Rocket scientists come in all shapes and sizes. Each one has his or her own specialty, including software, electronics, mechanics, propulsion, pyrotechnics, heat transfer, and guidance and control. My specialty is system integration — taking two disjoint systems and gluing them together. An example is the integration of a smart missile onto an aircraft. Both the missile and the aircraft are extremely complex systems. Each has its own mechanical structure, computers with millions of lines of code, and a concept of operations. Integrating a missile onto an aircraft means finding a place on the aircraft where the missile will fit and making sure that the two systems can communicate. Integration is extremely time and resource intensive. Both the aircraft and the missile have their own peculiarities and if you don’t get things perfect, then in the best case the missile will not launch and in the worst case it will miss the target. To simplify things, people got together about 20 years ago and wrote a document that defines integration standards for both missiles and aircraft. The document, called MIL-STD-1760, standardizes all interfaces from the shape of the connectors to operating voltages to data structures to the logic of the launch sequence. MIL-STD-1760 tries[1] to make the integration of a new missile onto an F-35 Lightning II no different than hooking up a new printer to your laptop.

Parashat Pekudei discusses the preparation of the Mishkan for initial operational capability. The last verses in the parasha describe a cloud that hung over the Mishkan that would also lead Am Yisrael through the desert during their sojourn to the Land of Israel. The rules were simple: when it was time to move, the cloud would move to a new campsite, where it would wait for Am Yisrael to arrive. The parasha – and the Book of Shemot – concludes with the following words [Shemot 40:38]: “For the cloud of Hashem was upon the Mishkan by day and fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys”. Throughout all their journeys? Not exactly. When Am Yisrael would travel, the cloud would first relocate to the new campsite. The Mishkan was taken down, packed into boxes, and Am Yisrael would walk towards the cloud. After they reached the new campsite and their journey had ended, the Mishkan was rebuilt and the cloud could return to its location “upon the Mishkan”. Throughout their journeys the cloud was never “upon the Mishkan”. Rashi resolves this inconsistency by noting that a “campsite” can also be called a “journey” (masa), as the campsite served as the starting point of the next leg of the journey. The verse should be understood as follows: “For the cloud of Hashem was upon the Mishkan by day and fire therein by night… when they camped after all their journeys”.

We are going to turn things completely upside down, starting with a comment by the Netziv of Volozhn. The Netziv notes that the cloud that hung over the Mishkan had “fire therein by night”. It sounds as if the “pillar of cloud” and the “pillar of fire” were one and the same. This contradicts an earlier verse in which Am Yisrael are fleeing from the Egyptians towards the Red Sea [Shemot 13:21-22]: “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud… and by night in a pillar of fire, so that they may go by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by not did not leave the people”. These verses make it sound like there were two pillars: a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that at dawn and at sunset the two pillars would perform a sort of “changing of the guard” ceremony. So how many pillars were there: one or two? The Netziv answers that there were two pillars at the Red Sea but over the Mishkan there was only one pillar. This pillar had a dual nature of both fire and cloud, two substances that should not be able to exist together yet somehow did.

What was the primary purpose of the Mishkan? Hashem commands Moshe [Shemot 25:8] “They shall make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst”. The Mishkan served as a conduit between Hashem and man, bringing His infinite presence into our finite world. The mere thought of such a possibility is absurd. How can the finite enclose the infinite? How can the two even interface[2]? The only way that this could occur is if there was some kind of Divine MIL-STD-1760, let’s call it “DIV-STD-1760”. This standard determines how the laws of physics and metaphysics operate in a place where the Divine and the corporeal come into contact.

The first rule of DIV-STD-1760 states that no human being can ever look at the point of interface, located between the two cherubim that stood over the Ark of the Covenant. The ark lay in the Holy of Holies, which was entered only by the Kohen Gadol, only on Yom Kippur, and only when he was accompanied by a cloud of burning incense. Further, DIV-STD-1760 suspends certain laws of physics in close proximity to the point of interface. The Talmud in Tractate Megilla [10b] teaches that in the Beit HaMikdash, the ark had a ten-cubit buffer on all sides, but was located in a room that was only twenty cubits long, meaning that the ark miraculously took up no physical space. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot [5:5] teaches that ten miracles were performed regularly in the Beit HaMikdash. For instance, a fly was never seen in the room of slaughtering, rain never extinguished the fire of the wood pile, and the wind never overpowered the pillar of smoke. Each of these miracles formed a chapter of DIV-STD-1760.

With DIV-STD-1760 in hand, let’s return to the last verse of the Book of Shemot. How many pillars were there, one or two? DIV-STD-1760 dictates that in the area of interface between the infinite and the finite, fire and water could exist together in the same physical space[3]. DIV-STD-1760 also dictates that while a person who was watching Am Yisrael travel from a distance would see them marching towards a far-off pillar, a person travelling within the camp would see a cloud hanging over the Mishkan, just like the Torah says.

There is a difference of opinion between two medieval Sages as to whether the ten miracles described in Pirkei Avot occurred in both Batei HaMikdash or only the first one. The second Beit HaMikdash stood during a time in which there was no prophecy. According to the Talmud in Tractate Yoma [21b], the second Beit HaMikdash was of a lower spiritual stature than the first Beit HaMikdash. It lacked five things that were present in the first Beit HaMikdash: the Ark of the Covenant (including the kaporet and the Cherubim), heavenly fire, the Divine Presence and the Divine Spirit, and the Urim v’Tumim through which Hashem would communicate with man. According to Rav Yitzchak ben Sheshet (Rivash), the ten miracles did not occur in the second Beit HaMikdash while according to Rav Moshe of Coucy (Tosafot Yeshanim), they did. Resolution of this disagreement is critical to us, who live in a time when the building of a third Beit HaMikdash is being seriously discussed. I suggest we look closely at the tenth miracle: “A person never said, ‘There is no room for me to stay in Jerusalem.’” Not “There was always room”, but, rather, “A person never complained that there was no room”. Even if he could not find a place to stand, he still thanked Hashem for the opportunity to be close to Him. Miraculous, indeed. This miracle was not Hashem reaching down to man, it was man reaching up to Hashem. In the third Beit HaMikdash, this will not be the tenth miracle – this will be the first miracle. In order to build our Beit HaMikdash, we must create a new interface with Hashem by refining ourselves. Only after we become a fitting receptacle for the Divine can we merit the blessing of prophet Micha [7:15] “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders.”

ere’s

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] MIL-STD-1760 facilitates integration, but it is still far from “Plug and Play”.

[2] The answer has to do with a concept called “tzimtzum”, in which Hashem, as it were, contracts His infinite presence to make room for the finite. Heady stuff.

[3] This is very reminiscent of the plague of hail, in which the Torah states that each hailstone contained fire. Perhaps this can give us insight as to the purpose of the plagues as evidence of Hashem’s intervention in our world.