The Mishkan: Blueprint of Personal Growth 1
“Praises to the one whom You choose and draw near to dwell in Your
courts. May we be sated with the goodness of Your house, the holiest part
of Your sanctuary.”2 In precise
sequence, this verse recapitulates the three chief regions of the
Mishkan, attaching unique importance to each. What this suggests
is nothing less than a roadmap of personal progress, a blueprint for
structuring an edifice of personal dedication to Hashem’s service.
“Courts” refer to the outer courtyard, and its prominent altar upon which
were brought the animal offerings. Beyond it stood the “house,” the
enclosed structure in which stood the lion’s share of the special
appliances of the Mishkan: the menorah, the shulchan,
and the incense altar. Cordoned off within it was a section visually even
more remote, a place “within the within.” The Holy of Holies was indeed
the “holiest part” of the sanctuary, and housed the aron and the
Man, both morphologically and functionally, is easily divided into three
portions. Each has a distinct function; each presents a different
challenge to every person dedicating himself and his energies to the
service of his Creator.
We begin with the lowest organs – physically and figuratively. These
organs mediate and represent Man’s lower passions and desires. Above
them, around Man’s middle, is the heart, symbolizing Man’s emotion-laden
essential will. At Man’s highest point, the brain mediates the higher-
order functions of thought, including Man’s opinions and ideologies.
Common man, a flesh-and-blood creature mired in a world of deceit, is
guaranteed an opportunity to rise to the highest levels of spiritual
accomplishment, to scale the walls of earthly insignificance and attach
himself to G-d. The Mishkan is the all-purpose tool that aids and
assists each and every subcomponent of the human apparatus. The concern
of each aspect, each implement of the Mishkan is Man’s growth
towards greatness and spiritual elevation.
The process begins, of necessity, with the outer “courts.” Here, the
halachically pivotal element of all animal korbanos is the offering
of blood on the altar. Atop that altar burned the constant flame, not to
be extinguished. We begin our avodah in regard to our lower
functions by focusing on these images. Firstly, we must commit ourselves
to strenuously toil for Hashem, without any expectation of feeling the
sweetness of spiritual uplift. We must be ready to spill our blood before
Him, from a position of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation. At the same
time, we must be willing to recognize that within us burn fires of impure
passions. We must work at transcending them, at turning those fires into
flames of holiness, drawing from the “fire that consumes fire3 ” atop the altar, meaning the ability of a
fire of kedushah to engulf any fire of tumah. (This is
included in Chazal’s message when they tell us that the morning
Tamid atoned for nocturnal sins, while the afternoon Tamid
atoned for daytime aveiros.
At the penultimate level, our hearts are “sated by the goodness” of
Hashem’s house. All of the elaborate appliances of the heichal
serve to instill within each individual a sense of kedushah and
purity - and joy! - in the service of Hashem. The menorah dispelled
all manner of darkness, material and spiritual, lighting the way with
Divine illumination. The incense altar, bound up with the notion of
creating a “pleasant aroma” before G-d, also creates a sense of pleasure
in the service of Hashem. The shulchan makes its contribution4 . They all share the common element of
firmly planting a sense of kedushah and taharah within us.
In the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the figure of the two keruvim
lovingly intertwined dominates our conception of avodah on the
highest plane. They symbolize the possibility of complete
deveikus, of the loving bond between Hashem and His people. They
sit atop the aron, the repository of the luchos that stand
for the Torah itself. The highest and most prominent part of the human
apparatus is the mind; its refinement comes through the illumination of
the Torah, gained by studying it deeply and intently.
The three metals used correspond to the three parts of Man to which the
Mishkan ministers. They differ not only in their color, but in
their value, suggesting a hierarchy of value – going from bronze/copper to
silver to gold - which parallels the arrangement within Man of
extremities, heart, and mind.
The seforim hakedoshim emphasize that the churban of the
Beis HaMikdosh took place only in the “outer chambers,” but never
touched the “inner chambers.” If we continue to see the Mishkan
as an auxiliary to Man’s avodah culminating in deveikus,
then the “outer chambers” means a place of continuous connection between
Hashem and Knesses Yisrael, without pause or exception. This
ceased to be after the churban, leaving deveikus for
the “inner chambers,” or a more limited connection, restricted to episodes
of bonding on Shabbos.
Shabbos brings about the union of Knesses Yisrael and its bride,
the Shechinah. The relationship between them progresses as the day
unfolds, charting a course in time that parallels the divisions of the
Mishkan in space.
Shabbos eve corresponds to the courtyard, and the first stage of Man’s
avodah. As stated earlier, the beginning of avodah requires that
we take all we have and offer it unconditionally to Hashem. (Chazal
teach5 “If one dies on Erev
Shabbos, it is a good sign.” The Besht saw in this a mandate of how to
approach Shabbos, how to prepare ourselves for the high-impact
kedushah that will follow. We are to nullify everything within our
personal universe, akin to a dead person handing back all he has to his
Maker.) Avodah at this point simply means taking all our activity
out of the arena of personal desires and interests and moving it to the
domain of the Divine.
On Shabbos day, our tefilah perfectly expresses the theme of the
next level of avodah: “Yismach Moshe b’matnas chelko.” The
avodah of the daytime period of Shabbos is elevating affect –
learning to find joy and simchah in our service of Hashem.
The holiness of Shabbos peaks at the time of the third seudah,
corresponding to the Kodesh HaKodoshim. It is the time of the most
perfect union, the most intimate association between Knesses
Yisrael and his bride. Here, we give ourselves to Hashem perfectly
and entirely, holding back nothing at all.
The Torah lavishes meticulous detail on the description of the
Mishkan’s specifications. Within those details are Torah secrets
about the very structure of the universe. It is important to realize that
all of that majesty is available to us, especially in the form of a
properly-lived Shabbos experience.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 194-195
2 Tehilim 65:5
3 Yalkut Shimoni, Shemini #524
4 The Rebbe does not specify how. Perhaps it is through the
elevation of our food and sustenance (which the table and its lechem
hapanim symbolize). Elevating the most pedestrian parts of existence
is certainly related to kedushah and taharah.
5 Kesubos 103B
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org