So That I May Dwell Among Them
Adapted From Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
The mishkan (sanctuary) served as a spiritual focal point for the Jewish People in the wilderness and for many years before the construction of the beis hamikdash (temple) in the land of Israel. The mishkan uplifted the Jewish People in the desert, but how is the mishkan relevant to our lives today?
One of the most interesting purposes of the mishkan was highlighted by the Chida, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim Azulai, a foremost Torah authority and one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Israel over two hundred years ago. The Chida explained that service in the mishkan did not lose relevance once the mishkan stopped being a part of the daily lives of the Jewish People. Rather, service in the mishkan paralleled the personal relationship that every individual Jew is responsible to maintain with the Almighty:
· The centerpiece of the main mishkan courtyard was the bronze altar where an eternal flame was maintained. Our own “eternal flame” is the passion we feel in our relationship with the Almighty. How can we keep our “eternal flame” burning brightly? Heartfelt prayer, enthusiastic Torah study, and taking great joy in the performance of mitzvos all keep our inner fire alive.
· Sacrifices on the altar were consumed by a fire that supernaturally descended from above. However, the Jewish People were commanded to bring wood and light their own fire on the altar as well. Our “fire from above” is the pure Jewish soul alight within each of us that burns with enthusiasm for the Almighty and His Torah. We have to get in touch with that inner “fire from above”, but we also have to maintain and nourish our enthusiasm with external stimulus by becoming involved with Torah classes and books.
· The measurements of the altar were five amos long, five amos wide, and three amos high. (Amos were a biblical measurement.) These numbers add up to thirteen, the numerical sum of the letters in the Hebrew word echad, one. This hinted that the entire purpose and focus of the mishkan was all about one thing: the One Above. Our purpose and focus in life can be united around our relationship with the Almighty as well.
· The altar was used to offer sacrifices, called korbanos in Hebrew. The word korban connotes kirva, closeness. The purpose of sacrifices was to bring the Jewish People closer to the Almighty. We, too, can bring the Jewish People closer to the Almighty by showing them the beauty of Torah ideas and practices.
· One of the daily responsibilities of the mishkan priest was to remove the deshen, ashes left over by the burnt sacrifices. We, too, are responsible to remove the “ashes” that get in the way of our relationship with the Almighty: the doubts generated by our yetzer hara. Cleaning up these questions and concerns inside of ourselves has to take place on a daily basis in order to be able to continue in our service of the Almighty.
· The kodesh hakodashim (holy of holies) was located at the inner-most place in the mishkan. Inside the kodesh hakodashim sat the aron kodesh (holy ark). Inside the aron lay the luchos hubris, the two tablets on which the ten commandments of the Torah were inscribed. Inside, inside, inside… At the very heart of the mishkan was the Torah. We must strive to study and internalize the Torah within the inner-most parts of ourselves as well.
· On top of the kapores , a golden covering over the aron , stood two golden angels called k’ruvim. The angels faces were in the likeness of small children. These angels served to remind the Jewish People that our actions must be pure as angels and as guiltless as small children who have never sinned.
· The wings of the k’ruvim were spread open to inspire us to guard our families within the embrace of our “wings” by caring for them, educating them, and helping them to grow in Torah.
· The aron also held staves used to carry it whenever the Jewish People needed to move the mishkan during their travels. The poles represented those who support Torah and were kept in the aron itself in order to show the Jewish People how important it is to help those who engage in Torah study. The Torah cautions about the staves in the aron, “they may not be removed from it” (Exodus 25:15), since Torah scholars and those who support them are linked for eternity. The future reward of those who sincerely support Torah is the selfsame reward earned by the righteous people they supported.
· The beautiful golden menora represented the beautiful character traits that every Jew possesses in potential. Three branches on each side of the menora all pointed towards the central, middle branch, teaching that every individual must be careful to center all his character traits along a balanced, middle path rather than taking an extreme position in either direction.
· The menora also required daily cleansing to remove leftover ashes. Not only our thinking, but our character traits also require daily maintenance to remove any issues getting in the way of our relationship with the Almighty.
· The mishkan table stood next to the menora. The symbolic theme of these two items is similar: a person’s character traits often express themselves most blatantly in his behavior when sitting down to eat. The mishkan table held the lechem hapanim, the showbread, teaching us that we must be sure that our food is also worthy of eating in the presence of the Almighty. Is our food kosher? Did we earn the money to obtain our food in an upright and honest way? We, too, can sanctify our eating and drinking for the purpose of serving H’.
· The mishkan held a second altar for the purpose of burning incense. They say that no one in Jerusalem needed perfume because the fragrance of the incense, called ketores, could be enjoyed throughout the entire city and felt as far away as the city of Jericho. The fragrance of the ketores wafted throughout the streets as a constant, pleasurable reminder of the presence of the Almighty. By our refined behavior and beautiful character traits, we can be a constant, pleasurable reminder of the presence of the Almighty to all those near us as well.
· The mishkan basin was where the priests bathed and purified themselves for service. We, too, can serve others as a source of kindness and compassion, holiness and purity, which the Torah compares to living waters. We, too, can be a source of goodness and blessing for all those around us.
The mishkan was first introduced to the Jewish People with the Almighty’s commandment, “They shall make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Integrating the wisdom of the mishkan service can continue to invite the Almighty to “dwell among us” today.