God's Vessel

Eliyahu YaakovIn the previous article we expounded on the Kabbalistic overview of Hand Washing. In this article we will get into the Kabbalistic relevance behind some of the particular details involved in Hand Washing.

The Light-Vessel Paradigm
We pour this water onto our hands from a vessel. In Kabbalah, the Light-Vessel paradigm is one where light is only able to be viewed and accessed because there is an "other" to view it and access it. For example, when you see a ray of light coming into your room from the outside, you are actually seeing light that is being reflected off of dust particles. In this example, the dust is the vessel—the "other"—by which the light becomes manifest and shines. Here too, regarding the washing of the hands, the vessel used to pour the water brings out the "light" of the water.

Another application of the Light-Vessel paradigm is the relationship between God and the soul.

As we've mentioned, while the soul is a spark of God, we nevertheless have a perception of self-identity that is non-Godly. Each of us has a sense that we are independent of God and more readily associated with this world of multiplicity. So, while on the one hand, our identity as an "other" to God seems to blur our perception of God being all there is, on the other hand, there is no concept as perception in the first place if there is not an "other" to perceive that which is being perceived. Therefore, at first glance this world of multiplicity seems to be the epitome of what we have termed Evil, being that it is a world of lack of God-clarity. However, if even here in this world of multiplicity and lack of God-clarity, the soul acts as the vessel by which God is made to shine, we turn this world on its head—instead of being the epitome of Evil due to its God-blurriness, the world becomes the background for the grandest expression of God's absolute and all-inclusive Oneness.

This is what the Torah is for. The Torah was given to the "other"—the human soul. The Torah lays out the plan for how to grow into our Godly selves, thereby becoming vessels for God-manifestation here in this world where God is not all that apparent. In this sense, Torah is water; it gives you your life and helps you to grow into who you really are.

So, the idea of washing the hands is to bring together water and vessel—the staple for life, growth, and Torah, with the staple for otherness, multiplicity, and lack of God-clarity. By bringing the two together, otherness itself goes from being the ultimate problem (lack of God-clarity) to the ultimate solution (the vehicle bringing about the grandest expression of God-clarity). In a sense, the vessel itself becomes part of the water because the purpose of the water is ultimately expressed through the vessel; the two become united as one joint force for God-clarity. We take this water-vessel unity and pour it onto the hands that have tumah—the hands that have the energy of loss of potential, lack of growth, and blockage between spiritual potential and spiritual actualization—thereby including these hands in this unity of otherness and ultimate purpose, resulting in an end to the tumah-hold on the hands.

Taken Over
Perhaps this is why the washing of the hands is referred to as a neteelah, meaning taking. There are two words that mean "take" in Hebrew: neteelah and lekicha. Lekicha seems to refer to a taking by which you take possession, by which something else is brought into your domain, by which the object is bound up with you. Whereas neteelah seems to imply a taking by which you become taken possession of, by which you are brought into the domain of that which you are taking, by which you are bound up with that which you are taking.

It seems like the latter is what is occurring when the hands are being washed with a cup; despite the fact that it is you who takes the water, it is your status that takes on the status of the water and not the water that takes on your status. It is you who is being "taken," not the water.

Elevating Physicality
This is one of the reasons for pouring the water on the hands three times. Just as wind can be used to put out fire but, if not strong enough, wind will spread the fire, so when pouring water on the hands, the first cup on each hand is to get rid of the tumah energy, the second cup is to elevate the status of the hands to the positive water-vessel force for unity, and the third cup is to make sure all remnants of water is washed away.

Next, we raise our hands because, as mentioned, our hands are the staple of involvement with the God-unclear physical world that lacks God-clarity. Raising the hands, therefore, demonstrates our ability to be in the physical yet hold onto God-clarity; to be in the physical yet remain beyond the physical; to be involved in the physical yet not consumed by it. This is exactly how we described God—Within yet Beyond. Thus, raising the hands immediately after washing embodies our manifesting God even here in the world of multiplicity.

That is to say, just a minute ago I was asleep and my hands were moving unconsciously; they were physically active without any higher awareness or direction because my body was consumed by its physical side. But now that I'm awake, even though my hands are constantly busy with the physical, I conduct these physical dealings with a higher awareness and clarity, thereby manifesting that higher awareness even in the non-clarity of the physical multiplicity-oriented world.

2/24/2011 5:00:00 AM
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    Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. His newly released book, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism, recently hit #1 on Amazon's Best Seller list.