Alexander I. Poltorak
Alexander I. Poltorak

Sanctuaries in Space and Time

Mishkan (public domain)

This Shabbat was Shabbat HaChodesh—the Shabbat on which, in addition to the weekly Torah portion (this Shabbat it was Vayakhel-Pikudei), we read the Torah portion HaChodesh. What is the connection between the readings of Vayakhel and HaChodesh?

To understand the connection of Parashat (Torah Portion) HaChodesh and Parashat Vayakhel, we first need to understand a contradiction we find the Parashat Vayakhel itself.

The narrative of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle—traveling Sanctuary) is repeated in the Torah three times—first in Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1–27:19)and then twice in Parashat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1–38:20).However, the third time it is merely an ex post facto recount of what has been done, as per Moses’ instruction. The first two narratives are instructions—first God’s instructions to Moses, followed by Moses’s instructions to the Jewish people—how to build the Mishkan. We find, however, that when God instructed Moses, as recorded in the Parashat Terumah, he first told Moses how to build the Mishkan, and then He instructed Moses about the commandment to keep Shabbat. When Moses repeats these instructions in the Parashat Vaykhel to the Jewish people, he curiously reverses the order—he first instructed them to keep Shabbat and only then proceeded to tell them how to build the Mishkan. Why this change in order?

Mishkan is a temple of God in space—it is a place where Divine Presence, the Shechinah, rests. Shabbat is also a temple of God, but in time—it is the day when Divine Presence is revealed. In Kabbalistic lore, both—Shabbat and Shechinah—manifest the seventh Sefirah, the Sefirah of Malchut.

We are quite familiar with space—we move freely in space back and forth; we concur space on land and beyond; we reclaim land from sea; we turn deserts into gardens; we turn desolated space into sprawling cities. We are, on the other hand, helpless in the face of time. We cannot move freely in time. We can’t move back in time. We are swept forward in the inexorable flow of time. We do not understand time; we cannot change it. We are masters of land, but not of time. It is for this reason, when God instructed Moses how to build a sanctuary for Himself, He could not have started with time—we would have not the faintest idea what it meant—a sanctuary of God in time—let alone how to do it. That is why God started with space, instructing Moses how to build the Mishkan—a Sanctuary in space—first. Only then He commanded Moses about Shabbat.

Having learned how to build the Sanctuary in space, Moses knew how to build it in time.  Time is the negation of space. Space is stability, whereas time is the lack of stability—the relentless change. Understanding these, Moses knew exactly how to build the sanctuary for God in time—whatever the Jewish people would do to build the Mishkan, would be exactly what not to do on Shabbat, because Shabbat is a Mishkan in reverse. If they lit fire to melt gold for the Mishkan, on Shabbat, they could not light fire on Shabbat. If they weaved tapestries for the Mishkan, they could not weave on Shabbat. Shabbat, a sanctuary in time, is  the reverse of Mishkan—the sanctuary in space. This explains why God had to instruct how to build the Mishkan first.

Moses, having already learned how to keep Shabbat, taught this commandment first to Jewish people to stress the importance of time. And this is the connection with Parashat HaChodesh.

In that Torah portion, the Jewish people are given their first mitzvah—the first Divine commandment. It was the commandment of marking Rosh Chodesh—the New Moon, the commandment to count time. It is not coincidental that the very first commandment given to the Jewish people was the commandment of keeping time. It represents the fact that holiness is embedded in time and every moment we are given the unique opportunity to reveal that holiness into the world. This is the very purpose of our existence—the existence in time—to reveal the hidden holiness of each moment. If we utilize the moment properly—to learn Torah, to do a mitzvhah, to help another person, or do something good and productive—we fulfill our mission by uncovering the hidden holiness in that moment. If not, it was a lost opportunity never to return again, a lost moment never to repeat. To emphasize the primacy of time, Moses gave this instruction first—to stress that only by revealing the holiness in time can we build a sanctuary in space—one moment at a time.

Furthermore, we build the sanctuary for God not only in space in our souls, as it says:

Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them (Exodus 25:8)

In “them” not in “it.” Commentaries note that this is a hint that God ultimately finds His sanctuary in the Jewish soul. How do we build this sanctuary? By utilizing the hidden potential, by uncovering the hidden holiness of every moment—one moment at a time.

Originally published on

About the Author
Dr. Alexander Poltorak is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In the past, he served as Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Globe Institute for Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.
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