The Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem was a place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year: On Yom Kippur. Now even the Holy of Holies was occasionally in need of repair. To provide for such an eventuality there were openings in the upper chamber leading down through the ceiling of the Holy of Holies. These holes were close to the walls and through them the workmen were lowered in “tevoth” (boxes) into this most holy place. These boxes were only open to the side of the walls, so that the workmen “could not feast their eyes on the Holy of Holies.” (Pesachim 26a)
It is said that the Upper chamber of the Holy of Holies was even less accessible than the Holy of Holies, for the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year whereas the upper chamber was entered only once in fifty years to see whether any repairs were required.
In Chassidic thought the above tradition was given an allegorical meaning. In Hebrew “tevoth” does not only mean boxes but also “words”. As such the “words” of Jewish tradition are seen as ways to enter the Holy of Holies of every Jew/Jewess so as to repair and to revive his or her heart. But also in the human heart, the words (tevoth) of the Torah can only touch the outer walls. Their deeper meanings are beyond human comprehension. What man can grasp are only the perpetual holy murmurs from a world beyond.
Jewish Education is in need of radical repair. We are living in days in which the Jewish religious imagination seems to be exhausted. We no longer seem to know how to lower ourselves via the tevoth into the Holy of Holies of the human heart.
We have fallen victim to a sociological and anthropological approach that has led to the vulgarization of Jewish education. We ask whether the Jews are a race, people, a religion, a cultural entity, a historic group, or linguistic unit. We do not ask: What are we morally? What are we spiritually? What do we owe the world and what is our mission? We may be busy repairing Judaism but we are descending from the wrong upper chamber into an artificial temple of secularity.
Jewish education today deals with a great amount of information, but forgets that it is transformation that we are looking for. We are told that walking around the Temple created “new” people. People became astonished, amazed and surprised by the many miracles that took place in the Temple. It was not Jewish continuity that the Temple guaranteed but a radical re-creation of the Jewish soul, which made souls to grow wings so that they could fly. It served as a protest against the stale and obsolete.
It caused man to be so taken in by the spiritual power of the Torah that he was able to “see” God everywhere, like the Chassidic Rebbe who used to walk in the forest because he wanted to see how the tall swaying trees were “davvening shemone esre”. (1)
Jewish education must be just like a work of art, which is capable of introducing us to emotions that we never cherished before. It is boring unless we are surprised by it. Every thought is also a prison if it does not invoke in us an outburst of amazement.
(1) Praying the “18 benedictions” while standing in great concentration, often accompanied by swinging of the upper body.