The first 11 chapters of the Bible (in the first book of the Bible, Bereshiet) describe the creation of the universe, the creation of the Earth, the fall of man, the pre-flood civilization and its destruction, the flood, the covenant made with Noah, and the beginning of the Jewish people starting with the call of Abraham.
There are, by comparison, 50 chapters that describe God’s dwelling place on Earth. Almost half of the book of Exodus (the second book) is filled with the story of the Desert Temple, called the Mishkan. So, by comparison, there obviously must be much that is important, and a lot of lessons to be learned from the Mishkan.
The first idea that I want to discuss is the concept that God took the initiative to dwell in the Mishkan. It was not the Jewish people’s idea. It was not Moses’ idea. It was God’s idea. God took up residence in the Mishkan for 400 years.
Then Solomon made the First Temple in Jerusalem and the Shechinah dwelt there. God dwelt in the First Temple, that Solomon built and was destroyed by the Babylonians. God dwelt in the Second Temple that was rebuilt by Zeruvavel and enlarged and beautified by Herod.
G-d has always taken the initiative to dwell on Earth. God took the initiative to dwell with the first humans in the garden of Eden when He came to Earth to walk in the garden in the cool of the day.
The Mishkan was necessary so that God might dwell among His people. Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I might dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).
MATERIALS OF THE MISHKAN AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
Silver Redemption, redemption money
Shittim Wood, Acacia Wood, Nations are compared to trees.
White Linen Purity, robes of righteousness, the righteous deeds of God’s people
Blue The color of the sky, of Heaven
Purple The color of royalty
Scarlet Blood, Sacrifice
Oil The Shechinah (female side of G-d’s presence)
We move from bronze to gold the closer we get to God. The metals for the outer court were silver and bronze. Moving into the Holy Place the metals were silver and gold. Finally in the Most Holy Place, the Kiporet, the actual place where God manifested Himself, was made of pure gold. There was a progression from bronze to silver to gold, from judgment to redemption to the presence of God.
To an outside observer the Mishkan itself might not seem very impressive. He would see the white linen surrounding the outer court. He would see the outer covering on the top of the Holy Place made of porpoise skin. The Mishkan looked bland from outside, but beautiful and full of meaning from the inside.
THE ARON (ARK)
There was only one piece of furniture in the Kodesh HaKodashim. It is also called the Aron, which means Ark. It was a box with a special lid on it. Most people start building their dwelling place with the house plan in mind. Then they add the furniture. Not with G-d and the Mishkan! If you read the account of the design and building of the Mishkan, G-d started with the Ark first, the very center where His Presence would be manifest on Earth, then the rest of the Mishkan followed from there. The lesson is that if we put God in the very center of our lives, everything else will fall into place. Leave God out, or put Him last, and we will find that things just won’t come out right.
The Second Idea I want to discuss is Public vs. Private Participation
One Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 34:1) attributes the plural verb to the communal nature of the Torah which the Ark represents
For all the other pieces of furniture a Singular verb is used, VE’ASITA (to make) the utensils but
“Why does it say VE’ASITA with regards to all the [other] utensils, while with regards to the ark it says VE’ASU?(Plural)
R. Yehudah bar Shalom said: G-d said to [Moshe], Let everyone participate in making the Ark so that they will all deserve the Torah.”
Another Midrash (Tanhuma VaYaqhel 8) explains that the use of a plural verb denies any single Israelite a greater share in the study of Torah than another.
Rabbi Hayyim ibn Attar in his commentary Or Hahayyim suggests that the Ark, as the repository of the Torah, requires the participation of all Israel more so than any other utensil or furnishing because the Torah, in its entirety, can only be fulfilled collectively, through the participation of all Israel; no individual Jew can fulfill it all.
To not disappoint my readers, I close with a short story
A Mourner’s Lament
As Leah is visiting her late father’s grave in the Beth Israel Cemetery, she passes a woman who is sobbing and wailing at another grave. Leah can easily hear that the woman is saying, “Oh why, oh why did you die? Why did you have to die?”
After paying her respects to her father, Leah is leaving the cemetery when she passes the sobbing woman again. She is still wailing, “Why, oh why did you have to die?”
Leah feels pity for this woman and walks over to try to comfort her. “Pardon me, I hope you don’t mind me coming over, but I heard your cries of pain and anguish. I assume the deceased was a relative of yours?”
“No she’s not,” says the other woman, “in fact I never met her before.”
“Then why are you so sad?” asks Leah. “Who was she?”
“My husband’s first wife,” replies the woman