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Mishkan within Universe, Universe within Mishkan
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To shelter the Presence of the Alm-ghty within the bounds of earth.

Mishkan Within Universe, Universe Within Mishkan

Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak

 

The very first Jewish tzedaka drive in history took place shortly before the giving of the Torah and was a smashing success. The Jews donated generously, giving everything that they had to give: “Gold, silver and copper; and turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings…” (Exodus 25:3-7).

 

What for? G-d had commanded, “They shall make a sanctuary for Me that I may dwell among them” (ibid). It seems that the Almighty had requested to dwell among human beings in a house of His own. A house with a table, an ark, a menora, altars, and all the other items described in the parasha (see Exodus chapters 25 through 27).

 

But that was what made the first Jewish tzedaka drive so embarrassing. “When HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe, ‘Make Me a mishkan,’ Moshe questioned, ‘Your honor is filled with high places and low places, and He says to me ’make Me a mishkan’?’” (Shemos Rabba 24).

 

What happened to Judaism’s prime directive: be faithful to the one, incorporeal, infinite Creator who can not be comprehended within the bounds of time and space? Isn’t that in contradiction with this odd divine request? The Almighty stated plainly, “I will descend and condense My Presence to be among them” (ibid). Didn’t the Ten Commandments sound a little different, forbidding idol worship, forbidding any pictorial representation of G-d, fighting any effort to make the divine concrete?

 

The contradiction is undeniable. Truth dictates that the concept of G-d in it’s purest form is entirely divorced from any concept of an earthly sanctuary. But it was the Jewish People, not G-d, who originally requested the sanctuary’s construction. “Master of the universe,” they confided, “The kings of the gentile nations have castles and tables and lamps and incense burners and these are the accessories of royalty…and You are our King…will You not have the accessories of royalty before You?”

 

He replied to them, “My children, those beings of flesh and blood need these things, but I don’t need them.” (Midrash Aggada).

 

It turns out that G-d doesn’t need the mishkan. We do. The mishkan is a compromise between the transcendental reality of absolute truth and the limited nature of corporeal human beings. This is G-d’s way of bending for the earthiness in us, our unquenchable desire to immerse our senses even in that which reminds us of the presence of G-d. Lofty, abstract ideals are not enough to establish this presence in the heart of man. Abstractions will never conquer the many golden calves of our world, winking and sparkling in their inebriating tangibility. Man’s nature tends towards the concrete. The mishkan serves in our struggle against the contradictory drives in our hearts and aids us in connecting to the divine more easily, that abstract reality beyond the reach of our senses.

 

The Jewish People asked for a mishkan and the Almighty acquiesced. Human builders were provided with divine blueprints designed by G-d Himself. And there it stood, completed exactly as instructed.

 

The commandment to build a mishkan was a particularly meaningful commandment in that the blueprints provided by the Almighty leant an infinite depth and worth to the building. Divine instructions lifted the mishkan out of the realm of human limitations to become a creative act of G-d Himself, a structure that reflected the structure of the entire universe, it’s oneness and it’s multifaceted nature, the revealed and the hidden, the physical and the spiritual at it’s core.

 

The final product transformed reality. Suddenly there was  the universe, the mishkan, and humanity poised between them, an exact triangle piercing the mind and the imagination to try and penetrate the secret within. The Almighty created the macrocosm, the universe, and placed man within it. Man built the microcosm, a structure parallel to the structure of the universe, blueprints scaled down but identical, a mishkan to place the presence of the Almighty within the bounds of earth.


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