Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Parashat Terumah - Symbolism of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)

The Symbolism of the Mishkan

The Mishkan had 48 beams, 100 sets of loops, and 100 hooks, no more and no less.  This is not an arbitrary figure, but is meant to allude to the 248 positive commandments in the Torah and the 248 parts of the human body.

This explains G-d's statement to Moshe, "According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its furniture, so shall they do" (25:9).  G-d was saying, "Just as I showed you the parts of the body, where I formed you with 248 limbs, so shall you make the Mishkan, with exactly the same number.  'So shall they do,' keeping all the 248 commandments that I will be giving you." |1|

This also teaches that one should not think that the Divine Presence rests on the wood and stone of the Mishkan. Rather, the Divine rests primarily on the 248 parts of the human body, which parallel the 248 positive commandments.  Therefore, a person must be careful to sanctify and purify his 248 limbs, so that the Holy should be able to rest upon them.

This may be alluded to in the verse, "[G-d] forsook the Mishkan at Shiloh, the tent which dwelt in man" (Tehillim 78:60).  [This is speaking of a time when people sin, but conversely,] it indicates that when people are good, the Divine dwells in the human being. |2|

One may find this entire account very puzzling.  Today we live in exile, and have no Mishkan, no Holy Temple, no High Priest, and no sacrifice.  What good then does it do us to read about how the Mishkan was made?  Why do we have to know how the beams and pillars were made, what their dimensions were, and how the priestly vestments were made?  Of what use is it to us to know how the sacrifices were offered?  This is of no practical use to us today, and when the Mashiach comes with G-d's help, we can learn all these things and know how to keep them. |3|

Actually, however, the prophet Yechezk'el asked this very question of G-d, as we see in the 43rd chapter of Yechezk'el, which is the Haftarah of the Portion of Tetzaveh.  G-d said to Yechezk'el, "son of man, show the Temple to the house of Yisra'el, so that they will be ashamed of their sins, let them measure accurately.  If they are ashamed of all that they have done, explain to them the form of the Temple, its pattern, its comings and it goings, all its forms and their ordinances, and write it down before their eyes, so that they make keep its entire form, and all its ordinances, and do them" (Yechezk'el 43:10, 11).

G-d was saying to Yechezk'el, "Son of man.  Inform the Yisra'elim of the form of the Holy Temple that will be built in the Messianic age, and tell them how it shall look.  If they are embarrassed by all the sins they have committed, which caused the Temple to be destroyed, they will be able to measure the Temple, and contemplate the form in which it will be built.  If they are ashamed and repent, I will show them the form of the Temple, and they will remember all its forms, and the laws that must be kept in it." |4|

Yechezk'el was puzzled, and replied to G-d, "Hashem of the Universe, what benefit will Yisra'el have from all these things?  Of what use is it to them to know the form of the Temple that is destined to be built in the Messianic Age?  Today we are in exile, and it will be a long time before the Mashiach comes.  What will come of my explaining all these things that they cannot keep now.  Let me just tell them that they must believe in perfect faith that the Mashiach will come and the Temple will be rebuilt.  But what will come of my explaining to them the precise form of this third Temple?"

G-d responded, "What I am telling you is a great gift for them.  As long as they are in exile and they read the portion explaining how the Temple must be built, and look at its ultimate form, I will count it as if they had built the Temple.

The same is true when a person reads the sections describing how the Mishkan and priestly vestments were made delving into it and understanding it well.  It is then counted as if he himself had made all those items.  The same is true when a person studies the laws of sacrifices and mediates on them; G-d then counts it as if he had actually offered the sacrifices. |5|

It is for this reason that when speaking of sacrifices, the Scripture often uses the expression, "This is the Torah."  We thus find expressions such as, "This is the Torah of the all-burnt offering" (VaYikra 6:2), "This is the Torah of the sin offering" (VaYikra 6:18), "This is the Torah of the crime offering" (VaYikra 7;1), "This is the Torah of the meal offering" (VaYikra 6:7), and "This is the Torah of the peace offering" (VaYikra 7:11).  This teaches that if a person studies the portions of the Torah dealing with these sacrifices, it is counted as if he actually had offered them. |6|

There is also another great spiritual benefit from learning the laws pertaining to the Mishkan and sacrifices.  We can see this by looking carefully at the order in which these laws are presented.  At first sight, it appears as if the account is not written in the correct order.  The Torah should have presented the Mishkan in the order that it was set up, with the beams, bases, hangings and hooks, and then described the pillars, their bases, and the crossbars.

Only then should the Torah have told us what is inside the Holy of Holies, namely the Ark, the ark-cover, and the cherubs.  Then the Torah should have told us about the cloth barrier that set apart the Holy of Holies.  Then the Torah should have explained and discussed the items that were outside the Holy of Holies, in the sanctuary, such as the table, the menorah, the oil for the menorah, and the incense altar.  All these things were in the sanctuary, just outside the Holy of Holies.

The Torah should have then described the veil over the entrance of the Mishkan.  Only then should the Torah have gone on to speak about the enclosure, describing the sacrificial altar, the sacrifices themselves, and the washstand, since both the altar and washstand were in the outer enclosure.

After that, the Torah should have described the priestly vestments.

Actually, this is the order in which the Torah presents these items in Parashat VaYachel, where it describes how all these items were made (36:8-39:30).  This is also the order that we find in the Parashat Pekudei, where it describes how these items were brought to Moshe (39:33-41).  The same order is also used when the Torah describes how the Mishkan was erected (40:17-33).  This is because this is the proper order, as we shall see in those sections.  Therefore the question arises, why in this and the next portion, are the items listed in an entirely different order?

The Torah is actually teaching a lesson and giving good spiritual advice, telling us how to be worthy in both this world and the next.  G-d taught us this by giving the commandments for the Mishkan in an apparently illogical order.

When G-d began to give orders for the Mishkan, He said, "Let them make me a sanctuary..." (25:8).  But then, before explaining how to make the Mishkan, He immediately began speaking about the Holy Ark.  This teaches that the only reason a person comes to this world is to immerse himself in the Torah and to keep its commandments.  This is alluded to by the Ark, which held the Torah.

If G-d grants a person money in this world, it is only so that he should be able to study Torah.  If he does not know how to learn, he should spend his money keeping the commandments and doing good deeds.  He can spend money to support torah scholars, since the principle of this will remain with him in the Future world.

A person should not think that he was born into this world to enjoy himself and to have pleasure from worldly things.  Rather, the main thing is to struggle day and night to understand the Torah.  He will then be worthy of the shulchan, which alludes to worldly good, and the menorah, which alludes to the spiritual good of the future world.  Therefore, immediately after discussing the Ark, the Torah discussed the shulchan and the menorah.

The Torah then speaks about the Mishkan, which alludes to worldly good.  This teaches that if a person leaves the Torah so as to gain worldly goods, his punishment is that he will be separated from the Holy of Holies, which alludes to the Torah and commandments.  He will have a barrier, like the cloth barrier that separated the Holy Ark from the outside.

It is for this reason that after giving the command for the Mishkan, G-d gave the command for the cloth partition between the Holy of Holies and the sanctuary.  G-d then gave the command for the veil that separated the table and the menorah from the outside.  This teaches that the person who pursues the worldly will not only be separated from the menorah, the Torah and the commandments, he will also be separated from the table, which alludes to worldly good.  He will lose his wealth and his wisdom will decrease.

The Torah then speaks of the sacrificial altar.  This teaches that if a person goes though all this, and still is attracted to worldly pleasures, he will have a bad end.  His body and soul will be annihilated, and he will be outside the realm of the holy souls.  Rather, he will be in the place of sacrificial altar, which was the lowest part of the Mishkan, a place without any roof, open to the sun and rain.

After the sacrificial altar, the Torah speaks of the outer enclosure, which alludes to human life.  The 100 cubit length alludes to the human lifespan which is hardly ever more than 100 years.  The breadth of the courtyard was 50 cubits, alluding to the 50 years during which a person is in full strength.  After this he begins to lose his strength and grow weak.

The 20 pillars to the width of the enclosure allude to man's twentieth year, when he comes to his full strength, standing on his feet like a pillar.  And because a person has the same desire in old age as in youth to work and to make money, thinking that he will remain in this world, the Torah says, "Their hooks and hoops shall be made of silver" (27:10).  The Hebrew word for hoops is chashuk, alluding to a person's desire (cheshek).  This is of silver, kesef in Hebrew, which also denotes money. |7|

Since this world is only temporary, a person must concentrate on the true world, the World to Come, which is eternal.  He should not place all his thoughts and efforts into the material world.  Rather, he should strive to follow for G-d-fearing Sages, and to learn from their ways.  Their merchandise is the merchandise of the Future World.  One should therefore engage at least in some of this "business."

It is for this reason that, after discussing the outer enclosure, the Torah speaks of the oil for the menorah.  The oil in the lamp alludes to things that affect the soul, as it is written, "A lamp of G-d is the soul of man" (Mishle 20:27).

The people who are destined to learn the ways of the World to Come must be on the level of Aharon as far as reverence and deeds are concerned.  The person will then be worthy of the priestly vestments, which are the precious, enlightened vestments of the Future World.  The commandments that a person keeps and the good deeds that he does in this physical world, become his precious garments in the World to Come.  Therefore, after speaking of the oil for the lamp, the Torah speaks of the priestly vestments.  This alludes to the "vestments" that a person will wear in the Future World. |8|

Three of the four furnishings in the Mishkan were topped by zer zahav saviv, "a gold crown all around.:" the Aron [Ark]; the Shulchan [Table]; and the Mizbe'ach [Atlar].

The Talmud (Yoma 72b) identifies these three crowns with the three crowns mentioned in the Mishnah (Avot 4:13):

1) the crown on the Aron, which in addition to the Tablets, held a Torah scroll written by Moshe, represents the crown of the Torah scholar
2) the crown of the Shulchan, G-d's royal Table, symbolizes the crown of royalty
3) the crown of the Mizbe'ach alludes to the crown of Kehunah (priesthood), for only a Kohen may serve at the Mizbe'ach (Rashi)

1. Yalkut Reuveni
2. Original
3. Abarbanel
4. Original
5. Yalkut Shimoni, Yechezk'el
6. Menachoth, Chapter 13
7. Abarbanel
8. Original

Commentary source:

-Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez
-Kestenbaum Tikkun

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