By Rabbi Aron Tendler
This week's Parsha continues the basic laws of the various offerings, as
well as the detailed procedure for inaugurating Aharon and his sons into
the service of the Mishkan. In last week's Parsha, the Torah introduced the
five categories of offerings: a) the Olah - ascent offering; b) the Mincha
- meal offering; c) the Shelamim - peace offering; d) the Chatas - sin
offering; e) the Asham- guilt offering. Each of these offerings required
the Kohein to facilitate the Korban - offering. It is important to
understand the symbolic meaning of the offering process as well as the
circumstances and laws requiring a "son of Aharon" to be involved.
The Torah in Breishis 2: 7 explained that Adam, the first human being, was
created from "the dust from the earth." The Gemara Yerushalmi in Nazir
explains that this dust was gathered from the four corners of the earth, or
from what would eventually be the location of the Mizbeach - Alter. Both
explanations focus humankind on the reason for their creation and the
unique relationship they should have with G-d and His universe.
The Torah states (Breishis 2:15) that Adam was placed in Gan Eden "to serve
it and safe-keep it." These two terms, "service and safe-keeping" capture
the essence of the human mission. Simply put, our mission is to reveal and
understand G-d's intentions. This is done through studying the natural laws
of His universe and attempting to emulate His actions.
As the very last of Hashem's creations, we were chosen as His crowning
achievement and the reason for the creation of the universe. All things
that preceded our creation are the means for our understanding Hashem's
intent and revealing His divine reason. This is the meaning of "to serve it
and safe- keep it." We serve the universe by safe-keeping the intent of the
Creator as it is revealed to us through the laws of nature. G-d's intention
is for us to recognize the absolute dependency of the universe on His
constant maintenance. Our behavior should reflect that understanding by
following His commandments.
G-d's intention and "doing good" should be, for us, the same thing.
Therefore, the greatest possible good is to understand divine intent and
serve His purpose. If we accept this formulation then we should be devoted
to accomplishing the greatest good as revealed through nature. In essence,
we should all be students of the natural sciences spending our time
researching G-d's intentions in the laboratory of His universe. However, as
history has revealed, we needed a more direct revelation of the Creator's
intentions than nature. We needed a manual that spelled out G-d's
intentions. We needed the Torah.
More so than the manual, we needed a model world which we could closely
study and thereby manifest, through our behavior, G-d's intentions in the
greater world and universe. The model world was the Mishkan and the Bais
Hamikdash, and the model humans were the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon.
Through studying the workings of the Temple, it's construction and
services, we have a working model of Hashem's intentions in creating the
universe. From the very beginning, Hashem said to the Bnai Yisroel (Shmos
25:8) "Make for me a ... and I will dwell among them". Construct a model
world called a sanctuary and study its workings, so that we can understand
what Hashem's intentions are, and thereby recognize G-d's presence in our
First of all, the building itself is a micro-world. Each and every detail,
along with the 39 types of labor necessary for its construction, model the
7 days of creation. As an aside, it now makes sense why the Torah forbids
us to do those very same 39 types of labor on Shabbos. Just as Hashem
completed His activities of creation on the 7th day, so too we must stop
our acts of labor on the 7th day. We are emulating the Creator!
Secondly, the building itself reflects the concept of "in accordance with
the commandments of G-d." (Shmos 39:42) Every element and intention of the
Mishkan's construction was reviewed by Moshe to be certain that the
teaching model of the world reflected the singular purpose of fulfilling
Thirdly, the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, teach us the ideal behavior of
the human who understands his absolute dependency on the Creator and acts
accordingly. For example: The Kohanim and the Leviyim do not have a
designated portion in Eretz Yisroel. "G-d is their inheritance." They do
not depend upon standard economic interactions for their income. Their
financial well being is gifted to them by G-d. They spend their days
servicing the nation as teachers and priests, effectively doing G-d's work;
and the people, in turn, support them with specified gifts, as per G-d's
instructions. They live the ideal life of Adam and Chava in the Gan Eden
who should have spent their time exploring G-d's intentions and being cared
for by G-d, rather than struggling to make a living "from the sweat of your
brows". The Kohanim and the Leviyim are the model humans in G-d's model
world teaching us by example how to behave.
It now makes sense why the inauguration of the Kohanim into the service of
the Mishkan is the final act of the Mishkan's construction. At the end of
this week's Parsha, the eight-day inauguration is described. Just as the
world was first created and then Adam was introduced; so too, the Mishkan
was first constructed and then the Kohanim were introduced!
Lastly, the actual service in the form of the offerings teach us how we are
to grow in understanding and acceptance of our dependency. Every nuance and
instruction should bring us nearer to Hashem. The nearer we are to G-d the
closer we are to "goodness" and the more motivated we should be to do as
G-d commands. Sometimes it requires an Olah - ascent offering to bring us
to the next stage of our dependency. Other times, we need to confront our
own neglect and bring a Chatas - sin offering before feeling G-d's
closeness. Certainly, when feeling at peace with our lot in life and proud
of our accomplishments, we must acknowledge G-d's providence by offering
the Shelamim - peace offering.
The Mishkan and the Bais Hamikdash were constant models and examples of
Hashem's intention and purpose for creating the world and choosing us as
His nation. The Kohanim and the Leviyim were the intended teachers for us
to understand how we, the Jew and the human, fit into the Creator's plans.
In the absence of a fully functioning model of the ideal G-d - human
relationship, the Shul and the Bais Medresh, along with prayer and Torah
study, have replaced the Bais Hamikdash and the service. Hopefully, through
our devotion to Torah and Tefilah Hashem will soon give us back the real
This issue of Rabbis-Notebook is dedicated by Moshe Hillson in memory of
his father Dov Arye (Benjamin) Hillson, his mother Machla Zlata (Marion)
Hillson, and his aunts Frieda Friedman and Sara Lea (Lilian) Port.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.