The Secret of the Mishkan
Volume 22, No. 19
3 Adar I 5768
February 9, 2008
The Katz family
on the yahrzeit of uncle
Avraham Abba ben Avigdor Moshe Hakohen a"h
Avodah Zarah 3:4-5
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nedarim 50
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Mo'ed Kattan 7
Beginning this week, five consecutive parashot are devoted completely or
partially to the design and construction of the Mishkan / Tabernacle and
its kelim / vessels and implements. R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-
1270) writes that after Hashem had taught some of the mitzvot at Har
Sinai – just as a convert learns some of the laws to start out -- and
after the Jewish People agreed to do whatever Moshe would teach them in
the future, they became Hashem's nation. Hashem had told them to be holy,
and they had agreed to do so; now it was time for Him to rest His Presence
among them. Therefore He commanded that they build a Mishkan, which would
be a house dedicated to Him and the place where He would speak to Moshe.
Ramban continues: The most important part of the Mishkan was the Aron /
Ark, the place where the Shechinah actually "rested" and from which
Hashem's voice appeared to emanate to Moshe. Therefore, the command to
make the Aron comes first in the parashah. Next came the commands to make
the Shulchan / Table and Menorah since they are also kelim (rather than
part of the Mishkan's structure).
The "secret" of the Mishkan, writes Ramban, is that the glory of Hashem
that rested on Har Sinai [in the open] would now rest among Bnei Yisrael
in a concealed way. Ramban adds: One who will look carefully at the
verses regarding the Giving of the Torah and our commentary to those
verses will understand the secret of the Miskhan and the Bet Hamikdash.
(Commentary to the
Torah: Shemot 25:1)
"They shall make a sanctuary for Me - so that I will dwell among them."
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l (1808-1888) wrote a lengthy essay discussing
the symbolism of the Mishkan / Tabernacle, its kelim / vessels and
implements, and the materials from which they were made. The following is
summarized from that essay. Readers who are familiar with the history of
Judaism in Germany in the 19th century and with R' Hirsch's role in the
struggle against "reform" may appreciate some of R' Hirsch's points in
that broader context.
When seeking the symbolism of anything in the Torah, one must bear in mind
that nowhere in the Torah do we find statements intended to teach us about
matters that are beyond our own senses. "Symbols cannot represent truths
that were entirely unknown to us before." Any lessons we are meant to
learn from the Mishkan and kelim are bound to be straightforward practical
lessons, not metaphysical truths.
R' Hirsch cites a proof to his claim. We will read in two weeks that
Moshe asked to see G-d, and his request was denied, as "No man can see G-d
and live." Then Moshe asked to know G-d's ways, and he was answered with
the 13 Attributes of Mercy: "Hashem, Hashem, E-l, Rachum, Ve'chanun,
etc." Moshe was not answered with abstract metaphysical information, but
rather with a very practical description that we are called upon to
emulate. This teaches that nothing in the Torah is of purely "theoretical
interest," writes R' Hirsch.
The structure of the Mikdash must somehow represent the conditions that we
must fulfill in order to accomplish the Sanctuary's real purpose. That
purpose is twofold: first, to be the place where our assigned task-
"Kedoshim te'hiyu" / "Be holy!-finds its purest expression, and second, to
be the place where G-d fulfills His promise: "I will dwell among them."
[See Ramban quoted on p.1]
How are we to keep G-d dwelling in our midst? R' Hirsch notes that the
Torah does not say, "If you will follow these precise architectural plans
and thereafter bring sacrifices in the Mishkan, then I will dwell among
you." In fact, three times already, Hashem has rejected the "houses" that
we have built for Him, and each time He told us the reason (through our
Prophets and Sages). Never was it because He did not like the Sanctuary or
its furnishings. Rather, we read in Parashat Bechukotai that G-d's
continued presence among us depends on our fulfillment of the mitzvot. R'
Hirsch writes: "G-d's dwelling in our midst extends beyond the narrow
confines of the Temple. His dwelling in our midst means that His
beneficent and protecting Presence will be felt in every aspect of our
lives. Moreover, G-d's presence in our midst is not dependent on the
existence of the Temple, but, in the final analysis, solely on whether we
will sanctify and dedicate all of our lives to the fulfillment of His holy
Will, to the fulfillment of His Law." (Collected Writings III p.161)
"Like everything that I show you, the form of the Mishkan / Tabernacle
and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you do." (25:9)
Rashi comments: "And so shall you do"-- for future generations.
R' Eliezer Zusia Portugal z"l (the Skulener Rebbe) asks: How can building
a Temple be a mitzvah for future generations when, at least according to
some opinions, the Third Temple will descend from Heaven as a building of
He answers: The Temple that will descend is being constructed all the time
from our mitzvot. Every good deed adds a course of "bricks" to that
Temple. This verse is commanding us to do those good deeds. (Noam Eliezer)
"They shall make an Aron / Ark of acacia wood . . ." (25:10)
"You shall make a Shulchan / Table of acacia wood . . ." (25:23)
"You shall make a Menorah of pure gold . . ." (25:31)
"You shall make the Mishkan of ten curtains . . ." (26:1)
As the order of these verses indicates, Moshe was commanded to make the
major kelim before he was commanded to make the components of the Mishkan
itself. However, the Gemara relates that when Moshe told Betzalel- the
chief craftsman of the Mishkan and its kelim-to make the kelim first and
then the Mishkan, Betzalel challenged him, "Does one make furniture before
building a house?"
Moshe responded that Betzalel had divined G-d's intention. "Were you
standing b'tzel e-l / in the shadow of G-d?" Moshe asked, making a play on
the craftsman's name.
What did Moshe's response mean? After all, G-d did give the command to
make kelim before He gave the command to make the parts of the Mishkan!
R' Aharon Kotler z"l (Lakewood rosh yeshiva; died 1962) explains:
The first of the kelim listed in the Torah is the Aron, which housed the
Luchot and also the Torah scroll that Moshe wrote. Our Sages teach that
Hashem created the Torah before He created the world. Likewise, the Aron
is listed before any other item from the Mishkan. But Hashem did not
create the physical Torah before He created the world. To the contrary,
the Torah was not given until the world was more than two thousand years
old. Only conceptually did the Torah precede the world, but not
physically. To paraphrase the expression with which our Sages describe
the Sabbath day (another "later" creation), "Sof ma'aseh b'machshavah
techilah" / "The end in deed was the first in thought."
Betzalel understood that, although the concept of an Aron preceded the
rest of the Mishkan and its contents, the physical Aron was not to come
first. It was mentioned first only to emphasize the preeminence of Torah.
Because Betzalel divined this, Moshe said to him, "Were you standing in G-
d's shadow that you came to understand these secrets?" (Mishnat Rabbi
Aharon III p.124)
Letters from Our Sages
How can a person become a diligent student of Torah if he has only limited
time to devote to Torah study? R' Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz (the "Chazon
Ish"; died 1953) answers that question in the following letter which is
printed in Igrot Chazon Ish, Vol. III, No. 10.
"I would like to fulfill your request to help you strengthen your Torah
study, or, more correctly, your shekidah / diligence. The concept of
diligence is not related to the amount of time that one devotes to
studying. Rather, it has to do with handing over one's person, and giving
one's heart as a gift, to delving into Torah. One hour of diligence and
of yearning is more valuable than two hours of casual study. . .
"The main thing is to acquire the traits by which Torah is acquired [see
Avot ch. 6]. The lifeblood of all of these traits is to structure one's
thoughts around the verity that everything that befalls a person is
commanded by the Power which surrounds all creations - inanimate,
vegetable, and living - and all of the wonders of nature, which were
created by one Power Who causes them to exist and gives them life.
"Pay attention to the fact that every mortal who was created works
vigorously no matter what befalls him in order to better his situation and
bring success to himself. A person is given the understanding to work
things out for the best, [and these abilities can be applied] to rising to
intellectual heights, to appreciating the delicateness of the enlightened
soul, and to experiencing pleasure which words cannot describe.
"But, I have gone deeper with my words than I should have, and I now
return to the point. There are several weeks left until Pesach [when the
semester ends in most yeshivot], and it is essential to take hold of
oneself and to be filled with a new spirit dedicated to diligence. A
resolution is in any case more effective when it is for a limited time.
It also is necessary to pray that one not encounter stumbling blocks, for
a resolution which is not pure of improper motives may be a trick of the
yetzer hara. Be strong – the stumbling blocks are only in the beginning,
as with any test man faces."
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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