Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"):

The Altar

Height of the Altar

It is here in the Inner Courtyard that the sacrificial Altar is located, as I have already stated. Let me explain its measurements, which involve the deepest secrets, for the Altar provides a place for all who need to ascend on it. The total height of the Altar is ten cubits built on three distinct levels. The height of the top level is four cubits as is that of the second [or middle] level, while the third [or bottom] level is two cubits high.

This is because there is a place here for all the Palaces [Heichalot] of the World of Beriyah according to their order of ascent. The top four cubits correspond to Keter, Chochmah and Binah in the Palace known as Holy of Holies, together with Desire [=Tiferet], which ascends higher than all the others. The middle four cubits correspond to Chesed, Gevurah, Netzach and Hod. The bottom two cubits correspond to Yesod and Malchut, which join together in the Palace of Sapphire Stone.

Length and breadth of the Altar

Let me now explain to you the underlying principles governing the length and breadth of the Altar. Know that the Supreme Wisdom [Chochmah] contains thirty-two pathways under which all things are subsumed: these are the ten Sefirot together with the twenty-two letters of the Aleph­ Beit from top to bottom. Correspondingly the Lower Wisdom - Shechinah - is called "Glory" [KaVoD  = 32], because like the Upper Wisdom she too contains thirty-two pathways, only in this case they are ordered from the bottom upwards.

Four lights descended from the Shechinah into the World of Beriyah. They are called Glory. When these lights reached their bottom level [i.e. the base (Yesod) of the Altar, which is thirty-two cubits square] all thirty-two appeared merged together in one place, as I will explain.

The Altar Woodpile

As these four lights descended, a corresponding place came into being in this Altar [at the top, i.e. the Woodpile, Ma'arachah]. Initially it was twenty-four cubits square, corresponding to the twenty-four permutations of the letters of the name ADNY. Correspondingly, twenty-four divisions of Priests and Levites serve in the Temple, and thus the branches join with the roots.

Pathway for the Priests to step around the Altar

When Tiferet and Yesod - which are two Vav's - joined with the Shechinah, an additional cubit was added to the length and breadth [each cubit is made up of six (= Vav) handbreadths]. This formed a place twenty-six cubits long and twenty-six cubits wide, corresponding to the numerical value of the holy name of YHVH blessed-be-He. This place is called the Pathway for the Priests to step around the Altar [Mekom Hiluch Ragley Hacohanim], while the previous area is called the Place of the Woodpile [Mekom Hama'arachah].

Horns of the Altar

Afterwards Netzach and Hod also joined with the Shechinah. These two Sefirot are the two mighty horns of which it says, "And his horns are the horns of the wild ox" (Deuteronomy 33:17). This formed a place twenty-eight cubits square. This is because the Shechinah is called Bat Sheva [since it is through her that the seven lower Sefirot are revealed]. When she stands facing the four, namely Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut [i.e. when the Shechinah stands "face to face" with the bottom four Sefirot of Zeir Anpin], these twenty-eight lights appear [7 x 4 = 28]. These are the twenty-eight camps of the Shechinah.

As a result of the rectification brought about when the Shechinah stands facing these four [Sefirot of Zeir Anpin], four lights came down from above into the World of Beriyah. This explains the presence of four horns here [at the four corners at the top of the Altar]. They are the four letters of ADNY.

You must understand that the cubit of measurement used in the Temple consists sometimes of six handbreadths and sometimes of five. The cubit of six handbreadths derives from the male aspect, while the cubit of five handbreadths derives from the female aspect. The Glory revealed in the Altar is bound up with the Heh [female aspect] of the Divine Name, and for this reason the cubits of the horns are of five handbreadths.

The surrounding ledge

The light now descended four levels, for in this way all the levels are joined together as one. Afterwards the Heh welled up again with great force and spread out even further than before, protruding another two cubits (of five handbreadths) in both directions [forming the surrounding ledge, Sovev]. Let me tell you where these two cubits came from. They are drawn down from the Palace of Desire, for each of the individual Palaces receives from its corresponding aspect in the Palace of Desire. Accordingly this section of the Altar is thirty cubits square.

The foundation

After another four levels [four cubits] the Glory spread out further. When it reached its lowest level it radiated in all its strength and greatness in the form of thirty-two great lights corresponding to the numerical value of the letters of KaVoD. At the base, therefore, the Altar is thirty-two cubits square.

Position of the Altar and Ramp

The Altar in the future Temple is in front of the Sanctuary in direct alignment with its south and north walls, for it is written: "And the Altar in front of the House" (Ezekiel 40:47). The Altar Ramp is to the south. Let me explain to you the significance of this Ramp. The Altar itself derives from Malchut, while the Ramp standing at its side derives from Yesod. The Ramp is positioned to the south of the Altar [south = Chesed, the "right hand"] in order to rectify the Altar by connecting it to the right-hand side. This is why the Ramp is to the south, for in this way the Altar is drawn to the south.

This is in accordance with the underlying secret of the verse: "The mountain of the House of the Lord will be firmly established on the top of the mountains" (Isaiah 2:2) as I explained above [see "Cherubs and palms on the walls" p. 84]. The Altar itself does not intrinsically lean to the right since it is positioned in the center. But [through the position of the Ramp, which gives access to the top of the Altar from the south] the Altar "starts" on the south side. Since the Altar is thirty-two cubits from south to north, its north side is in direct alignment with the end of the north wall of the Sanctuary.

The Ramp itself is also thirty-two cubits long. Its length is thus identical to that of the base of the Altar, neither less nor more. In addition there are two smaller side ramps giving access from the main Ramp to the surrounding ledge [Sovev] and the base of the Altar [Yesod], which are the two bottom levels.

The Priests' Courtyard and Duchan

In this Inner Courtyard [Azarah] one step leads up [from the eastern section, the "Israelite Court", Ezrat Yisrael] to the place of the Levites [also known as the "Court of the Priests", which is thus a platform one step higher than the Ezrat Yisrael]. On this platform another three steps lead up to the place of the Priests [the Duchan].

The reason for these steps is that the place of the Levites [Gevurah] is one level higher than that of the Israelites [Tiferet]. Afterwards, however, the three levels [Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferet] join together so that all three are included in the place where the Priests [Chesed] perform the Temple service. The reason why there are not merely two steps up to the place of the Priests is that it is not exclusively theirs but rather it is the place where all three levels join together as one in Chesed itself. Understand this well.





Translated by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2007 All rights reserved