the full spelling of G-d's Name Havayah that equals 52.

Mah is equivalent to Adam, man; Ban is equivalent to Behemah, animal. Mah is male, Ban is female. [Males and females on the human level contain both Mah and Ban.]

It is because of Mah’s existential selflessness that it is capable of refining Ban (Derech Mitzvosecha 144a). See www.inner.org/worlds/brudim.htm. There are two other calculations of Havayah, one that equals 72 (AB) and one that equals 63 (SAG).]


Food is rooted in the celestial angels. Man’s consumption of food causes an elevation for the celestial angels, which are called beasts.

Now, just as angels are considered animals in comparison to souls, so too in the future, the souls of today will be considered animals in comparison to the souls of the future. They will therefore need a second elevation [just as the angels are need of elevation now.]

This will be achieved through the banquet of the wild ox and the Leviathan, which will be eaten by the righteous. A spark of the each soul in need of elevation will be manifest in the ox and Leviathan and will be elevated through their consumption by the righteous.  

(The ox and the Leviathan refer to the two different types of souls—Mah and Ban: those that are sourced in Alma d’iskasya, the world of concealment (Leviathan, a sea creature), and those that are sourced in Alma d’isgalya, the world of revelation (Ox , a land creature).) [See essay on Beshalach on the relationship between fish and animals to Alma d’iskasya and isgalya respectively.]


Now we can understand a mysterious midrashic statement in our parsha (Rabbah 8:2), on the words “this is the offering of Aharon on the day that he was anointed” (Lev. 6:3):

This is what the verse means (Judges 14:14): And he said to them, “From the eater came food…” Shimshon wondered in his heart: The lion eats all other animals and now it is a source of food? Similarly, Aharon eats all the offerings and now an offering issues from him. Which one is that? “This is the offering of Aharon.”

[The reference is to the riddle that Samson proposed to the people of Timnah during his wedding feast. The inspiration for the riddle came from the sight of a beehive and honey that Samson noticed in the carcass of the lion that he had slain a while earlier.]

It is known that the sacrifice was consumed by two parties: 1) the altar—or more specifically the lion of fire (as mentioned in the Zohar on our parsha p. 32b, and 1:6b); and 2) the kohain.

In other words, the lion of the altar and Aharon (the kohain) elevate and refine the offering.

Now, we have explained elsewhere [Tanya 1:28] that one who achieves elevation and refinement must himself be a refined being.  It is impossible for an unrefined being to refine or elevate.

[The Alter Rebbe makes this point in Tanya, where he emphasizes that one should not attempt to “elevate” extraneous thoughts. Although the Baal Shem Tov (Kesser Shem Tov sec. 171) advocates such efforts, the Alter Rebbe clearly stated that such efforts were appropriate only for the completely righteous (Tanya 1:28):

“He should not be a fool as to engage in elevating the drives of the extraneous thought for such things apply only to the righteous who do not experience self-generated extraneous thoughts but rather receive those of others. But he who experiences extraneous thoughts that stem from his own darkness in his heart, how can he elevate it above when he himself is tied below”?]

As the Sifri says (end of Eikev):

You have failed to conquer what is near your palace—and you are going to conquer outside your land?!

It is therefore forbidden to eat before praying in the morning. Because eating is for the purpose of elevating the sparks that are in the food; and before prayer, one is not in a position to do so. For how can he elevate the food when he himself is still tied below. It is only through prayer—which is called a time of war in the Zohar—that Divinity is drawn upon the soul through the eighteen blessings of the amidah, in which one says, “blessed are you G-d…” [the Hebrew word for blessing meaning “draw down” as well]—only then is one able to eat and thereby elevate the food. As the Talmud says:

“The verse begins with the Altar and ends with the Table.”

[This quote is from Berachos 55a, citing Ezekiel 41:22: “The altar was three cubits tall…And he said to me: “This is the table that is before G-d.” The Talmud cites the verse to indicate that as long as the Temple stood, the altar brought atonement. Once the Temple was destroyed, one brings atonement through the table—inviting and serving the poor at one’s table. The Alter Rebbe is using the expression to mean that the altar—prayer—must precede the table—eating.]

How then can it be said that Aharon—who is the one who eats and thereby elevates the offering, and thus must be fully refined himself—needs himself to bring an offering, implying that he is need of elevation?

This is what the Midrash means in comparing this verse to Shimshon’s riddle: How is it that the eater (lion/Aharon) becomes the food (honey/needs refinement through an offering)?

The answer can be found in the final words of the phrase: on the day that he was anointed. In order to draw the spiritual energy of this anointment—sacred oil (shemen mishchas kodesh), a double expression of transcendence—Aharon had to reach a new level of refinement (similar to the second refinement that the souls will undergo in the future). 

[1] From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe" and V’achaltem 5747.


Rabbi Yossi Marcus is director of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California. He is also the editor of the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators at Kehot Publication Society.


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