Tradition ascribes the writing of the Zohar, or Book of Splendor, to the imagination of second century scholar Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai who, along with son, confined themselves to a cave for twelve years. The pioneering work of twentieth century scholar Gershom Scholem proved that the Zohar was actually the work of thirteenth century Spanish rabbi Moses de Leon. What is beyond dispute, however, is that the Zohar, the most important kabbalistic text in Judaism, presents itself as a commentary on the Torah, albeit with a mystical approach. And as a commentary it sometimes succeeds in identifying difficulties in the scriptural text.

 

For instance, the construction of the Tabernacles required the framework of the outer court and the interior furnishings including the bronze sacrificial altar, the incense altar, the table for showbread, the menorah, and the ark for housing the two sets of Tablets (one broken, the other whole) and the original Torah scroll. A covering tops the ark. The inner sanctum of the Tabernacle is separated from the outer by a curtain. And material is hung from supporting poles all along the perimeter. In addition, to the physical structure and interior furnishings is the wardrobe of the priests including the trousers, turbans, kaftans, and breastplate for the High Priest. The Zohar notes that the recurrent verb instructing the fashioning of all these elements appears in the singular (either v’assita or ta’asseh) except for two. When it comes to the ark and the breastplate the verb shifts to the plural (v’assu – see Exodus 25:10). Since the Rabbis consider the Torah divine, unexpected variations in language cry out for justification.

 

Nahmanides, himself a mystic, offers a partial explanation. The ark contains the Torah, which is incumbent upon Israel to follow. Hence, the plural verb form is entirely appropriate. While Nahmanides does not address the plural verb form for the breastplate, the same logic applies. The twelve stones affixed to the breastplate represent the twelve tribes, that is, the entirety, of Israel. Here again, the plural verb form would be appropriate.

 

The upshot of this analysis is that the two most critical elements required for constructing a holy people is Torah and community.