The Science Of The Mishkan
They brought the Mishkan to Moshe, and the Tent and all of its
implements . . . (Shemos 39:33)
In Parashas Terumah, we discussed how the Mishkan, being the rectification
for the golden calf, was really a guide to achieve personal perfection.
For, as the rabbis teach, each Jew was supposed to have been his own
personal Mishkan, a merit we lost through the golden calf. That reality
was transferred over the physical structure for the entire people, the
Therefore, every aspect of the Mishkan is a lesson, from the materials
that were used, to their dimensions, and to where they were placed. But,
perhaps one of the most important lessons that Mishkan teaches, especially
today, comes out of the following Rashi:
They brought the Mishkan to Moshe, and the Tent and all of its
implements . . . (Shemos 39:33)
They were unable to set it up, and since Moshe had not performed any work
for it, The Holy One, Blessed is He, left that for him. No person was able
to set it up because of the weight of the boards; no one had the strength
to stand them up, but Moshe did it. Moshe said to G-d, "How can it be set
up by man?" He answered him, "Let your hands be busy with setting it up
and it will stand up on its own . . ." (Rashi)
This is very hard to understand. Six hundred thousand men between twenty
and sixty years of age who were unable to figure out some way to put the
boards of the Mishkan in place? After all, they had no problem taking the
Mishkan apart and transporting the boards . . .
This is because the Mishkan was not just a microcosm of the world, but it
was specifically the representation of the world of the Jew, and therefore
only G-d could assemble it.. It's center piece was the Holy Ark in the
Holy of Holies, which we are told, took more space than was physical
present there (Megillah 10b).
And that was the entire point. The golden calf represented a rush back
into the Egyptian world of Nature and materialism. The Mishkan represented
our re-birth as the Jewish nation, a second time of leaving Egypt.
Therefore, the Mishkan was not meant to be part of this world, but an
encounter with the supernatural, and Purim was another example of this.
Indeed, the whole concept of Purim is based upon the lots (pur) that Haman
drew to destroy the Jewish people. Statistically speaking, he should have
succeeded, and would have succeeded had he schemed against another nation
in the world. The story of Purim and the reality of the Mishkan come to
imprint in our minds and on our hearts: when it comes to the Jewish
people, it is the laws of the supernatural, not those of the scientific
world that ultimately govern the destiny and well-being of the descendants
of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.
But Sarah was barren, she had no child. (Bereishis 11:30)
That is, "even a place (i.e., a womb) for a child she lacked." (Yevamos
And she conceived anyhow. What are the chances of THAT?
Statistics are much more of an everyday reality than most people know, or
even care to know. We wake up each morning based upon them, eat what we do
because of them, and even dare to cross the road or drive our cars because
of statistics. Whatever risks we are willing to take to live our lives to
the fullest we can have statistics built into them, somewhere, somehow.
What ARE they anyhow?
STATISTICS: facts or data of a numerical kind, assembled, classified, and
tabulated so as to present significant information about a given subject.
(Webster's New World dictionary)
For, life can be dangerous, and potential loss is always just around the
corner, or so it seems. Thus, as humans who choose to hang onto life and
gain, as opposed to lose, we like to move with a certain amount of
certainty. Life in this world, a world we did not design or create, is
risky enough as is. So if there is a way to reduce that risk, if not
actually then at least psychology, what can go wrong?
Well, for one, statistically-speaking, what are the odds that Creation
occurred the way it is taught in the Torah? What are the odds that Noach
built an ark and that it really saved him from the Flood as described in
Sefer Bereishis? And what are the statistics on the story of the Exodus,
and the chances that the Red Sea really split for the Jewish people, into
twelve lanes yet, as recorded in the Five Books of Moses?
The odds are not good. Not good at all.
In fact, if statistical probability was the only reliable determiner of
truth, as many swear it is today, there would be no way to believe
anything the Torah says -(as they would like to believe). But, it turns
out, there is another concept at play in the universe:
MIRACLE: an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific
laws, and is hence, thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially
an act of G-d. (Ibid.)
Oxymoron's, they are, statistics and miracle. And, what's worst is that
history seems to bounce back-and-forth between the two of them. There are
times, it seems, when statistical law rules the universe and the future
can be predicted with some kind of accuracy if certain causes and effects
are known in advance.
And yet, it seems that statistical law is sometimes suspended, and in
spite of the natural laws we have come to learn and respect, events happen
that seem to fly in their faces. In such situations the scientists and
statisticians are left clutching their precise mathematical calculations
in one hand while scratching their heads with the other, wondering which
rule it was they misunderstood or forgot to take into account. But, of
course, they remain ardently hard-pressed to use the "M" word, something
that in the world of science can be the equivalent of being sacrilege.
Thus, there are some scientists who try hard to show how NATURALLY
miracles, such as the Red Sea splitting for the Jewish people just in time
to escape the oncoming and murderous Egyptian army, can occur. And,
likewise, there are religionists who try to show just how statistically
sound miracles can be, so much so that someone who "reveals" something
remarkable whose statistics are not mathematically impressive is
called, "on the fringe."
It's as if, all of a sudden, there is an eleventh commandment:
Thou shalt not make a big deal of the support of Torah that is not
agreeable to the scientists of your time.
If scientific "laws" are G-dly at all, it is only because they were made
by G-d. However, to assume that G-d lives by the same rules, especially
when it comes to the Jewish people, is to ignore the main tenet of the
Jewish people, that being, as we shall discuss.
Many are the plans of man, but it is the design of G-d that lasts.
The funny thing about the Jewish people is that they seem so ć natural.
True, it is remarkable that we are still here, but it's not like Jews walk
inches above the ground and snap their fingers to bring about miraculous
results in full view of the rest of the world. For the most part, the
Jewish nation seems just like the rest of the nations of the world, with
differences that seem to work against us, not for us.
That is - an illusion. Anything natural and normal about the Jewish people
is a Heavenly trick to maintain the appearance of being natural for the
sake of maintaining free-will. For:
. . . The entire reality of the Jewish people is completely above
nature . . . Klal Yisroel has no root or foundation in this world.
(Sha'arei Leshem, p. 334)
What does this mean? It means that, our Forefathers were conceived
supernaturally, as it says in the Talmud:
Rebi Yitzchak said, "Yitzchak Avinu was unable to procreate, as it
says, 'And Yitzchak entreated G-d opposite his wife' (Bereishis 25:21). It
does not say 'concerning his wife,' but 'opposite his wife.' Inferring
from this that both of them were unable to have children . . . Rav Nachman
in the name of Rabbah bar Avuhah said, "Our mother Sarah was barren, as it
says, 'But Sarah was barren, she had no child' (Bereishis 11:30), that is,
even a place (i.e., a womb) for a child she lacked." (Yevamos 64a)
Yet, here we are, descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah,
and Ya'akov, Rachel, and also Leah. What are the odds of THAT? Indeed,
even our enemies have marveled about the prolonged existence of our
people, which, by ALL odds we should have assimilated and intermarried
ourselves into oblivion by now (after 3,000 plus years), or wiped out by
the hands of our many enemies who have tried countless times over the
millennia to exterminate the Jewish people.
True, the Talmud warns that the Jewish people can, as a result of leaving
Torah and mitzvos descend into the world of mazel (Shabbos 156b), a more
naturally-governed world. This would mean, therefore, that they may find
themselves in a world that IS governed by scientific law, and become
subject to statistics. But even then, say the Mekubalim, there is still an
element of miracle to their survival, though it is far less obvious
(people survived for years during the Holocaust on rations on which the
average person, could not have survived on for one month).
Thus, what many seem to forget in their rush to please the scientific
world or those who worship it, is that even odds as great as 64 trillion
to one mean nothing when G-d is that One. If G-d runs the world, maintains
it, and orchestrates history, then there is always the potential for the
unexpected, the unpredicted to come through. And not just in Hollywood,
but also in real life.
For, as the posuk says:
Many are the plans of man, but it is the design of G-d that lasts.
In other words, we can THINK we understand Creation and its history, and
therefore we BELIEVE that we know what makes sense and what does not make
sense, but at the end of the day, we are often quite wrong. This is, for
the most part, what the following dialogue means. It took place between
Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi and his son who had returned from the brink of
death. When the father asked the son what he saw while unconscious, he
"An upside down world. What is up over here is down over there, and the
opposite is true as well."
To which the father replied:
"No, my son. In truth, you saw the real world. It is this world that is
upside down." (Pesachim 50a)
Thus, G-d warns man:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways ć the
word of G-d. (Yeshayahu 55:8)
Hence, there's no second-guessing G-d.
Let me tell you a story that happened today, in the middle of writing this
parashah sheet. I was inspired to write this based upon an incident that
occurred on Sunday, but I didn't get the inspiration until 10:15 this
morning, Tuesday. I began to write it 20 minutes later, and got as far as
the definition of a miracle when I realized it was 10:55. In five minutes
I had to give a shiur around the block from my house.
Now, normally I go directly from my office to give this shiur, which is in
a little basement apartment in Telzstone where I live, but on the other
side of the building where I give my shiur. Today, due to a series of
circumstances, I was coming from my home at 10:59 am.
It is a 30 second drive from where I had parked my car to the front door
of the building where I am expected to teach each Tuesday at 11 am. So, I
had no reason to speed, and being that I was going down hill, I was moving
VERY slowly. I felt quite relaxed, still somewhat absorbed in the essay
that I had begun and had to stop writing quite abruptly.
As I passed a garbage bin on the side of the street, just prior to making
my left turn into a parking spot, all of a sudden, a group of birds -
sparrows - darted out. And although they usually move out of the way of
oncoming cars very quickly, and I was driving very slowly, and my car hit
two of them. I heard the slight thud, and cringed.
To say that I was suddenly very upset is an understatement. I have
difficulty killing flies and ants, let alone full-grown birds! We feed the
birds on a daily basis at my house (except for Shabbos and holidays). I
talk to them while feeding them, and thoroughly enjoy watching them shift
feet and branches as they excitedly anticipate their breakfast of bread
crumbs. Why did G-d let this happen to me, and now, of all times?
I parked my car and ran back to the spot, and sure enough two birds were
lying on the ground, one on its back and one on its side. The one on his
back did not move at all, clearly dead, and the one on his side was
shaking, and that really bothered me. "How could I let him suffer like
this," I asked myself as I returned to give my shiur, resolving to deposit
my binder, excuse myself for a minute, and return to do the dirty work of
ending the bird's suffering and his life.
As I approached the shaking bird, the one that had showed no signs of
movement, the one I had assumed was definitely dead, all of sudden, jumped
onto his feet. He then looked at me for a second, and then flew off as if
nothing was the matter. I was in mild shock. However, the bird in front of
me was clearly hurt and going nowhere fast, so I began my search for a
good size rock to do the deed.
Then it occurred to me that I should not kill him in the street, but that
I should remove him to a grassy area just off the street and drop the rock
on him there. But I certainly wasn't going to pick him up with my hands,
so I began to look for something with which to move him. Thank G-d,
someone had left a board at the side of the garbage bin, which I easily
broke into a manageable-size piece to elevate and move the bird.
Carefully and slowly I maneuvered the board under the bird. However, I did
not get under it sufficiently, and as a result I budged him instead - just
enough for him to turn over on his feet and yes, fly away. I stood there
and watched them both fly away, straight up and out, fast and with grace,
as if nothing had happened to them.
I just stood there for a moment, already five minutes late for the shiur.
I rejoiced somewhat that I had not killed the birds after all. I thanked G-
d, returned to my shiur, and spoke about the miracle of Purim and the
connection to the Mishkan with far more enthusiasm than I otherwise would
As I walked away, I asked myself, "Now, what were the odds of THAT
happening . . . especially while in the middle of an essay about miracles,
and about to give a shiur on the same subject?"
A nice story, but a shallow one perhaps, in light of the events of the
Jewish world today. In fact, miracles are not always positive. Sometimes
people die in places they never go to, except on the day they are killed
there, Rachmanah Litzlan - the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes
people we think are the last ones that deserve to be taken by G-d are the
first to be taken, and in ways we simply can't fathom. The odds were not
good for the "bad" (that seemed) to happen, but it happened just the same.
Sometimes there are good miracles in the midst of the bad ones. Sometimes
there are bad ones inside of the good ones. But, they are all miracles
and, as the Talmud teaches, they are all for the good, if not now, then
ultimately. Yes, Nature is no match for G-d, and natural rules make no
sense regarding the Jewish people, Torah, and the relationship of both to
G-d. He'll break 'em all just to fulfill His promises to Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.
Science then, as the study of natural reality, cannot ultimately get "its
arms" around the supra-natural existence of the Jewish people, or even
around the existence of the universe in general, since all of existence is
ultimately not explainable in natural terms, much to the chagrin of many a
In recent years, we have seen science being used to prove the validity of
Torah, and of G-d Himself. This method has its place, similar to Ya'akov
donning the "hairy arms" of Eisav, to ensure that he received the brochah
from his father Yitzhak, and using "methods" to out-maneuver his father-in-
law, Lavan. This is using the "natural" in the service of the "supra-
However, we Jews have methods of understanding reality that originates
from Har Sinai, and none of those methods, including those found in our
Kabbalah, should be considered outlandish, or "on the fringe," simply
because they do not comply with today's current scientific methods or
concepts that are circumscribed due to their human origin. With this
understanding in place, we can utilize some of the scientific methods to
facilitate our search into Creation.
If we maintain this "supra-rational" orientation, we will not be shocked
like the vast majority of people, when historical reality, or "the upside
down world" winds down to its "natural" end, and is replaced by the "right
side up" world that we Jews have been pining for, working toward, and
leading the rest of humanity toward for the last 3500 years.
That was the story of the Mishkan. That was the message of Purim. It is
alluded to by the new moon that returns each month from the throes of
oblivion. That WILL BE the message of the Haggadah, and perhaps this year,
as history seems to be heading for a climax whether we are ready for it or
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2004 Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.