Be’er Yosef: A midrash attempts to understand why the plural “they” is used for the aron, while all the other instructions concerning the utensils of the mishkan are in second person singular – “you” shall make. It offers two approaches. The first one sees the aron as a special case. Unique among the kelim, it required the input and cooperation of the entire people. Because it housed the Torah, Hashem wanted everyone to have a share in it.
The second approach first instructs the reader to consider a pasuk a few lines above that uses the same plural in reference to the mishkan itself. It then launches into a three-pronged consideration of the necessity for a mikdash. We are Hashem’s sheep. He is our shepherd. The shepherd requires a small enclosure in which to live as he performs his duties. That is the mishkan.
Additionally, the Jewish people is described as His vineyard. A vineyard requires protection. The mishkan is like the small hut from which the guard watches over his charge.
Finally, we are Hashem’s children. Children are honored by the proximity of their father. In many cases, the father is honored through his children, by having them close by and at hand.
We are left with a few questions. What is added by comparing the mishkan to not one, but three small structures – the shepherd’s enclosure, the hut in the vineyard, and the house where father and children rendezvous? Why does the discussion shift immediately to the mitzvah of building the mishkan, after posing a question concerning the manufacture of the aron?
Perhaps the midrash’s second approach seeks to provide another facet of the universal need for both mikdash and aron, and explain thereby why everyone needed to take part in their manufacture. Succinctly put, the midrash argues that the two of them are critical in every conceivable period of Jewish history.
In our long galus, there have been places and times in which every message we received from our non-Jewish hosts has been negative, rejectionist, and contemptuous. Bereft of security, right of residence, and opportunity to eke out a livelihood, Jewish life was fragile and uncertain. We were like sheep looking for pasture, but banned from grazing even on ownerless land.
We might think at such times that providing a place for the Shechinah is unthinkable, as we became almost nomadic, forced to wander from place to place. The midrash, however, assures us that the opposite is true. At such times, we have no chance of survival at all without Divine guidance and assistance. We have been there many times, living among populations certain that granting haven to Jews meant that they were depriving themselves thereby – even though objectively Jewish populations provided health to their economies. With neighbors who felt that anything owned by a Jew had to have been stolen from them, we lasted as long as we did only through Divine providence.
We were not in a position to build any magnificent edifice to honor Him. We are told, therefore, to provide a small enclosure for the Shepherd, whose presence in our midst was vital to our interests. Unable to build a major mikdash, we could create minor ones.
In every one of them, the defining element would be the aron, housing the Torah, turning the small structure into a beis medrash in which Torah and halacha would be cherished and safeguarded.
At other times in galus, our neighbors showed openness and acceptance. They offered citizenship and equal rights. Economic opportunity awaited everyone who wanted it, as if in a richly productive vineyard. Jews prospered.
At such times and places, some believed that no mikdash was needed. Why bother G-d when the laws of the land offered all the protection we could want?
This, of course, was a mistake. Hatred of Jews had not disappeared, but had gone underground. The day would come in which it would surface explosively, leading to cruel calls for their destruction.
The vineyard, then, needs a shomer as much as the sheep need a shepherd. Again, when no elaborate structure can be contemplated, a minor mikdash can be built – as long as the aron and its Torah remain the centerpiece.
Under either of these two conditions, the small mikdash we build is limited in the honor it brings to Hashem and to those who erect it. That changes when we are fortunate enough to dwell in our own land. There, we can fulfill the mandate of our parshah properly, providing a place in which the Shechinah dwells openly, and the miracles of the Beis ha-Mikdosh attest to its presence. At such times, the presence of Father and children together brings honor to both.
In such a situation, the true potential of the mikdash – with Torah still at its core- is realized and displayed.
1. Based on Be’er Yosef, Shemos 25:8, 10