Rav Avi Goldberg
Former Rosh Kollel in Memphis (2008-2011)
Currently teacher at “Himelfarb” high school in Jerusalem
Treasuring the Great Moments
Many times, we ask ourselves, how can we preserve how we felt at the great moments in our lives? How does a couple remember the special excitement of their wedding day in years to come? How can a boy remember the feelings and thoughts at his Bar Mitzvah? How can a mother treasure the love and joy she felt at a baby’s birth? How can workers maintain the enthusiasm they felt when they were new in their jobs and not get ‘burnt out’? How can we carry such feelings through our daily lives for many years?
“Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected” (Melachim Ch. 8). King Solomon’s prayer raises an idea that is so basic for many of us, which is embodied in the commandments associated with making the Mishkan. In Judaism, we are very careful not to personify G-d, emphasizing His holiness, and suddenly we are commanded to establish a home where G-d will “dwell.” How can G- be confined to a specific point or particular place? To answer this, let us consider a few matters regarding the Mishkan.
Rashi and Ramban argue about the order of the Torah, and especially the commandment to build the Mishkan. According to Rashi, the Torah is not always in chronological order, and the story of the sin of the Golden Calf occurred before the time it was actually written in the Torah. Rashi holds that Moses was ordered to make the Mishkan only after the sin of the Golden Calf. The command to build the Mishkan was given to Moses after receiving the second tablets on Yom Kippur, and in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
On the other hand, Ramban makes very little use of changing the chronological order of the Torah. He believes that the command to construct the Mishkan was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, before the sin of the Golden Calf (as it appears in te order of the text). According to him, the Parashot of ‘Teruma’ and ‘Tetzaveh’ take place before the sin of the Golden Calf in Parasht ‘Ki-Tisa.’ His view also fits in with his approach to ‘Korabnot’ (the sacrifices) in general. Ramban disagrees with Maimonides, who sees the ‘Korbanot’ as post-factum concession to the nation by G-d, an alternative to idolatry. According to the Ramban, from the outset, the ‘Korbanot’ constituted an original and important layer in the service of G-d. Similarly, the Ramban views the command to build the Mishkan as coming first, while Rashi perceives it as a response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
Over the generations, many commentators have attempted to give reasons for the command to build the Mishkan. Most of them agree that its essence is to allow the presence of G-d among us.
Rashi and Ramban seem to agree that the reasoning behind this Mitzvah is to continue the Mount Sinai experience. Thus, the mere fact that the Ark containing the Tablets — those miraculous tablets, the only remnant of Sinai — was placed in the Holy of Holies, the center and most important part of the Mishkan, teaches us about its purpose.
As Ramban adds, this is the reason for the well-known difference between the command to make the Mishkan in Parashat ‘Teruma’ and the actual description of how it was built in parashat ‘Vayakhel.’ The former begins with the command to make the ark, and latter with making the walls (the boards and sheets) of the Mishkan.
As the Ramban explains, this emphasizes that while the ark is the primary goal, the essence of the Mishkan, still the walls have to come first. In addition, the longest description about any vessel in the Mishkan is for the Ark (13 verses), teaching us that it is the core. Hence, an important lesson for life can be drawn from this: pay attention to the main point and essence of things, while, at the same time, understanding that, in order to carry things out, we might have to deal with other more basic parts first.
As Rashi and Ramban agree, the purpose of the Mishkan is to remind the people of Israel day in and day out of Mount Sinai and the covenant G-d made with us there — His presence among us, On the one hand, according to Rashi, the Mishkan is a reaction to the sin of the Golden Calf — forgetting our part of the covenant. Thus, the Mishkan is meant to correct this mistake by always reminding us of Mount Sinai. On the other hand, the Ramban holds that G-d commanded Moses to build the Mishkan in the first place to remind us continually of Mount Sinai. Its purpose is not to provide a dwelling place for G-d since “the heaven and heaven of heavens” cannot contain Him, but rather for Him to be among us, as the pasuk says, “and I will dwell among them “.
Sometimes, it is difficult for us to maintain the same enthusiasm as we had at those big moments in our lives. Indeed, all year round, it is hard to have the same feelings and aspirations as on Yom Kippur. It is not easy for students to comply with the hopes, wishes and promises they made themselves on their first day at school. Here, the Torah offers us a way of tackling this problem: Set a constant and stable place and/or time to remind ourselves of our true desires — a “dwelling” place among us for all those feelings that can elevate us, not only once a year, but in our mundane lives every day.
Next year in Jerusalem!