Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy

“On the day of the first new moon…you shall set up the Mishkan” (Shemot 40:2).

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that “day” in this verse may allude to the halakha requiring “the erecting of the Mishkan…to be done in the daytime.” But what is the basis of this halakha?

Rav Hirsch argues that it – like many other directives in Judaism – rests on the proposition that G-d wants us to be rational, clear-eyed, and level-headed. At night, nothing is clear. Distinctions – the very basis of human wisdom – are blurred. Night is associated with death, demons, and various dark forces. Night is also of course when people grow weary and fall asleep, succumbing to the weight of nature.

G-d doesn’t want His Mikdash built at such a time. For the Mikdash represents not submission to nature but the mastery of nature. It represents not death but life. It represents man’s potential to think clearly and choose freely and wisely. The halakha requiring the Mishkan to be built during the day thus “raises all procedures to which it applies out of the dark realm of the blind forces of nature into the clear sphere of conscious freedom of will.”

The logic behind this halakha also explains why so many of the main features of the Mikdash – the aron, the shulchan, the mizbe’ach – were square (“ravu’a yiyeh”). Nature doesn’t produce squares (generally). “[I]n all forms made by organic forces unconsciously, or at least unreasoningly, the curved or circular form predominates, or perhaps is even exclusive. It is only the free, self-directed force of free, reasoning man that makes its buildings and creations in straight lines and angles.

In other words: “The circle, the curve, appertains to subjection, to lack of free will, to tumah. The rectangle is the sign of the freedom of the human will and of its mastery over the material world, of taharah. … The whole [Mishkan] is to be in direct opposition to every form of nature cults; it is to be dedicated to the building up of a morally completely free-willed human life.”

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.