Temples Without Walls
The Jewish people, traveling through the barren desert, were comforted by
the knowledge that their forefather Jacob had worried about their
situation. Hundreds of years earlier, he had known through prophecy that
his descendants would be liberated from bondage in Egypt and journey
through a trackless wasteland devoid of vegetation and water. Therefore,
with the devoted love of a grandfather, he made provisions for them during
his own lifetime. The Midrash tells us that he planted young acacia
saplings in Egypt that would grow into mature trees by the time they were
liberated. Before the exodus, they would cut these trees down and hew them
into huge planks. They would transport these planks with them into the
desert and use them in the construction of the Mishkan, Hashem’s earthly
The questions immediately come to mind. If Jacob was so worried about what
his grandchildren would do in the barren desert, why didn’t he prepare
material necessities, such as food and drink, for them? Obviously, he was
certain Hashem would provide all their material needs in the desert. He
would send them food even where no vegetation grew, and he would send them
drink even where no rivers flowed. But if so, it only stood to reason that
He would also provide them with lumber where no trees grew. Why then did
Jacob have to plant acacia trees in Egypt to take care of their future
The commentators explain that the Mishkan was far more than a physical
abode for the Divine Presence in this world. It was also meant to
symbolize the spiritual abode each Jew constructed in his own heart and
soul wherein Hashem would dwell. In the pagan world, the gods supposedly
lived in the temples, and the people lived in their homes. The people
would visit the temples to pay their respects to the gods and then return
home to their own private lives. But this was not the Jewish concept at
all. The Jewish people did not expect Hashem’s presence to be restricted
to the Tabernacle, a temple to be visited and left behind. The
construction of the physical Tabernacle was a symbolic expression of the
desire of the people to be forever bonded with the Creator, to build an
indestructible temple for Him in their own hearts.
In this light, we can understand why they had to bring their own lumber.
In order for the act of the construction of the Tabernacle to retain its
full transcendent value, it needed to come entirely from the Jewish
people, an unreserved invitation to Hashem to come among us. Therefore, it
would have been inappropriate to ask Hashem to provide the lumber for the
construction. He could send manna from heaven to feed the Jewish people
and cause water to flow from a rock to slake their thirsts, but for Him to
provide the lumber for the Tabernacle would have diminished its symbolic
significance. The preparation of the lumber was in and of itself a
declaration of the love of the people for Hashem.
A man was betrothed to a woman who owned a flower shop.
The evening of the engagement party arrived, and the excited bride awaited
her groom with great anticipation. At last, he appeared, dressed in a new
suit and striding purposefully toward her. His face was wreathed in abroad
smile. His hands were empty.
“I don’t understand,” she stammered in bewilderment. “Where are the roses
you brought me?”
“But I didn’t bring you any roses,” he replied.
“You didn’t?” she cried as tears sprang to her eyes. “Why not? Don’t I
deserve flowers like any other bride.”
“But you are not like any other bride,” said the groom. “You own your own
flower shop. Giving you flowers would be like bringing coals to Newcastle.”
“I see you have a lot to learn about women,” she replied. “Do you think
grooms bring flowers to their brides because they need them? Flowers help
grooms express their love for their brides. I too want that expression of
love, even though I’ve got plenty of flowers of my own.”
In our own lives, we sometimes find ourselves slipping into a mechanical
and perfunctory observance of the Torah’s commandments; we find ourselves
acting more out of habit than out of inspiration. At such times, we would
do well to look into our inner selves and inspect the temples in our
hearts. Perhaps they have been neglected. The roof may have sprung a leak,
and the walls may be in need of repair. But if we reaffirm our commitment
to Hashem and our desire to have Him dwell within us, we can build our
spiritual temples within our own hearts and recapture the joy and
inspiration that are the natural characteristics of living with Hashem.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.