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Think about it!

Written by D Fine

In any good series there is a ‘twist at the end,’ and I suppose this epic three-part series should be no different. Apart from the fact that the topic we are going to speak about is actually related to the parsha this week (shock horror), it is a much more central topic than the previous two parts of the series. Here we go: lights, camera, action! Apart from the cameo appearance of Shabbos at the start of the sedra (an ‘extra’ perhaps), the entire mass of our double-sedra is focussed on the mishkan. We are told about the donations, of those appointed to oversee the building, and then of the actual building of the mishkan and its vessels, with their being positioned and set up inside the mishkan. Finally, we reachthe climactic final psukim of the sedra (40:34-38) which tell us how HaShem’s Glory filled the mishkan. As the Targum Yonassan[1] and Sforno[2] both point out, the psukim are reporting that HaShem’s Shechinah rested on/in the mishkan. In fact, the Maharit[3] adds that is was Bnei Yisrael’s achdus (unity) in this project of constructing the mishkan which facilitated HaShem to rest His Shechinah in the mishkan and thus amongst the people.

One of the main goals of the mishkan/mikdash is making HaShem’s Shechinah rest there (hashra’as haShechinah). On a simple level, what exactly does this mean? On a deeper level, we know that HaShem created everything, and ‘He is everywhere;’ in order for anything to survive it must be connected to Him. If so, what does it mean that HaShem rests ‘more’ in the mishkan/mikdash; He is everywhere and everything, so how can we say that He rests/resides ‘more’ in one place than another? In asking these questions, we are essentially touching on the goal/aim of the mikdash itself.
These are two very deep questions, and I’m sure there are equally deep answers out there. We are going to cite a passage from the Sefer Hachinuch,[4] who deals with this issue at the ‘pshat’ level,[5] as he himself says.

The Sefer Hachinuch begins by pointing out that the Beis Hamikdash (/mishkan) is not for HaShem; He does not need a nice house with gold, silver, and wooden ‘furniture;’ He owns the world and all the riches in it. Rather, the midkash must be for us. How so? The Sefer Hachinuch goes on to explain that HaShem wants to give good (tov) to us, which comes as a result of the mitzvos we do; as the pasuk says[6] ‘and now Yisrael, what does HaShem your G-D ask from you…to observe the mitzvos of HaShem and His statutes which I command you today, in order to provide you with good.’ The Ramchal deepens this point by explaining that HaShem wanted us to work for our reward, via performing mitzvos (and not that HaShem just gives everyone reward no matter how little they have accomplished in this world), in order that we should not feel ashamed at getting a ‘free gift;’ He wants us to feel like we earned/deserve the reward we get. Anyway, to the extent that we perform mitzvos and have managed to purify ourselves, is the extent that we get this ‘good.’ The more mitzvos we do, both in terms of quality and quantity, the more we purify ourselves [and points mean prizes!]. Now, the mikdash was chosen as the place where there could be the purification of one’s personality. In the words of the Sefer Hachinuch, it is the place in which ‘there, our personalities (‘sichleinu’) reach up in connection with HaShem’s Personality.’ And this is ‘the resting of HaShem’s Shechinah.’

In other words, the mikdash is a place where we can feel most exposed to spirituality and feel like one is in HaShem’s Presence. This is a result of the many mitzvos performed there, but it is not limited to this. As the Sefer Hachinuch asks himself; the Mishna[7] says that there is still kedusha present in the site of the mikdash even when the mikdash is destroyed. Surely this must mean that the holiness of the place is not fully dependent on the mitzvos performed there? And he answers that though there is a certain level of holiness present even when the midkash is destroyed and no mitzvos are therefore being performed there, this level increases and is more potent when the mikdash is standing and mitzvos are being performed there. In summary, the Sefer Hachinuch has explained that the way we are to understand HaShem’s Shechinah resting in the mikdash (on the level of pshat) is in terms of the opportunity we have to feel spirituality and kedusha in the mikdash/mishkan. I suppose the best way to convey this is with the example of the Kotel nowadays. Apart from the wonderful sight of spotting Jews from all walks of life coming to the Kotel, the amazing thing is about the Kotel is that one can feel a certain tangible connection to spirituality there. I was once at the Kotel with a group of irreligious teenage schoolchildren, and one boy said to me that he could hear a voice saying ‘rebuild, rebuild.’ Now I do not know if he was just ‘having me on,’ but either way, he recognised that there is a certain spiritual effect/voltage that one can feel at the Kotel. As one songwriter captured the Kotel perfectly: ‘where else in this world can you find a wall, whenever you touch it, it touches you.’ This is the hashra’as Shechinah that the Sefer Hachinuch is talking about. And he goes on to explain that this is the idea of sacrifices too; that we are to internalise certain messages and spiritual sensitivities which are conveyed through the offering up of an animal.

The theme I would like to take out of this is that which the Sefer Hachinuch says- that the mitzvos done in the mikdash allow us to internalise the spirituality therein. This is similar to a theme he builds upon in several places, namely that actions inspire thoughts and mindsets. For example, he writes[8] that the mitzvah not to break the bones of the korban pesach is rooted in the fact that prisoners/the extremely destitute break bones, and we are free people and sons of the King. Thus, in refraining from breaking the bones of the sacrifice, we are inserting within our characters this message of our ‘regal’ natures. The action is supposed to inspire a thought/mindset.

The idea is one of mental focus on what we do; a discipline which many of our generation do not seem to excel in. There was an office study, in which it was found that if the person waiting to use the photocopier asked to go first, 60% of the time, the fellow in front would let this person go first. But if the person provided a reason (e.g. ‘please let me go first, I am in a rush’), the statistic shot up to 90%. Interestingly, it was found that when the person provided a pathetic reason (e.g. ‘please let me go first, I need to make some photocopies’), the figure remained at 90%. What this means is that people’s minds can sometimes be on ‘autopilot;’ they are not really thinking, and so do not take anything in from the situation facing them. We are expected to mentally react to the actions we do, and derive deeper understandings purely from the events we face. For example, a couple of times the prophet Yirmiyah[9] is told messages by HaShem via real-life events (e.g. Yirmiyah making his belt rot in the river); Yirmiyah is expected to take things in from his real-life experiences. Similarly, Rashi[10] points out that it was this quality of learning lessons from one’s experiences that the ten spies were lacking in; he cites the Midrash, which reveals that the initial cause of the spies’ downfall was that they saw that Miriam had been punished for her speech towards Moshe, but they failed to heed the lesson for themselves. Singing the same tune is Rebbi Meir,[11] who points out that techeiles was chosen for the tzitzis string, because the techeiles colour is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, which is similar to HaShem’s Throne. This means that we are supposed to make that mental connection in our minds when we see techeiles; that ‘oh, this looks like the sea, which looks like…’ The point is to be mentally aware and to take in messages from one’s experiences and occurrences.
Have a great Shabbos,

[1] Targum Yonassan, Shemos 40:34
[2] Sforno, Shemos 40:33-34
[3] Drashos Tzafnas Pane’ach; the first Drash on Vayikra
[4] Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 95. We do not know who wrote the Sefer Hachinuch. Some say it was the Re’ah, but the Chidah says that he has found many differences between the Sefer Hachinuch and the commentary of the Re’ah on Shas.
[5] The pshat level is the first of the four levels of understanding Torah (Pshat, Remez, Drush, Sod). Some call it the ‘simple level,’ but that does not mean simple in terms of being easy/unintelligent, but rather the ‘plain/basic reading/meaning of the text.’ Rashi in a few places says that his commentary (including any Midrash he cites) is aimed at the pshat level of the psukim; e.g Rashi Bereishis 3:8
[6] Devarim 10:12-13
[7] Mishna Megillah 28a
[8] Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 16
[9] See sefer Yirmiyah perakim 13 and 18
[10] Rashi Bamidbar 13:2
[11] Gemarra Menachos 43b

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