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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayakhel/Pekudei-Parashas HaChodesh: 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 corresponds to the human body. Every human being has the potential to be a sanctuary that can be worthy to "house" 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 the month of Nissan we too will be redeemed from our exile.

Divinely inspired

This week we read two portions of the Torah. Parashas Vayakhel discusses the construction of the Tabernacle led by Bezalel from the Tribe of Judah, together with Oholiav from the Tribe of Dan. Parashas Pekudei 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 were 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 do all of 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."

Spiritual dimension

This inspiration was not just to be able to perform the actual work, but also to erect an edifice that would have the spiritual dimension fitting for the service of G'd. The Talmud (Berachot 55a) teaches that Bezalel knew how to put together the holy letters used for the creation of the 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 alphabet for the creation. Bezalel was Divinely inspired to use these same 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 Parashas Pekudei 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 made 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 that day was blessed and sanctified by G'd. 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 filled 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, whereas 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 represented the ribs. Based on this comparison of the Zohar, the Kabbalists teach that every person is a microcosm of the entire universe just like the Tabernacle.

Potential sanctuary

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 "house" the Divine presence. Rabbi Dessler elaborates on this and defines what it means that a person "houses" the Divine presence. He explains that when someone lives with an awareness of G'd's existence 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.

External sanctuary

With this in mind, we can gain a deeper insight into the words of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b) which 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 to erect a building. The building in the form of the Tabernacle, or later the Temple, was there to remind us that through our actions we should make ourselves worthy of the Divine presence. The external sanctuary of the Tabernacle only lasted as long as the Jewish people lived with an awareness of G'd and developed themselves into becoming sanctuaries. The destruction of the Temples was a reflection of the loss of this internal awareness of G'd's presence in the majority of the Jewish people. Rabbi Dessler explains that the purpose of all our travails throughout our exile is to bring us to bemoan the loss of our spirituality, as this in itself is the first step in rebuilding what was destroyed. It is only possible to restructure if we realize that we are missing something.

Redemption in Nissan

This week we read an extra portion (Shemos 12:1-20) dealing with the month of Nissan which is referred to in the Torah as the first month. The month of Nissan was the month when our ancestors were redeemed from the exile in the Egypt. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11a) teaches that in the month of Nissan we too will be redeemed from our exile. We all have the potential to participate in bringing the final redemption. Every Jewish individual who develops an awareness of G'd's existence helps towards restoring our nation to be worthy of G'd's Divine presence dwelling amongst us with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel