Yosef Merves
Forging New Perspectives on Jewish Identity

Parshat Pekudei: What is the Mishkan? Why do we need it?

The construction of the Mishkan is the culmination of a process that took place over a period of gathering materials and then using the materials in the construction of the different components.  This parsha begins with the accounting of the various metals used.  Since he had personally overseen the intake of all the donations for the Mishkan, Moshe wanted to make sure that he was above suspicion, so he voluntarily provided a full accounting of where every ounce of donated material had gone.  Moshe’s accounting could serve as an example for us to consider gifts received from Hashem, such as material possessions, intellectual gifts, and time.  We could hold ourselves accountable and explain to ourselves and to Hashem how we have wisely used all that we have been blessed with. But first, we have to see these gifts as a blessing.  Taking time each day to think about one of two things we are grateful for is a great way to maintain internal happiness, which we then use to drive our actions throughout the day and reflect to those around us.

Disparate parts were used to create something on a higher level, greater than the sum of the parts. The creation of the Mishkan is said to parallel the Creation of the World as a whole, and also represents the different parts of a person.  Rabbi Sampson Raphel Hirsch explains the fabrics’ color scheme as representing the four levels of man:

  1. White linen, comes from flax, which is a plant. This represents the core aspects of life, like growth, nutrition, respiration and reproduction. Man is alive in all these basic senses, just as plants are.
  2. Wool, from animals, is dyed red. This symbolizes animal life, but at its most base, elemental level – it’s the color of blood, representing instinct, desire, mobility.
  3. A third tier, a more sophisticated level of life, is represented by purple wool – a color within the red family, but a color that’s nobler, R’ Hirsch suggests, than pure red (and this might be related to the frequent connection made between purple and royalty). It symbolizes mankind’s unique ability to master desire and instinct and become a noble, moral creature.
  4. Blue wool, the color of the sky and the sea, and of all that is distant and transcendent. It represents the Divine, which is also a part of man, who was created b’Tzelem Elokim, in the image of God.

The Mishkan was regularly taken apart and rebuilt, just like we sometimes need to break ourselves down and reconstruct ourselves.  In our world, the focus is constantly on promoting the self and constantly infusing oneself with more, but it can also be healthy though to take a step back and give of yourself and to allow another person in. A cup full of oneself has no room for anyone else, so we pour some of ourselves out to make room for another. We become a spring of water, rather than a stagnant cesspool.  One of the foundational aspects of Judaism is chesed, our inheritance from Abraham. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out how this is exemplified in the Mishkan with all the donations being brought, until Moshe tells the people to stop bringing materials, they have sufficient supplies. This giving allows everyone to have a role in the construction, a true communal effort.

As any human resources professional knows, completing the task requires having the right team of people.  Aaron and his sons become the Kohanim to serve in the Mishkan, and the Mishkan was built under the leadership of Betzalel the grandson of Chur, who was killed for opposing the Golden Calf.  The Mishkan serves as atonement for their respective roles, in the Golden Calf.  Aaron represented love and peace, and he hoped to build the Calf in a method to appease the people and prevent them from sinning further.  Chur was the representation of justice and he gave his life to stop the people from sinning.  Neither style of leadership was successful alone, but together both were important in building the Jewish nation.

Because Chur gave his life, Hashem rewarded his family by giving Bezalel special insights to actualize the vision of the Mishkan. An example was being able to determine the intention with which all the donations to the Mishkan were given.  While the planks of wood forming the Mishkan’s walls were identical in size, Betzalel was able to determine which ones were given with the most love for Hashem, and those planks were placed closest to the Holy of Holies, while ones that were given with less pure intention were placed further away.  These planks were arranged in the exact same order every single time that the Mishkan was assembled and disassembled in the desert. Everything made for the Mishkan was eternal and never replaced and never captured, living on through the generations because of the love and care of everyone who constructed it.

When the Mishkan is finally erected, Aaron is still allowed to serve as the Kohen Gadol, even after the incident of Golden Calf, and his descendants remain Kohanim eternally.  Our failures are part of who we are but they don’t define us, and they should not distract us from achieving our goals, purpose, and mission. Just because we hit a bump in the road doesn’t mean we should lose sight of where we are going. Just as no mistake was made in the Creation of the Mishkan and all instructions were carried out down to the last detail, no mistakes were made when each of us was born.  We were also created according to Hashem’s specifications, imbued with certain attributes and characteristics, made from particular materials, and given certain tools for the purpose of serving Hashem. We can also imbue ourselves with holiness and sanctity and become manifestations of the Divine Presence.  Rather than one central Mishkan, we are now each an individual Mishkan, participating in our unique Divine Service.  Everyday is a new challenge, but also a new opportunity, for us to make choices, and take steps closer to greatness and fulfilling our purpose.

About the Author
Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox/Conservadox home in Miami, FL, Yosef first started to increase his Jewish knowledge while learning at Boston University. Afterward, he lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side for several years and was an active member of several shuls, including Manhattan Jewish Experience where he completed the Fellowship program. He spent the last two years studying full-time at Machon Shlomo in Har Nof, Jerusalem and now resides in New Jersey. He always had a strong Jewish identity and wants to encourage others to build and strengthen theirs as well.
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