The conclusion of the Chumash Shemot is that the Shechina, the Holy Spirit of Hashem rested, so to speak, in the Mishkan that the Jewish people built in the desert. Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Ramban, in his great commentary to the Chumash, states that the entire process of the Chumash Shemot – the slavery in Egypt, the miraculous deliverance and Exodus from Egypt, the revelation of Torah at Sinai, the construction of the Mishkan – all was necessary in order to return the people of Israel to the level of the homes of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yacov and Rochel and Leah. For in their homes the holy spirit of Hashem resided in a regular and permanent fashion. Now the Holy Spirit of Hashem would reside in a public fashion amidst the Jewish people in the Mishkan. The question is obvious. Why did it require all of the events of Chumash Shemot simply to return to the level that the founders of the Jewish people had already achieved with regularity in their homes? I think that the answer lies in the fact that the Avot and Imahot attained that level of G-dliness in a private fashion, in their own homes, sheltered from the hostile winds of the outside world.
The attainment of the G-dly spirit at the end of Chumash Shemot was however of a different nature. It was a public achievement of the nation as a whole, of a community of different people and different ideas, and therefore of a much more difficult challenge. The Mishkan was public, it was exposed to the outside world, and it swayed in the winds of the desert and the time. In such an environment, it is difficult to house G-d’s spirit and therefore all of the training that the events of Chumash relates to us regarding the Jewish people were necessary in order to bring the Shekinah to Jewish public life.
The Rabbis in Pirkei Avot list ten miracles that were present in the Temple and the Mishkan. One of the miracles was that the pillar of smoke of the altar was never swayed or blown away by the prevailing wind. In public Jewish life there have always been, as there are today, winds and currents that can influence and even diffuse the pillar of smoke that represents G-d’s presence in our camp and society. It must therefore be seen as one of the ever-present miracles in our midst, that the name and cause of G-dliness and Torah tradition has somehow been preserved and its influence constantly strengthened and renewed. It is as though we are constantly reliving the end of the Chumash Shemot and making the public house and society of Israel the worthy successors of the holy but private homes of our fathers and mothers. All Torah organizations and projects are dedicated to this public building of a Mishkan in our community and in the Land of Israel. Projects of Torah study and support, of goodness and help to our fellow Jews, are the means by which we construct this Mishkan. Especially in the difficult winds of our current Israeli world, we must strive to preserve that pillar of smoke – our Torah and tradition – from being blown away and to redouble our efforts on behalf of the people of Israel and its holy Mishkan.
The Jewish people have built a Mishkan and two Temples in its long and difficult history. None of those three structures proved permanent. We, in our blessed generation and homeland, have been given the opportunity to begin the process of creating the final and permanent Temple. If we realize that this great opportunity is given to us and we will work to see that the spirit of G-d will dwell amidst us and all of Israel, then we can truly hope to see the physical reality of the Temple and the complete redemption of Zion realized speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Berel Wein