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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pekudei: Making personal sanctuaries
Whoever wanted to participate in the construction of the Tabernacle was Divinely inspired to know how to perform the actual work. Bezalel was privileged to have the Divine inspiration to understand how to put together the spiritual dimension of the Tabernacle as well. The Tabernacle parallels the entire universe and as such was a microcosm of its own. The Zohar teaches that the Tabernacle also corresponds to the human body. Every human being has the potential to be a sanctuary that can be worthy to host the Divine presence. The external sanctuary of the Tabernacle or Temple will only last as long as the Jewish people live with an awareness of G'd and thereby make themselves worthy to become sanctuaries.
In last week's parasha, the Torah discussed the construction of the Tabernacle led by Bezalel from the Tribe of Judah, together with Oholiav from the Tribe of Dan. In this week's parasha, the Torah provides us with a detailed description of the exact amounts of the construction materials. The Ramban (Shemos 31:2 and 36:21) addresses an obvious question regarding the construction of the Tabernacle. The Jewish people had been bricklayers and done other hard labour as slaves in Egypt. None of them was trained as jewelers to work with fine metals and precious stones. Neither had they learned carpentry or weaving. So how were Bezalel and his co-workers able to perform the intricate workmanship necessary to build the Tabernacle? The Ramban answers that whoever wanted to participate was Divinely inspired to know how to perform the actual work. As it says, (Shemos 35:21 and 26) "And every man whose heart inspired him came … in order (to do) the work of Ohel Moed [Tabernacle] … And all the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goat hair."
This inspiration both enabled them to perform the actual work and to erect an edifice that had a spiritual dimension fitting for the service of G'd. The Talmud (Berachot 55a) teaches that Bezalel knew how to put together the holy letters of the Hebrew alphabet that G'd used to create Heaven and Earth. Although the Tabernacle and all the vessels had to be made with physical materials, says the Ramban, Bezalel was privileged to have the Divine inspiration to understand the purpose and spiritual dimension of every detail. As it says (Shemos 31:2-3) "See I have called upon by name: Bezalel son of Uri … And I have filled him with a spirit of G'd, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge." When G'd created the world, He did so with ten sayings (see Pirkei Avos 5:1). It is beyond our comprehension to understand how these ten sayings could create a whole world ex nihilo (from nothing), but the Zohar explains that G'd used the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet for the creation. Bezalel was Divinely inspired to use these letters to erect the spiritual dimension of the Tabernacle.
Microcosm of the universe
It is no wonder that Bezalel had to somewhat copy the creation of the world when he constructed the Tabernacle. The Midrash Tanchuma describes in the beginning of this week's parasha how the Tabernacle paralleled the entire universe and as such was a microcosm of its own. King David describes the first day of creation, when G'd created the Heavens and the Earth, and says, (Tehillim 104:2) "He stretched the Heavens like a curtain". So, says the Midrash, we find that a curtain was stretched out above the Tabernacle. On the second day of creation, G'd created the firmament as a separation. Similarly, in the Tabernacle there was a curtain separating one part from another. Just like on the third day of creation G'd gathered the waters into one area, in the Tabernacle there was also a designated place to gather water in a basin. Corresponding to the luminaries created on the fourth day, we find the menorah with its lights in the Tabernacle. On the fifth day of creation, G'd created the birds. Similarly, there were birds brought as offerings on the altar of the Tabernacle. And corresponding to the creation of man on the sixth day, the service in the Tabernacle was led by the High Priest. The Torah describes how the work was completed on the seventh day of creation and how G'd blessed and sanctified that day. Similarly, the Torah relates how the work of the Tabernacle was completed and how Moses blessed and sanctified the Tabernacle as well as all the vessels used for the holy service. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh HaChaim 1:4) points out that since the Tabernacle had to function as a microcosm, G'd inspired Bezalel with the necessary "wisdom, understanding and knowledge" (see Shemos 35:31), the exact same expressions used by King Solomon describing how G'd created the universe (see Mishlei 3:19-20).
Tabernacle & human body
Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner further quotes from the Zohar that the Tabernacle also corresponded to the human body. The Rambam elaborates on this comparison as brought in one of the early commentaries to the Talmud (Menachos 29a). The Holy Ark represented the heart of a person. Just as the cherubs spread their wings over the Ark, so do human beings have lungs that spread out around their hearts. The table with the showbread represented a person's stomach, and the menorah and its oil lamps corresponded to a person's mind. The frankincense symbolized the sense of smell and the water basin represented the fluids in the human body. Finally, the curtains symbolized a person's skin and the beams corresponded to the ribs. To sum it all up, the Kabbalists teach that every person is also a microcosm of the entire universe just like the Tabernacle.
Rav Chaim continues to explain that the deeper significance of this comparison is that every human being has the potential to be a sanctuary that can be worthy to host the Divine presence. Rabbi Dessler elaborates on this and defines what it means to host the Divine presence. He explains that when someone lives with a constant awareness of G'd then this person has a Divine presence within him. This is what G'd promised when he instructed Moses to erect the Tabernacle and said (Shemos 25:8) "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them [in the Tabernacle]." A literal translation of this verse would read: "And I will dwell within them." Says Rav Chaim, the Torah is here indicating that every person has the potential to be a dwelling place for G'd's presence.
With this in mind, we can gain a deeper insight into the words of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b). The Talmud quotes a verse in Parashas Terumah (Shemos 25:8-9) "And they shall make for Me a sanctuary … and so they shall do." Says the Talmud, this extra instruction, "and so they shall do", refers to future generations. Says Rav Chaim, on a deeper level we can understand this to refer to everyone making themselves into a sanctuary. We should not think that when G'd instructed us to make Him a sanctuary that the main purpose was just to erect a physical building. The purpose of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was to remind us that through our actions we can make ourselves worthy of the Divine presence. The Tabernacle and the Temple only lasted as long as the Jewish people lived with an awareness of G'd and were worthy of being sanctuaries. The destruction of the Temples reflected the loss of this awareness by the majority of the Jewish people. Rabbi Dessler explains that all our travails throughout our exile is to bring us to bemoan the loss of our spirituality, as this is the first step in rebuilding what was destroyed. We can only accomplish this once we realize that we are missing something.
We all have the potential to develop an awareness of G'd's existence and help restore our nation to be worthy of G'd's Divine presence. May we merit to see this very soon with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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