At the foot of Mount Sinai, when God gives the nation of Israel the Tabernacle instructions, it includes details of the construction of the structure, the formation of the utensils, the design of the clothing and the acts of the sacrificial service that will be performed there. The Bat Ayin on Exodus 27:20 digs deeper and relates the overall activity to its most basic elements. He traces all of the efforts to the formative four elements which classically were seen as composing all material things, namely, fire, water, wind and earth. He relates that each of the four elements hints at some deeper attribute that should underscore the meeting of man and God at the divine focus that the Tabernacle was meant to be.
Water represents the aspect of lovingkindness, which at its source is about humility. Lovingkindness comes from a most elevated divine source but needs to lower itself to the mortal realm to have an impact, just as water flows from higher to lower elevations.
Fire represents strength, for one requires strength to overcome one’s worldly, material desires.
Air represents the beauty of balance and of refined speech (the breath of one’s mouth), particularly when one uses their faculty of speech for studying God’s Torah and in prayer to Him.
Earth represents the foundation for the other elements, allowing their expression and interaction. That requires complete humility and is the prime focal point for the presence of holiness to embed itself.
The relationship of the quadrilateral facet of the elements to the divine connection which we can achieve through the Tabernacle is hinted at in the often-interpreted verse about its construction. God states:
“And make for me a Temple and I will dwell among them.”
The plural form of “among them” is unexpected. The unexpectedness is exhibited in Hebrew with the suffix of the closed letter “mem” which itself has a shape that very much resembles a square, hinting at the four spiritual elements which taken together point at a holistic approach to approaching God.
May we turn these elemental, spiritual traits to our service of and connection to God.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,
Dedication: To the discovery in Israel of a 2,500-year-old potsherd with the inscribed letters of the name of ancient King Darius of Persia on it. It’s uncanny timing that Darius was the father of King Achashverosh from the Book of Esther that we read next week for Purim.