On ACCOUNT of the Mishkan
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
These (eileh) are the accountings of the Mishkan ... (Shemos 38:21)
Very often, simple words in the Chumash have a much deeper meaning than
normal. This is often the case with the word "eileh," which translates as
"these," but, whose gematria is equal to thirty-six, and whose letters can
also spell the words "ohel" (aleph-heh-lamed) and "Leah" (lamed-aleph-heh),
each being a Kabbalistic term. Hence, the above posuk, on a sod-level, can
be read: THIRTY-SIX is the account of the Mishkan, and on this level, the
very purpose and rectification of the Mishkan is revealed.
The names of G-d are, more accurately, terms that define His interaction
with creation; different terms define different levels on which G-d
operates within daily life.
For example, as much as we are used to reading the name, "Elokim"
(Aleph-lamed-heh-yud-mem) horizontally like any other word, it is really to
be viewed vertically, with the aleph on the bottom and the mem on top.
Hence, conceptually, the name Elokim spans two levels of spiritual
consciousness (Beriyah and Yetzirah) -- after which is our physical world,
Asiyah -- indicating the direction of the flow of G-d's light from the
Upper World to the Lower World.
The suffix of Elokim is the letters, yud-mem, which have the numerical
value, FIFTY, as in, the "Fifty Gates of Understanding," to which the
Talmud refers here:
Fifty Gates of Understanding were made in creation ... (Rosh Hashanah 21b)
In Hebrew, "understanding" is "Binah," and hence, the suffix of Elokim
represents the eighth sefirah, Binah, through which the light of godly
understanding passes before making its way to the lower worlds, albeit
Below "Binah" are the six sefiros: Chesed, Gevuros, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod
and Yesod, each of which is the Cosmic DNA of one corresponding millennium,
and therefore, which govern our physical history. They, in turn, have six
sefiros of their own while existing in an incomplete state, a state of
existence which we call "exile," which makes a total of THIRTY-SIX sefiros.
It is to this that the "eileh" of this week's parshah refers.
For, as we know from the end of Parashas Beshallach (see Rashi), the goal
and result of Amalek is to psychologically SPLIT the Name of G-d in the
minds of the Jewish people. Practically-speaking, this means to effect the
perspective of the Jew in such a way as to de-sensitize him to Divine
Providence, weakening the bond between G-d and Jew. He'll let you do
rituals galore, just as long as you are not real with G-d's Presence around
This is tantamount to driving an intellectual wedge between the yud-mem and
the aleph-lamed-heh of Elokim, stymieing the flow of Divine light and clear
understanding on the level of Binah, greatly reducing its influence on the
lower six sefiros. Our mission, when learning Torah and doing mitzvos, of
course, is to reverse this evil and destructive trend, and unify the
"eileh" with the "yum."
Such a state of unification is called "redemption," and it is what the
Mishkan accomplished. The descending of the Divine Presence into the
Mishkan and "occupying" of it (to some degree), was symbolic of the Divine
light that was once again flowing from "Binah" to the Lower World -- the
essence of a miracle, and what we can look forward to in the days of
These are the accountings of the Mishkan -- the Mishkan of Testimony ...
The double usage of the word "Mishkan" tips us off that there is a "drosh"
within this posuk; indeed, Rashi tells us the same thing:
"[The word "Mishkan" is mentioned] twice to hint to the Mikdosh that was
taken as a surety in the two destructions for the sins of the Jewish
However, as we can see from Rashi, it is not just the second mentioning of
Mishkan that points us in the direction of the meaning of the deeper
meaning. Rather, the word "Mishkan" itself, with a slight vowel change, can
be transformed into the word, "mashkon," which means "surety."
It is a play on words, to be sure. However, it is also an example of one of
the beauties of the Jewish language, whose vowels, unlike most other
languages, are represented by lines and dots, and not by the letters they
represent. As a result, one word can have two meanings -- indeed, two
OPPOSITE meanings -- when the vowels are changed accordingly.
Hence, the letters: mem-shin-chof-nun, can either spell the Hebrew word for
"dwelling" -- Mishkan -- or, "surety" -- mashkon And, once this has been
established, we can begin to seek out the mussar (positive criticism)
involved in such a double entendre, as is the case in so many examples of
the same idea.
Having finished the construction of the Mishkan, and now being in a
position to step back and take the extent of our accomplishment into our
intellectual field of vision, we are assisted by Heaven to understand what
it is that TRULY stands before us. We built a Mishkan! A dwelling place for
the Divine Presence! A phenomenal human accomplishment hitherto thought
impossible! Look, see for yourself ... It is right before your eyes!
Yes, absolutely correct. However, in building a Mishkan, Heaven adds, you
have also built a mashkon, and before we go on with history, you must
understand well the choice each creates. For the choice shall be YOURS
whether what you have created acts as a Mishkan or a mashkon.
What is the inherent difference?
The entire point of the Mishkan was to act as a way to reveal the glory of
G-d within creation. The Mishkan was a microcosm of the universe, almost an
"experiment" to show us the way to turn the entire world into a Mishkan.
For, just as we successfully turned raw, physical materials into a holy
synergization of abilities and intentions to draw the Presence of the
Divine into creation, so, too, can we do this with the entire universe, if
aspire to raise ourselves and the world to the sublime level of "Holy to
It was no different with the Temple, either. The windows of the Temples, as
it has been pointed out, were narrow on the inside and wider on the outside
to signify the importance of spreading G-d's light to the entire world. It
was as if the light in the Temple flowed out and sanctified the rest the
world as it moved out in all directions from the center of the universe.
However, all of that was, is, dependent upon the loyalty of the Jewish
people to G-d and His holy Torah. It only worked when WE worked -- hard at
being a "light unto nations," by fulfilling the mitzvos with energy and
love. Nothing expresses one's belief in G-d and Torah than when he or she
does the mitzvos with zest. Longing for leniencies looks like a prisoner
waiting for his or her chance to escape.
But, even then, the purpose of the Mishkan doesn't change. G-d made This
World that we live in to reveal His Presence, one way ... or another. The
"one way" is the Mishkan; the "another" is the mashkon, that is, the
destruction of the Temple and exile of the Jewish people -- negative
fulfillments of negative prophecies.
The Mishkan/Mashkon is no longer with us physically, nor the Temples in
Jerusalem; they were taken a long time ago. However, they are with us
conceptually, and we are constantly being asked the same question: Mishkan,
The imprisoned Jews of Iran -- Mishkan, or mashkon? The two little girls,
severed from their mother and their beloved Judaism by an Italian
(Eisav-based) court of law -- Mishkan, or, mashkon? Simply modern-day
politics, or, a challenge from Heaven to start getting our Torah-act
Writing letters to dignitaries may be appropriate and important, but the
real avodah, the real work of the Jewish people today is to transform
present-day "sureties" back into the basis for the Divine Presence to once
again dwell among us. Therefore, if we're going to start pointing fingers
anywhere, it might as well be back at ourselves. If we're going to start
searching for REAL solutions, we might as well realize they begin with us,
and not with Italian dignitaries, as they have told us in their own
As Hashkofah makes clear, devoid of a belief in the one, true G-d, and
lacking in respect for Torah and mitzvos, such people can only be, at best,
"puppets" acting out a Divine response to lackings WITHIN the Jewish
people. Fix the problems from within, and you fix the problems from
without; you transform mashkon back into Mishkan once again.
And they brought the Mishkan to Moshe ... (Shemos 39:33)
"Because, they themselves were unable to erect it ..." (Rashi)
One could be finical and question the accuracy of the above verse. They did
NOT bring the Mishkan to Moshe, for, as Rashi points out, the Mishkan still
remained unassembled at that point. What they brought, then, was the parts
of the Mishkan to Moshe, for HIM to assemble in their stead.
The posuk, of course, is perfectly accurate -- it is the words of the
Living G-d. And, so are we accurate in asking, for, it is from this that
drosh emerges, and teaches us another important point of Torah hashkofah.
In this case, what G-d thinks of our accomplishments, in spite of what we
may think of them.
We don't have to be told that being overly proud of our successes, or,
taking pride in accomplishments that are not really ours doesn't go over
well in Heaven. G-d elevates the lowly and reduces the proud, and besides
that, who is it REALLY that allows us to do anything in the first place?
However, very often people set out to accomplish a certain spiritual task,
and even from the outset, they know they are up against a high wall. Like
trying to open the minds and hearts of millions of Jews to their
three-thousand year old heritage, to inspire them to accept upon themselves
the responsibility of Torah -- an awesome task.
And, when one considers how much time, effort, and money goes into "making"
even a single, healthy, independent "Ba'al Teshuvah" -- someone who can
approach a Torah-lifestyle in the Western World with spiritual and
intellectual maturity -- against how many Jews there are to effect, and one
could say, "Why even try?" The answer is, the posuk quoted above.
How is that? Because, it is not our job to put together Mishkans, no matter
what form they take; we barely even make the parts. However, it IS the job
of G-d to put together the Mishkans of history (albeit through his
leaders), and since He plans to do it, and knows that we would do it if we
could too, He looks at the "pieces" we provide as if they are already
assembled -- as if they have already been unified in a Mishkan.
This is the meaning of the Midrash that says it is our job to make a small
opening, that G-d will drive a wagon through. We have to care about the
"pieces," and put all of our love and concern into their development. Then,
when the moment is right, G-d will take those pieces, and build a Mishkan
of which we never dreamed of being a part -- and give us all the credit for
the final product.
A good deal, no?
As for the Heavens -- the Heavens are G-d's, but the earth was given to man
... (Tehillim 115:16)
This is not the next Shir Shel Yom that I should have discussed here
(Monday's was next). In fact, we should have discussed this tehillah later,
b"H, when we get to Hallel. However, since the Talmud uses the above verse
to understand this week's parshah, it seemed appropriate to look at it now.
Says the posuk in this week's parshah:
... Moshe completed the work. Then a cloud covered the Appointed Tent and
the Glory of G-d filled the dwelling. (Shemos 40:33-34)
Rebi Yosi said: The Divine Presence never [actually] came down, and Moshe
and Eliyahu never [actually] ascended to Heaven, as it says, "As for the
Heavens -- the Heavens are G-d's, but the earth was given to man ..."
(Tehillim 115:16). The Divine Presence never came down? It is written, "G-d
came down on Mt. Sinai ..." (Shemos 19:20). [That means only] until ten
tefachim [above the ground] ... (Succah 5a)
So close, and yet so far away. But then again, close enough to experience
the Divine in as much glory as a physical human being can handle.
Nevertheless, this serves to remind us that closeness with G-d has its
limitations in this physical world of ours, and it is not a coincidence
that the separation was TEN tefachim.
For, the number "ten" always alludes, ultimately, to the ten sefiros that
"transport" the light from the Ain Sof on the top of the spiritual "totem
pole" down to all the ten sefiros below it, at whose bottom we reside.
Hence, when the Jewish people saw the cloud that symbolized the Divine
Presence come down over the Tent of Meeting, they witnessed, in fact, a
paradox. What they saw was two spiritual realities overlapping one another
-- the highest and the lowest -- a bending of the rules of creation just
for the sake of the Jewish people.
But then again, so were the Ten Plagues, and the Ten Commandments. This is
why the Mishnah can make the following statement with confidence:
The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d
engraved upon the Tablets. Don't read "charus" (engraved) but "cheirus"
(freedom), because there is no free person except one who is busy with
Torah. (Pirkei Avos 6:2)
Just a nice idea? No! Torah, like the Ten Commandments and the Ten Plagues
represents an interface between two very different realities, and, when one
learns Torah with this understanding, he can cross over a spiritual
threshold and to a degree suitable to him, rise above the limitations of
everyday physical life. Such an idea is a fitting end to Sefer Shemos.