For those who take their shnayim mikra v’echad targum seriously, a shanah me’uberes gives the opportunity to thoroughly review Terumah and Tetzaveh — the sedros about the Mishkan — by having Vayakhel (corresponding to Terumah) and Pekudei (corresponding to Tetzaveh) be separate. This week we read Vayakhel, allowing us to legitimately explore the meanings of the Mishkan, in case we missed it the first time around.
The Medrash explains the Mishkan in the following fashion: A King had an only daughter. A king from a different kingdom came and won her hand in marriage. He soon wanted to go back to his kingdom with his wife. The father of the princess said to him, “This girl — my daughter, your wife — is my only child. I cannot bear to be separated from her. But of course I cannot tell you to leave her here, as you now are married. Therefore, do this for me, please: wherever you go, wherever you live, make me a small annex that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter.” So, too, continues the Medrash, Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to Yisroel, “I have given you my Torah. I cannot bear to be separated from it. To tell you to leave it in shamayim is likewise impossible. Rather, wherever you go, make Me a house to live in”; and this gives rise to the Mishkan.
How are we to understand the nimshal? It seems as if Hashem “fears” being separated from His Torah! This is actually not as unfathomable as it sounds. We are quite familiar with two forms that this disassociation can take. One is in the realm of our learning Torah; the other, in performing its commands. One can learn Torah and sever it from the Ribbono Shel Olam by studying it as an intellectual exercise, without having its teachings permeate one’s heart and soul. One can learn the Torah and not see it as a stepping stone to “know Hashem.” Although we are learning Toras Hashem, into which He has poured His chochmah, and in a certain sense, His essence (k’vayochol ,so to speak), we run the risk of having it become what the Talmud describes as a “sahm hamaves,” a poisonous potion, extracting cleverness and legalities, and nothing of the spiritual.
And one can perform mitzvos yet remain untouched by holiness or sanctity, going-through-the-motions, being frum, even overly “frum,” but being a cold, cynical, myopic person, with nothing truly G-d-like in his or her life! This phenomenon is the reason the Chovos Halevavos wrote his sefer. The performance of mitzvos, he says, was quickly becoming a matter of rote and ritual, eviscerating those actions of anything deep or sublime.
Chances are that the reader keeps Shabbos. But how often have you thought on Shabbos about how it was Hashem Who created the world, that it was created by a Higher Being, for a higher purpose other than just living our mundane lives? There must be some point to it all, no? Stop, think, reflect! It’s not all cholent and sleeping! And we haven’t begun to discuss the meaning of Shabbos as per Parshas Va’eschanan, where the Aseres Hadibros assert the connection of Shabbos to Yetzias Mitzrayim; or the message of trust and faith in Hashem taught by Shabbos in Parshas Beshalach, in the parshas hamahn. Yet week after week goes by, Shabbos after Shabbos. Tefillin, taking challah, eating matzah, the mezuzah we so fervently kiss — what exactly are we kissing? (The answer is NOT something that guards us, which is what most people think mezuzah is all about.)
So you see, you can emasculate the Torah from its Hashem-essence! What a tragedy! And yet Hashem must “run that risk,” as He has given the Torah to humans, who are prone to these weaknesses. That is what the Medrash is saying with its mashal. The Mishkan’s primary purpose was, and is, to safeguard the Torah, keeping the Torah from becoming, chalilah, an empty shell of intellectual dialectic, or of barren ritual. By building this “room” for Hashem, we keep His presence amongst us, uppermost in our heart, mind, and soul. And after all, what is the focus of this bayis laShem? The kodoshei kodoshim, the aron, the luchos in that Aron. Torah, nestled, as it were, in the midst of Hashem’s house.
The Nefesh Hachaim, the famous work of Rav Chaim Volozhin, talmid of the Gra, utilizes sha’ar 4 to discuss the preciousness of Torah, its grandeur and majesty, and its primary place in the scheme of this world. How learning Torah and knowledge of Torah is the highest purpose in one’s life. Yet he, too, bemoans those who would learn Torah without being properly steeped in yiras Hashem, which the Gemara itself describes as the safeguard to Torah.
Now, let us see a Sforno, who makes an essential point which enables us to come full circle. He states (Vayikra 11:2) that before the Golden Calf, a person in Klal Yisroel was able to be fully engaged with Hashem, and be the “place” where the Shechinah would rest. And that is the deeper meaning of the posuk in Shemos 20: “In any place where My name is mentioned (i.e., where the Ribbono Shel Olam is a real and palpable presence), I will thereupon come and bless you.” No Mishkan is necessary, no Beis Hamikdash, no keilim in the Mishkan (which are the conduit through which the Shechinah is filtered into this world). None of this was necessary! The person himself was able to embody a spiritual essence. After the eigel this became, sadly, impossible. And Hashem ordered Klal Yisroel to build a Mishkan, so that there would be at least one central location where this ideal would be manifested. And this has the capabilities to put Klal Yisroel on a spiritual pedestal, worthy of having k’vod Hashem resting among them.
And so we have the following elements: The dwelling place of the Shechinah is but an accompaniment to the Torah, with the Torah representing Klal Yisroel’s “other half” (the “ruchni” side). We must have an area “for Hashem” to maintain His constant presence so as not to sever that connection between Hashem and His Torah. That area could have and should have been Klal Yisroel themselves. In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, they had to create a specific “outside” place.
Im yirtzeh Hashem, next week, we will pull all these pieces together and try to see how all this impacts our lives in a very real way.