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Home » Tetzaveh

Tezaveh: When Right Meets Left

Submitted by on February 4, 2007 – 1:43 amNo Comment | 2,603 views

North and South

What would you rather, wisdom or wealth? Sounds like a solomonic question, but our sages provided a road map. “If you seek wealth turn to the north and if you seek wisdom turn to the south.” But how exactly dos turning north or south provide wisdom or wealth? (1)

To give context to this sagacious advice one must bear in mind the layout of the ancient Jewish temple. The entrance to the temple was on the east end. Advancing westward through the temple one would arrive at the holy of holies, host to the holy ark and two tablets. The room just before the holy of holies was the sanctuary, host to a table on its north side and a candelabra on its south side.

The table held twelve loafs of showbread and the candelabra’s seven branches were kindled nightly. The purpose of the showbread was to usher in a blessing for material sustenance. The purpose of the light was to usher in a blessing for wisdom and spiritual sustenance.

The Apex of Blessing

The Ark sat at the center of the holy of holies. Looking out beyond the partition, from the vantage point of the ark, the candelabra was on the ark’s right and the table was on the ark’s left. The ark, candelabra and table thus formed a triangle. The ark at the apex, the table and candelabra extended outward toward the right and left. (2)

The holy of holies was shrouded in mystery. It played host to the essence of the divine as represented by the holy ark that lay secluded behind the curtain. The ark itself, representative of the divine, was restricted, but it favored

the nation with blessing. Blessings of a material nature flowed forth, via the partition, into the table. Blessings of a spiritual nature flowed forth, via the partition, into the candelabra. (3)

Addressing the commandment to kindle lights in the tabernacle the Midrash comments, “Does the source of all light require light?” The Midrash explains that G-d does not require our light. On the contrary, it is we, who require G-d light. The light of the candelabra was not intended to provide illumination for G-d, but for us, the people outside of the sanctuary. (4)

In a similar vein our sages wondered why G-d instructed that twelve loaves o

f bread be placed on the table in the sanctuary. Does the source of all nourishment require nourishment? Once again our sages conclude that the bread on the table provided divine blessing for nourishment to the world at large. (5)

The table and candelabra thus served as port holes through which blessing flowed from G-d into the world. Material blessing through the table on the left. Spiritual blessing through the candelabra on the right. This is what King Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “Longevity is on her right and on her left is wealth and honor. (6)

This also explains our sagacious advice: Turn to the north, to the table in the north, for wealth. Turn to the south, to the candelabra in the south for wisdom.

Right and Left

We are still left to ponder why the right side is deemed conducive to spiritual blessing and the left side to material blessing. Is there a reason why the table couldn’t have been placed on the right, south of the ark and the candelabra on the left, north of the ark?

Isaiah proclaimed that G-d created the earth with his left hand and the heavens with his right hand. (7)

The mystics taught that G-d interacts with mankind through two primary attributes: Loving kindness and firm judgment. He draws us close and makes himself available to us with loving kindness, but utilizes firm judgment to determine the precise distance he must maintain between us, lest his closeness overwhelms us. (8)

The mystics described these attributes as divine arms. Arms serve as a metaphor for interaction because they extend outward from the body. Metaphorically, G-d’s right arm is the arm of benevolence and his left arm is the arm of judgment. (9)

When Isaiah spoke of G-d’s right and left hands he was referring to degrees of proximity to G-d. The hosts of heaven are closer to G-d than are the creatures of earth. In heaven, G-d is revealed. His presence, an obvious fact, is known objectively to angels and souls. On earth, G-d is concealed. His presence, unknown and unknowable, is a matter of theological debate.

Heaven, a place of proximity, was metaphorically created by G-d’s right hand because the right hand is synonymous with love. Earth, a place of distance, was metaphorically created by G-d’s left hand because the left hand is synonymous with firm judgment. (10)

The blessings that flowed from the holy of holies via the sanctuary to the world at large were  accordingly apportioned separate paths. Spiritual blessings were extended through the divine right arm. Material blessings were extended through the divine left arm. The table, source of material blessing, was therefore positioned on the left, north of the ark. The candelabra, source of spiritual blessing, was positioned on the right, south of the ark. (11)

Inside / Outside

The advice to turn north for wealth has relevance even today, after the destruction of the temple. If we seek divine blessing for prosperity, our attention must be turned north, toward our tables. We must ensure that our table plays host to those in need at all times. If we want G-d to heed our call, we must heed the calls of those who have less than us.

If we seek divine blessing for wisdom, our attention must be turned south, toward the candelabra. Like a candelabra that sheds light unto others, we too must share the light of Torah with those who know less than us. G-d shared his wisdom with Moses and Moses didn’t hoard it for himself; he shared it with others. The key to attaining the Torah’s wisdom is to follow Moses’ lead and share it.

In the temple, the candelabra stood beside the table. This informs us that the table and the candelabra are meant to collaborate. The entrepreneur, who personifies the table and the Torah scholar, who personifies the candelabra, must collaborate. The entrepreneur must support the scholar and the scholar must teach the entrepreneur. (12)

Both the table and the candelabra are outside of the partition, but they are not equal. The candelabra   is positioned on the right side, the side of love. Even as we engage our material blessings, we must reserve our passion and love for G-d. The table is, admittedly, a permanent fixture of life, it is a necessary intrusion, but it must be positioned on the left. It must never become our passion. (13)

Work is just an occupation. Our passion belongs to G-d. (14)


  1. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra, 25b. For references on the Solomonic dilemma see Kings I, 3: 5-13.
  2. See Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) on Exodus 26: 35. There was also an altar in the sanctuary, but it is not mentioned in this essay because it is beyond the scope of this discussion.
  3. All blessing originates with the divine as G-d is the source of all things, spiritual and material. That G-d is the source of all spiritual things is obvious. That G-s is the source of all material things is indicated by the verse, “Wealth and prestige come from you” (Chronicles I, 29: 13). In the temple, both blessings originated behind the partition in the holy of holies. They then flowed forward in two channels, spiritual blessing on the right toward the candelabra and material blessing on the left toward the table.
  4. This is also indicated by the shape of the temple’s windows. In order to spread the sunlight that was drawn in from the outside most windows in those days were constructed narrow on the outside and broad on the inside. The temple’s windows were narrow on the inside and broad on the outside. (Kings I, 6: 4.) The windows did not serve to draw light into the temple from outside. On the contrary, the temple, or more precisely the candelabra in the temple, was the source of light for the entire world. The windows served to draw light from the temple into the world. (See Yalkut Shimoni, Kings I, ch. 182.)
  5. Babylonian Talmud, Menachot, 86b. See also Midrash Tanchumah, Tezaveh, ch. 4.
  6. Proverbs 3: 16. In the context of this verse, the Torah is described as longevity because it represents values of an eternal nature. An additional link between the south and the right can be found in the Torah’s reference to the south. The Torah describes the south as, temana, toward Yemen. (Exodus 26: 35.) This is because Yemen lies to the south of Israel. The root of the Hebrew word Yemin, which means right, is composed of three letters, Yud, Mem and Nun. These three letters are also at the heart of the word, temanah.
  7. “My hand has laid the foundation of earth and my right hand spanned the heavens.” (Isaiah 48: 13). Our sages pondered the meaning of this verse and explained that the heavens were created with G-d’s right hand and the earth with G-d’s left hand. (Pirkei R. Eliezer, ch. 18.)
  8. See Tanya, ch. 3 (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813). See also Sefer Mamarim 5659, p. 18 (R. Sholom Ber Schneerson Fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1861 – 1920).
  9. Tikunei Zohar, p. 13a and 17a. See Bereishit Rabbah,  12: 15.
  10. See Likutei Torah, Discourse on Sukkot, p. 156a. See also Torah Ohr, 85b.
  11. This explains why the Torah describes the position of the table as “on the outer side of the partition,” but the candelabra’s position is described as, “opposite the table.” (Exodus 26, 35.) The table represented material blessings that flow into the world at large. Those blessings are clearly demarcated from the holy of holies. They belong outside of the partition. The candelabra represented the presence of G-d into the physical universe and therefore is not described as outside of the partition. Though it was in fact positioned on the outside its purpose was to suffuse the outside with presence of G-d. It was meant to usher the atmosphere from the holy of holies into the world at large.
  12. When the right and left arms collaborate they are able to merge and reflect their true unity. Both arms originated in the ark. In the ark they were not different. At their point of origin they were one. They departed each other as they emerged. When the entrepreneur and the scholar collaborate the two arms merge again revealing their true essence that was first evident at their point of origin.
  13. Our sages accordingly taught us to draw our friends close with our right hand and hold our enemies at bay with our left hand. (Songs of Songs, 2: 6. Sotah 47a.) The Chassidic masters encouraged us to draw the Torah and G-dliness close with our right hand and hold the allure of worldly attractions at bay with our left hand. The Rebbe Rashab (R. Sholom Ber Schneerson Fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1861 – 1920) once asked his son, later to become the Rebbe Rayatz (R. YY Schneerson, sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1880-1950), why G-d created man with two eyes. He then explained that the right eye was reserved for Torah and for other Jews, the left eye was intended for candies and toys. Candies are important to little children, but even they mustn’t fall in love with the candy or toy. Love must be reserved for the Torah and our fellow Jew.
  14. This essay is based in part on commentary by Toras Moshe (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600) to Exodus 27: 20-21. See also Ksav Sofer (R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, Pressburg, 1815-1879)to Exodus 27: 20.


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