Fundamental foundations of a house of G-d

We may wonder how we can be the tabernacle when we do not have within us the various utensils incorporated into the Tabernacle.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Home in Esh Kodesh
Home in Esh Kodesh
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One of the most quoted verses in the Torah (and one of my personal favorites) appears in this past Shabbat's reading, Parshat Terumah: “They shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among/within them.”

The Mishkan was meant to be a recreation of the pristine world as Hashem had originally created it and where Hashem’s presence resided. Until the Mishkan was built, Hashem sustained the world through the lives of the righteous people who, through their special character, brought down Hashem’s presence and brought others closer to Him, writes Rav Heyman in Chikrei Lev. These righteous individuals were our forefathers upon whom God’s spirit rested until Bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah.

While it is true that the physical redemption took place in Nissan, the whole purpose of that redemption was the spiritual redemption that was actualized with the dedication of the Mishkan, writes the Sifsei Chaim. But the ultimate goal, writes Rav Aharon Kotler citing Rav Chaim of Volozhin, is for each of us to build our personal mishkan within ourselves and create that connection with Hashem. We do this by observing the mitzvoth. Every good deed we do adds a metaphorical brick to our internal tabernacle and the miniature world each of us represents.

We may wonder how we can be the tabernacle when we do not have within us the various utensils incorporated into the Tabernacle. Rabbi Ezrachi teaches us in Birkat Mordechai that while the physical structure may help us connect to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the ability to connect exists within each of us, and the desire for that connection becomes the vessel. One of the major differences between the Tabernacle in the desert and the Beit Hamikdosh was that the Tabernacle was built not only with the donations of materials from Bnei Yisroel, but also with the personal labor, love and commitment of Bnei Yisroel,  while the Beit Hamikdosh was built mostly through hired, non Jewish laborers. These laborers did their work without the lofty aspirations and thoughts of Bnei Yisroel. This difference in thought and emotion explains why the Tabernacle was never destroyed but lies hidden and buried since the establishment of the Beit Hamikdosh. It can in theory be reassembled to again serve Hashem. In contrast, the Beit Hamikdosh was twice destroyed by our enemies.

The building materials themselves were already infused with the passion to serve Hashem, continues Rabbi Ezrachi. Where did Bnei Yisroel get the wood for the beams? On the family’s descent to Mitzrayim, Yaakov Avinu made a detour to Beer Sheva to cut down the trees Avraham Avinu planted there. The Mishkan beams were crafted from these trees. Thus the building itself absorbed the character of Yaakov Avinu. So too are we human beings built to parallel the utensils of the Beit Hamikdosh. The key is the heart, the Aaron Kodesh/holy ark within ourselves. Each one of us must keep the fire burning within ourselves like the everlasting flame on the altar.

Our Rabbis tell us that a person should always ask,”When will my deeds rise to those of my Fathers?” In this context, we may ask what connection there is between our Forefathers and the Mishkan.

That connection goes back to Avraham Avinu. Avraham had planted an orchard and established an inn in its shade for wayfarers. When the travelers wanted to thank Avraham for his hospitality, Avraham brought them closer to Hashem and taught them to thank the Creator of it all Who was their actual benefactor. It was these trees that Yaakov later cut down and brought to Egypt. It was these trees that then formed the foundation beam for the Mishkan whose mission it was to bring Bnei Yisroel closer to Hashem.

Even the dimensions of the beams allude to the chesed with which Hashem runs the world and of which the Mishkan is a symbol, writes the Shvilei Pinchas citing the Chasam Sofer. The bean’s volume was 15 cubits, alluding to the numerical value of “yud” and “heh”, God’s name associated with chesed. There were a total of 48 beams, “mem heh”. These four letters provide an acronym for the verse that attests to the purpose of the Mishkan, “Chasdei Hashem[YKVK] Melayah Ha’aretz/The chesed of Hashem fills the land.”

These beams then represent Avraham Avinu who was the epitome of chesed. Thus the Mishkan would draw people closer to Hashem as Avraham Avinu did using these same trees. Since we no longer have the korbanot/sacrifices of the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdosh, we can still draw closer to Hashem and become vehicles for His Presence by filling the world with chesed, writes Rabbi Kofman in Mishchat Shemen. As Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l says, as the world is built upon chesed, and the Mishkan is a microcosm of the world, and we are a manifestation of the Mishkan and the world, we must emulate Hashem and help sustain the world through acts of chesed, whether through a smile, a word of encouragement, a helping hand, or a monetary gift.

The Tabernacle that Hashem here commanded Bnei Yisroel to build was completed on the 25th of Kislev, yet it was first inaugurated on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Why did Hashem wait until Nissan to dedicate the Mishkan, and, if Hashem wanted a different date, why did He specifically choose Nissan for this dedication? For the spiritual redemption of Bnei Yisroel Hashem waited for the month of Yitzchak Avinu’s birth.

How is Yitzchak’s birthday relevant to the Mishkan? The Shvilei Pinchas reminds us that Yitzchak’s essence was awe of Hakodosh Boruch Hu and complete sublimation of his own will to Hashem’s will so that, according to the medrash, he asked his father to tie him very tightly when he was being offered as a sacrifice upon the altar lest he move, get slaughtered inappropriately, and become disqualified as a sacrifice. This dedication to Hashem’s will was the purpose of bringing sacrifices to the Mishkan and later to the Beit Hamikdosh.

But the binding of Yitzchak took place many years after his birth. How is the month of his birth significant? The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question. Hashem gives each of us a unique spiritual mission at our birth with all the tools we will need to fulfill that mission.          

Yitzchak achieved his full potential of sublimating his will to God’s will at the akedah, but that potential was implanted into him at birth. So too the spirituality we are capable of attaining is already within us at birth, and we have the choice to fan its flame or to diminish it. A tzadik’s birthday is a day that contains that spark, and can ignite the spirituality within ourselves and within others even after his death.

This was a point the evil Haman did not realize when he cast the lots for the most propitious month to kill the Jews. He knew that Moshe died in Adar, but he did not realize that the aura of sanctity of Moshe’s birth was also inherent in this month of Adar.

The essence of our third Patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, was also inherent in the Mishkan. His staff formed the middle bar of the Mishkan. Yaakov’s overriding characteristic was his complete faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, writes the Shvilei Pinchas. When Yaakov was fearfully about to meet his brother Esau, he prayed to Hashem saying, “For with makli/my staff I have crossed this Jordan and have become these two camps… and now save me from my brother, from Esau.” Yaakov was telling Hashem that he had always put his faith in Hashem, his makel/staff was always with him, for meolam kivinu lach/Forever I have had faith in You. This same faith sustained us in Egypt, and these staffs were in our hands as we ate that first Pascal Sacrifice in Egypt the night of the exodus. Even when the night is dark, our faith in Hashem sustains us.

The Mishchat Shemen ties this all together for us by connecting characteristics of our Avot with three of the vessels in the Mishkan. The  Tallelei Chaim  notes that the light of the menorah represented the clarity of faith Avraham Avinu brought to and taught the world; the mizbeach/altar represents Yitzchak Avinu who was able to sublimate his ego and offer it on God’s altar; the table of the show-breads represents Yaakov Avinu and sustenance, for he arrived at Lavan’s home destitute, but was sustained and prospered. These three brought the tzelem Elokhim/God’s image down to earth through their character.

While our Patriarchs represented the foundation of the Mishkan, our Matriarchs were equally significant partners. The two architects of the Mishkan were Bezalel from the Tribe of Yehudah, from Leah, and his partner Aholiav from the Tribe of Dan, from Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah. But it is in more than just building the physical structure that our Matriarchs were represented. The essences of their character was also incorporated into the significance of the Mishkan.

The Mishkan was the place for prayer. Who better to symbolize this function than Leah Imenu, writes the Chikrei Lev,. She, according to the medrash, prayed that she not be married to the evil Esau. Her prayers were answered. Not only did she marry the righteous Yaakov, but she merited being the mother of six of the tribes. When we pray, we tap into this quality of Leah Imenu.

Rachel represents a different quality. We were commanded to construct the Mishkan from cedar wood, not from any fruit bearing trees lest we destroy their fruit. Although the Mishkan would serve an exalted purpose, we are taught that we may not elevate ourselves at another’s expense. This sensitivity was the hallmark of Rachel Imenu. She desperately wanted to marry Yaakov and be the matriarch of the twelve tribes, but she would not do it at her sister’s expense and embarrassment. She gave her sister the secret code she and Yaakov had prepared to identify each other under the marriage canopy. This was sensitivity that went beyond obligation. How much more so must we be sensitive to others as we try to come closer in our service to Hashem. How sensitive are we not to block a driveway as we rush to catch a minyan or a shiur? How sensitive are we to the sleep needs of our elderly neighbors or babies when we celebrate a simchah or Simchat Beit Hashoevah by loud singing in our sukkah? Our service must not come at the expense of another.

But the correlation between our Matriarchs and the Mishkan goes even deeper and further back. When Yitzchak brought Rivkah into his mother’s tent, he was comforted. Our Sages tell us that the three signs of blessing that had been in Sarah’s tent reappeared, the candles stayed lit from one Erev Shabbat to the next, the bread was blessed, and the spiritual cloud of the Divine Presence over the tent reappeared. These three were manifest in the Mishkan as well, notes the Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov. The Shabbat candles were reflected in the permanent light of the menorah; the blessing of the bread was infused into the show-bread that remained fresh all week until it was replaced before Shabbat’ Obviously, the Divine Presence was always in the Mishkan.

The Beer Moshe explains that these three represent the three mitzvoth specific to women. Women light the Shabbat candles in the home, are responsible for maintaining the sanctified aura of the home through the laws of taharat hamishpacha/ritual purity, and of separating the bread [dedicated to the kohain] when baking bread or challah. We need to keep the aura of sanctity in our homes as well, as our homes are a mikdosh me’at/mini sanctuary.

The Shvilei Pinchas introduces a beautiful idea that ties the Mishkan to the Jewish home. After all, the goal of the Mishkan was that Hashem should reside among us. Hashem told us to make Him a Mikdash, a dedicated place. Similarly, a groom marries his bride with the words, “You are mekudeshet/sanctified/dedicated unto me. The ring he places on her finger symbolizes this relationship. There were rings in the Mishkan as well. These rings linked the beams of the Mishkan to each other. Just as there was holiness in the Mishkan pulled together with these rings, so should the home we build together with the symbolism of this ring be a depository for Hashem’s presence.

May we merit acting in ways that will create sanctity within ourselves and within our homes so that, like the Mishkan, we become depositories that reflect Hashem’s presence within us.





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