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   by Jacob Solomon

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 ‘They shall made a sanctuary (Mishkan) for Me, so that I may dwell amongst them’ (25:8).

Rashi comments that the words ‘for Me’ do not mean that the Mishkan was a structure that was to be built as a present to G-d, but that it was to be ‘lishma’ – dedicated to His service. Thus the Mishkan was the place that contained the Divine Presence of G-d (the Shechina) in its most intensive form. As the Ramban develops, the Mishkan – both in its whole and in its many parts, was a permanent re-enactment of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. The Exodus had only achieved its purpose when the spiritual heights that the Israelites had temporarily achieved at Mount Sinai had become a permanent part of their existence by means of the Mishkan. For example G-d spoke to Moses exclusively through the Holy Ark, just as He had spoken with him exclusively at the top of Mount Sinai.

It follows that the Mishkan was not a gift from the Israelites to G-d, but a gift from G-d to the Israelites.

Proportionally, the four Parashiot of the Torah recounting the details of the construction of the Mishkan occupy a very large section of the Torah. This becomes obvious when comparing it with the relatively small amount of space given to the vast majority of Mitzvot between Man and G-d, and between Man and Man. Why is this so?

One approach to this issue is to focus on how the Mishkan, and the First and Second Temples after it, gave the Israelites (and later the Jews) a home. It gave them roots, a sense of belonging, a sense of direction, and a sense of being linked with the Absolute Force that created the Earth. These themes are expanded below.

As I child, I went through the trauma of leaving familiar friends and surroundings several times, in each case moving to a new city and community. My late Mother, Harabanit Devorah Solomon, ztl., used to remind me that there are certain things that will never change – wherever we are and whatever we do. Those things are the commitment to the Torah and the keeping of the Mitzvot. And also, that our values as a family unit together stay the same, wherever we may be.

The Israelites in the desert went through many changes of address. But in a sense they were still at Mount Sinai, because wherever and in whatever circumstances they were in, they were linked with the Infinite Force that created them, and was revealed to them. Each item of the Mishkan, as well as its totality, carried an important message that lay at the foundation of the life of each and every Israelite.

The many commentators that write about the symbolism of the Mishkan bring out this idea. For example, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch distinguishes between the Table, the Incense Altar and Candelabrum on one hand, and the Ark on the other. The former did not require poles that were permanently in place. On the other hand, the text says in respect to the Ark, ‘The poles (used for carrying the Ark) shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be removed from it’ (25:15). He implies that Table, Incense Altar, and Candelabrum are symbols of interaction – the bread, incense, and light symbolize the Jewish people throughout the ages leading spiritual lives, but nevertheless contributing and participating in all walks of life, wherever they are. The legitimate expression of the Torah thus takes many forms.

The Ark, on the other hand, reflected the essence of the Torah, which does not vary according to location. The Torah transcends restrictions of space. Even when it is in its fixed location, the poles of the Ark must be ready to carry it anywhere - as one intact unit. And the prohibition of separating the poles from the Ark suggests that wherever the Jew travels, the essence of Torah teaching remain the same.

Many people today feel lost because they have no roots. If they have moved from place to place, or have no close family, or do not fit into an easily defined niche, they sooner or later feel despondent and ask themselves: Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I belong? What are my aims in life? What really is my home?

Torah Judaism teaches that so long as a person has the Torah, he is never lost. ‘It is a tree of life for those take hold of it’ (Proverbs 3:18). Its wide forms of expressions are held together by that essence which was first communicated to Moses on Mount Sinai, and later came to rest in the Holy Ark.

The roots and way forward of the Jew are presented in the Talmud (Avot 4:29), that declares “…you are born, …you die, …you are destined to give full account (of your deeds) before the Kings of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He”. That is life’s journey and life’s destination, in the many forms that very journey can take. Thus the Mishkan – and after the Destructions, the Shechina, are links between ourselves, and the bigger and more permanent eternity of the soul. The force that promotes earthly existence to eternal life was at its most intense in the Mishkan. It was not a mere place of worship: it was given such prominence in the Torah because it brought to Earth the fullest manifestation of the Force which gives the Jew his identity, his mission, his direction, and ultimately his eternal life.

May the Shechina be speedily restored to Zion in our days.



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