(lubavitch.com) The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute unveiled its latest course, “Heaven on Earth: Timeless Vessels, Timely Lessons” to 2,500 students this week. The three-week program comes on the heels of last year’s miniseries which explored the significance of the structure of the Beit Hamikdash (the Temples that stood in Jerusalem). This year, its continuation focuses on the spiritual significance of the Temple’s six primary instruments.
“The course explains not so much the instruments’ physical dimensions, as the life-lessons we can learn from them,” explains Rabbi Levi Kaplan, program director. “The possessions in a house show us what its purpose is, and from G-d’s home we can understand how to live our lives to perfection.”
FridayLights, an organization inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 1974 call for women and girls to kindle Shabbat candles, is underwriting the full course. An oft-quoted passage explains why. “If you guard the lights of Shabbat, I will show you the light of Zion,” G-d promises. FridayLights’ goal of one million registered candle-lighting women, will, it intends, lead to the reinstatement of the Temple and its instruments.
“It is unique that two of the Rebbe’s diverse initiatives are coming together for one goal,” Kaplan says enthusiastically. “It is an important partnership.”
Rabbi Binyamin Walters coauthored the course, spending three weeks each on research and writing. Walters describes his research in both ancient texts and online as “following a trail.” He begins with the basic Torah passages and standard commentaries related to the Temple instruments. Then, he says, he explores deeper interpretations from age-old commentators finishing with the Chasidic insights of the Lubavitch Rebbes.
“The purpose of the instruments from the Beit Hamikdash represent eternal tools through which we can perceive G-dliness in our own lives,” explains Walters. “They were relevant for personal introspection in the times of the Temple and they are equally relevant now.”
Heaven on Earth is Greensboro, North Carolina’s first foray into JLI, and Rabbi Yosef Plotkin is excited. Plotkin’s adult education classes, including a weekly “Kugel and Kabbalah” series have been popular in this small community. But now he is taking it to the next level. “JLI,” he says, “offers a lot more information than I could possibly prepare, with neat PowerPoint presentations, and a great advertising campaign.”
In his near year of service to this North Carolina Jewish community, Plotkin has come to recognize the importance of such a course. “Here in the Bible Belt, everyone studies from the Old Testament about the Temple and its vessels. Until now, Jews did not have an opportunity to learn about it from the Jewish perspective.”
Plotkin appreciates the course’s design which explains how each instrument was created and used and what each represents. The first lesson explores the Kior, the washbasin used by the Priests before service, and the Aron, the ark. “Before serving G-d a person must rid himself of the dirt, the negative emotions and bad feelings, he may have towards G-d or his fellow Jew,” explains Plotkin based on the curriculum. “Then we learn about the Aron, the ultimate utensil in the Beit Hamikdash, used to bring holiness to the world. Only after we remove the disturbances and challenges in our lives can we advance holiness and bring good into the world.”
These lessons are particularly apropos during the present “Three Weeks,” a period in which we mourn the Temples’ destruction and ensuing exile book-ended by two fast days commemorating the day Jerusalem’s walls were impeached (on the 17th of Tammuz) and the date when the Holy Temple was destroyed (on the ninth and tenth of Av). The Three Weeks have been set aside by the Rebbe as a time to explore the reasons for the Temple’s ruin and the ways in which we can ensure its rebuilding.
“It is important to fulfill the Rebbe’s directive to study the Temple during this period,” believes Rabbi Sholom Loeub of Tallahassee, Florida. “The course provides a better knowledge of the Beit Hamikdash and illuminates its vessels in an exciting, intricate manner.” Loeub presented the first lesson for free Tuesday evening and anticipates that 20 students will sign up for the complete miniseries.
The earth, in 120 cities, has welcomed the heavens.