Beginning this week, five consecutive parashot are devoted
completely or partially to the design and construction of the Mishkan
/ Tabernacle and its kelim / vessels and implements. R' Moshe ben
Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-1270) writes that after Hashem had taught
some of the mitzvot at Har Sinai-just as a convert learns some of the
laws to start out-and after the Jewish People agreed to do whatever
Moshe would teach them in the future, they became Hashem's nation.
Hashem had told them to be holy, and they had agreed to do so; now it
was time for Him to rest His Presence among them. Therefore He
commanded that they build a Mishkan, which would be a house dedicated
to Him and the place where He would speak to Moshe.
Ramban continues: The most important part of the Mishkan was the
Aron / Ark, the place where the Shechinah actually "rested" and from
which Hashem's voice appeared to emanate to Moshe. Therefore the
command to make the Aron comes first in the parashah. Next came the
commands to make the Shulchan / Table and Menorah since they are also
kelim (rather than part of the Mishkan's structure).
The "secret" of the Mishkan, writes Ramban, is that the glory of
Hashem that rested on Har Sinai [in the open] would now rest among
Bnei Yisrael in a concealed way. Ramban adds: "One who will look
carefully at the verses regarding the Giving of the Torah and our
commentary to those verses will understand the secret of the Miskhan
and the Bet Hamikdash. (Commentary to the Torah: Shemot 25:1)
"They shall make a sanctuary for Me - so that I will dwell
among them." (25:8)
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l (1808-1888) wrote a lengthy essay
discussing the symbolism of the Mishkan / Tabernacle, its kelim /
vessels and implements, and the materials from which they were made.
The following is summarized from that essay. Readers who are familiar
with the history of Judaism in Germany in the 19th century and with R'
Hirsch's role in the struggle against "reform" may appreciate some of
R' Hirsch's points in that broader context.
* When seeking the symbolism of anything in the Torah, one must
bear in mind that nowhere in the Torah do we find statements intended
to teach us about matters that are beyond our own senses. "Symbols
cannot represent truths that were entirely unknown to us before." Any
lessons we are meant to learn from the Mishkan and kelim are bound to
be straightforward practical lessons, not metaphysical truths.
R' Hirsch cites a proof to his claim. We will read in two weeks
that Moshe asked to see G-d, and his request was denied, as "No man
can see G-d and live." Then Moshe asked to know G-d's ways, and he
was answered with the 13 Attributes of Mercy: "Hashem, Hashem, E-l,
Rachum, Ve'chanun, etc." Moshe was not answered with abstract
metaphysical information, but rather with a very practical description
that we are called upon to emulate. This teaches that nothing in the
Torah is of purely "theoretical interest," writes R' Hirsch.
* The structure of the Mikdash must somehow represent the
conditions that we must fulfill in order to accomplish the Sanctuary's
real purpose. That purpose is twofold: first, to be the place where
our assigned task-"Kedoshim te'hiyu" / "Be holy!-finds its purest
expression, and second, to be the place where G-d fulfills His
promise: "I will dwell among them." [See Ramban quoted on p.1]
How are we to keep G-d dwelling in our midst? R' Hirsch notes
that the Torah does not say, "If you will follow these precise
architectural plans and thereafter bring sacrifices in the Mishkan,
then I will dwell among you." In fact, three times already, Hashem
has rejected the "houses" that we have built for Him, and each time He
told us the reason (through our Prophets and Sages). Never was it
because He did not like the Sanctuary or its furnishings. Rather, we
read in Parashat Bechukotai that G-d's continued presence among us
depends on our fulfillment of the mitzvot. R' Hirsch writes: "G-d's
dwelling in our midst extends beyond the narrow confines of the
Temple. His dwelling in our midst means that His beneficent and
protecting Presence will be felt in every aspect of our lives.
Moreover, G-d's presence in our midst is not dependent on the
existence of the Temple, but, in the final analysis, solely on whether
we will sanctify and dedicate all of our lives to the fulfillment of
His holy Will, to the fulfillment of His Law."
(Collected Writings III p.161)
"Like everything that I show you, the form of the Mishkan /
Tabernacle and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you
Rashi comments: "And so shall you do"-for future generations.
R' Eliezer Zusia Portugal z"l (the Skulener Rebbe) asks: How can
building a Temple be a mitzvah for future generations when, at least
according to some opinions, the Third Temple will descend from Heaven
as a building of fire?
He answers: The Temple that will descend is being constructed all
the time from our mitzvot. Every good deed adds a course of "bricks"
to that Temple. This verse is commanding us to do those good deeds.
"They shall make an Aron / Ark of acacia wood . . ."
"You shall make a Shulchan / Table of acacia wood . . ."
"You shall make a Menorah of pure gold . . ." (25:31)
"You shall make the Mishkan of ten curtains . . ." (26:1)
As the order of these verses indicates, Moshe was commanded to
make the major kelim before he was commanded to make the components of
the Mishkan itself. However, the Gemara relates that when Moshe told
Betzalel- the chief craftsman of the Mishkan and its kelim-to make the
kelim first and then the Mishkan, Betzalel challenged him, "Does one
make furniture before building a house?"
Moshe responded that Betzalel had divined G-d's intention. "Were
you standing b'tzel e-l / in the shadow of G-d?" Moshe asked, making a
play on the craftsman's name.
What did Moshe's response mean? After all, G-d did give the
command to make kelim before He gave the command to make the parts of
the Mishkan! R' Aharon Kotler z"l (Lakewood rosh yeshiva; died 1962)
The first of the kelim listed in the Torah is the Aron, which
housed the Luchot and also the Torah scroll that Moshe wrote. Our
Sages teach that Hashem created the Torah before He created the world.
Likewise, the Aron is listed before any other item from the Mishkan.
But Hashem did not create the physical Torah before He created the
world. To the contrary, the Torah was not given until the world was
more than two thousand years old. Only conceptually did the Torah
precede the world, but not in actuality. To paraphrase the expression
with which our Sages describe the Sabbath day (another "later"
creation), "Sof ma'aseh b'machshavah techilah" / "The end in deed was
the first in thought."
Betzalel understood that, although the concept of an Aron
preceded the rest of the Mishkan and its contents, the physical Aron
was not to come first. It was mentioned first only to emphasize the
preeminence of Torah. Because Betzalel divined this, Moshe said to
him, "Were you standing in G-d's shadow that you came to understand
(Mishnat Rabbi Aharon III p.124)
Letters from Our Sages
How can a person become a diligent student of Torah if he has
only limited time to devote to Torah study? R' Avraham
Yeshayahu Karelitz (the "Chazon Ish"; died 1953) answers that
question in the following letter which is printed in Igrot
Chazon Ish, Vol. III, No. 10.
"I would like to fulfill your request to help you strengthen your
Torah study, or, more correctly, your shekidah / diligence. The
concept of diligence is not related to the amount of time that one
devotes to studying. Rather, it has to do with handing over one's
person, and giving one's heart as a gift, to delving into Torah. One
hour of diligence and of yearning is more valuable than two hours of
casual study. . .
"The main thing is to acquire the traits by which Torah is
acquired [see Avot ch. 6]. The lifeblood of all of these traits is to
structure one's thoughts around the verity that everything that
befalls a person is commanded by the Power which surrounds all
creations - inanimate, vegetable, and living - and all of the wonders
of nature, which were created by one Power Who causes them to exist
and gives them life.
"Pay attention to the fact that every mortal who was created
works vigorously no matter what befalls him in order to better his
situation and bring success to himself. A person is given the
understanding to works things out for the best, [and these abilities
can be applied] to rising to intellectual heights, to appreciating the
delicateness of the enlightened soul, and to experiencing pleasure
which words cannot describe.
"But, I have gone deeper with my words than I should have, and I
now return to the point. There are several weeks left until Pesach
[when the semester ends in most yeshivot], and it is essential to take
hold of oneself and to be filled with a new spirit dedicated to
diligence. A resolution is in any case more effective when it is for
a limited time. It also is necessary to pray that one not encounter
stumbling blocks, for a resolution which is not pure of improper
motives may be a trick of the yetzer hara. Be strong - the stumbling
blocks are only in the beginning, as with any test man faces."
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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