The Meaning of the Mishkan
Volume 20, No. 19
4 Adar 5766
March 4, 2006
Mr. and Mrs. Howard Benn
on the first yahrzeit of his mother, Fay Fisher Benn
(Fayge bat Alter Yitzchok Dov a"h)
The Kerchner family
in honor of the britot of
Eliezer Baruch and Binyomin Yochanan
Mr. and Mrs. Harold Saltzman
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Pesachim 46
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Kilayim 13
Beginning with this week's parashah, most of the remainder of
Sefer Shmot is devoted to the construction of the mishkan / Tabernacle
(the precursor to the Bet Hamikdash). Following this, in Sefer
Vayikra, we read of the korbanot / sacrifices which were to be brought
in the mishkan.
R' Moshe Isserles z"l ("Rema"; 1525-1572) authored a lengthy work
containing philosophical and ethical lessons that are derived from the
structure of the Bet Hamikdash and the laws of the korbanot. In the
introduction to that work, he wrote (in part) as follows:
The Midrash Tanchuma states: "The Torah is greater than all of
the sacrifices, as it is written (Vayikra 7:37), 'This is the Torah of
the olah / burnt offering, the minchah / the meal offering, the chatat
/ guilt offering etc.' One who studies the Torah, i.e., the laws, of
the olah is deemed to have brought an olah; one who studies the Torah
of the minchah is deemed to have brought a minchah; and so on."
Similarly, Rema writes, the early commentaries state that if one
studies the structure of the mishkan and its utensils, he fulfills a
great mitzvah. How much more so is this true if we merit to
understand the inner meaning of even one of the things to which the
mishkan or its utensils alludes!
In reality, there are two benefits from studying the inner
meaning of the mishkan, the Bet Hamikdash, the utensils and the
sacrifices, Rema writes. One is that this study will cause us to
mourn for the Temple, for we will understand what we are missing. The
second benefit is that we will be able to "bring sacrifices" in our
minds when we sin; this is relevant to us all, as it is written
(Kohelet 7:20), "There is no man in the world who is a tzaddik who
does only good and does not sin." (Torat Olah)
"They shall make for Me a tabernacle, and I shall dwell
amongst them." (25:8)
Rabbi Asher Weiss shlita writes: According to RambaM z"l, this
verse not only was a commandment to build the Tabernacle in the
desert, it also is the source of the mitzvah to build the Bet
Hamikdash. In RambaM's words, "He commanded us to build a house of
avodah / service . . ." RambaM writes further that this mitzvah
includes the commandment to build all of the utensils of the Temple,
i.e., the menorah, the shulchan, the altar, etc.
RambaN z"l disagrees with RambaM. He writes: The utensils are
not part of the mitzvah of the Temple, but rather are a separate
mitzvah. Therefore, if we made one without the other [i.e., the Bet
Hamikdash without the utensils, or vice-versa], we would at least have
performed one mitzvah.
R' Weiss observes: RambaM's and RambaN's respective positions
reflect their positions on another question--what is the purpose of
the Bet Hamikdash? As noted above, RambaM considers the Bet Hamikdash
to be a place of avodah. Naturally, therefore, making the utensils
necessary for the avodah is part and parcel of the mitzvah of building
According to RambaN, however, the purpose of the Tabernacle and
later the Bet Hamikdash was to recreate the revelation that occurred
at Sinai. The service that took place in those structures was not the
essence of the structures' existence. Therefore, making the utensils
cannot be part of the same mitzvah.
R' Weiss writes further: It might be argued that, according to
RambaM, who considers making the utensils to be part and parcel of the
mitzvah of building the Temple, one completely fails to fulfill the
mitzvah if any of the utensils is missing. However, this is not
necessarily so, for there are other instances in which a mitzvah is
fulfilled even though some of the details of the mitzvah are lacking.
For example, although, in the opinion of most authorities, we do not
know how to make techelet for our tzitzit, we still are considered to
have fulfilled the mitzvah of tzitzit by wearing white strings.
"You shall make the planks of the mishkan / Tabernacle of
acacia wood, standing erect." (26:15)
The midrash comments: Take from those acacia trees which were
already standing for this purpose. Avraham had planted these trees in
Be'er Sheva. When Yaakov went to Egypt, he transplanted the trees
there. Then, before he died, he told his sons that Hashem would one
day command that they build a mishkan, and they should use these
Were there no suitable trees in Egypt? Why did the Patriarchs go
to such trouble?
R' Yaakov Kaminetsky z"l (died 1986) explains that the Patriarchs
acted thus in order to raise the spirits of their descendants who
would be enslaved in Egypt. It was not enough to promise the Jews
that they would be redeemed; the groves of acacia trees that Yaakov
planted in Egypt were a tangible reminder to the enslaved Jews that
their eventual salvation was a reality.
Similarly, R' Kamenetsky writes, this is one reason that the
authors of the siddur included the order of the korbanot / sacrifices
in the daily prayers. The more we are familiar with what took place
in the Bet Hamikdash, the more real the eventual rebuilding of the Bet
Hamikdash will seem to us.
"Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah"
("The Foundation and Root of Divine Service")
This year, we are presenting excerpts from the work Yesod
Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah by R' Alexander Ziskind z"l (died 1794).
The primary theme of this work is improving one's
concentration in prayer. In Sha'ar Ha'ashmoret, Chapter 4,
the author continues to discuss the blessings recited upon
awakening. He writes:
At the blessing of "Who gives sight to the blind," one should
open his eyes upon reciting the final phrase. (Although he recites
all of the blessings with his eyes closed [presumably to enhance
concentration], for this blessing he should open his eyes.) One
should have in mind when he does this that he is demonstrating G-d's
greatness in that He gave man the ability to open and close his eyes
at will. This wonder is, of course, in addition to the wonder of the
eyes themselves-eyes of flesh that shine with such a bright light [so-
to-speak]. Therefore, when one concludes this blessing he should
think to himself with great joy, "The wonders of G-d! The wonders of
Upon reciting the blessings of "Who clothes the naked" and "Who
releases the bound," one should have in mind the plain meaning set
forth in the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch. [Specifically, the former
blessing acknowledges G-d's gift of clothing, and the latter blessing,
the fact that G-d gave man the ability to sit up and get out of bed.]
At the same time [that one is thinking of this simple meaning], one
should recognize that the Men of the Great Assembly established all of
the prayers and blessings based on great and wondrous secrets and
tikkunim (literally "repairs") in the upper worlds. One who is
familiar with these secrets should have in mind when he recites the
blessing of "Who straightens the bent"--besides the literal meaning--
also that the Shechinah will soon in our days "stand tall."
In the blessing of "Who spreads the earth out upon the
waters,"one should think several times of G-d's wonders demonstrated
in the fact that the land of the earth floats on the depths. [In terms
we are familiar with, the plates of the continents rest on top of
layers that are liquid.] One should feel extreme joy at this
recognition, for the most important part of serving G-d is joy.
R' Shlomo Ephraim of Lunschitz z"l
R' Shlomo Ephraim was born in Lunschitz (possibly Leczica),
Poland in the mid-1500's. His father's name was Aharon, and his
primary teacher was R' Shlomo Luria (the "Maharshal"). (Our subject
was actually named Ephraim at birth. The name Shlomo was added during
an illness in 1601.)
R' Ephraim's first position was as a rosh yeshiva in Lvov
(Lemberg). After 1604, he headed a yeshiva in Prague and sat on the
rabbinical court of that city with R' Yeshayah Horowitz (the "Shelah
Ha'kadosh"). Among R' Ephraim's prominent students were R' Yom Tov
Lipman Heller, author of the Mishnah commentary Tosfot Yom Tov, and R'
Shabtai Horowitz, son of the Shelah.
Despite heading a yeshiva, R' Ephraim's primary legacy is as a
darshan / preacher. Besides delivering sermons in Lvov and Prague, R'
Ephraim was a regular preacher at the fairs in Lublin and at meetings
of the Va'ad Arbah Aratzot / the Council of the Four Lands, the semi-
autonomous governing body of Polish Jewry. Among R' Ephraim's works,
which are still popular today, are the Torah commentary Kli Yakar and
the homiletic compositions Ir Gibborim, Olelot Ephraim, Amudai Shaish,
Siftei Da'at, and Orach Le'chaim. He also composed selichot /
penitential prayers to be recited on the second day of Adar, the
anniversary of a pogrom which occurred in Prague on that day in 1611.
(R' Ephraim records that the work Olelot Ephraim was written when he
lived in Jaroslaw and had no library. All of the numerous citations
and quotations to the Talmud, midrashim, and commentaries that are in
that work were written down from memory.)
Copyright © 2006 by Shlomo Katz
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