Summary from last week: 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.
We all tend to think that the idea of a dwelling-place for the Shechinah is not “reality.” Hashem is omnipresent, we say, and nothing exists beyond that.
One can believe in a G-d, thinking that there are no ramifications of that fact in his personal life. And one can believe in a G-d where there ARE consequences: “I am Hashem… Who has taken you out of Mitzrayim, to be unto you a L-rd…” We obey His commands, and try to fulfill His will.
But there is a higher-plane relationship. “And I will dwell amongst Bnei Yisroel… and they shall know that I am Hashem your L-rd who has taken you out of Mitzrayim in order that I dwell amongst you” (Shemos 30:44, 45). There is clearly a higher purpose for Yetzias Mitzrayim! Not just obedience to Hashem, but in order that Hashem BE amongst you. Not a King on high, delivering orders, benign though they be. But a King — right over there!
Rema (siman 1 in Shulchan Aruch) writes: “A person’s conduct, and mannerisms, and how he busies himself, is not the same if he is alone as when he is in the presence of a great and powerful King. The way one speaks, and reacts, is not the same when amongst one’s friends as when one is sitting with the King. And when one has a sense that Hashem is actually standing right by him, seeing what He does from close-up, he will immediately be filled with awe and embarrassment and humility, and act accordingly.”
In Devarim 23:15, the possuk warns against doing “evil things” in a camp of war, a Jewish army camp. The possuk says, “Because Hashem your L-rd goes amongst you to save you from your enemies, and thus your camp must be holy.” As the Ramban there explains, Hashem is there, doing battle with and for you! Take care you don’t chase Him away! And the Ramban explains that this is over and beyond the basic violation of whatever prohibition itself we are dealing with. It is a sin of “in your face,” since He is right there!
Ramban takes this a step further (Shemos 30:1): the Torah first tells Moshe Rabbeinu about the making of the Golden Altar, the Altar upon which the incense in the Mishkan was burned, at the end of Parshas Tetzaveh, after the bigdei kehunah are detailed, after the inauguration ceremonies of the Mishkan are commanded; only then come the details of making the Golden Altar. Why? Doesn’t it belong in Parshas Terumah, along with all of the other keilim of the Mishkan? Sforno and Ramban both state the same idea in answering: The mizbach haketores was NOT there to be a channel through which the Shechinah would come to dwell in the Mishkan. Rather, the unique avodah of the ketores was to honor Hashem with this special avodah (one involving only the sense of smell, which the Gemara in Brachos describes as ruchni, as ruchni as a davar gashmi is ever likely to get, as indeed there is no actual physical benefit), to honor the already-present Shechinah. It is an avodah of paying homage to the Presence, not a creation of a channel to bring it. Thus it follows the completion of the Mishkan and all its aspects.
Thus far, the Ramban’s and Sforno’s explanation. The Ramban then goes a bit further — we find that when Hashem’s presence is manifest, a different behavior is demanded of us (as per Ramban in Devarim, cited above, and as per Rema, cited above); but this cuts both ways. For when that occurs, our behavior must be more exacting, more careful, more spiritual. For where there lies more opportunity, there lies more responsibility. Thus, Ramban cryptically states (and we now have the key to understanding him), the ketores is matched against the middas hadin, and we find in Chazal that it is offered when the middas hadin is unleashed.
Sforno at the end of Parshas Tetzaveh makes the point that he makes at greater length in Vayikra (11:2), i.e., that each and every one of us are the real dwelling places of Hashem. How?
Ramban in the beginning of Terumah explains the “secret,” or inner meaning, of the Mishkan. He says there that it is a re-creation of Hashem “coming down” to dwell in this world through the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. The Glory of Hashem’s presence, shown through the gathered Clouds of Glory at the Giving of the Torah, were reproduced in the Mishkan, as “the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.” The “voice” that rang out at Har Sinai, talking to Bnei Yisroel, revealing its will, is reproduced and replicated by “and Moshe heard the voice speaking with him…” The Ramban goes on to enumerate many other similarities, and concludes that the Mishkan is the constant mini-Har-Sinai of Bnei Yisroel.
But it is really YOU. And I. As the Nefesh Hachaim explains: Hashem really resides within all of us, as our neshamos share a common characteristic — that of pure ruchniyus. We are the Mishkan of the spirit of Hashem, and it is our task to actualize Hashem’s presence (i.e. ruchniyus) in this gashmi world (see the Malbim, beginning of Terumah, where he shows the amazing parallels between a person’s body and the physical keilim of the Mishkan: the head — Aron; the eyes — Menorah; nose — mizbach ketores; the mouth — shulchan with lechem hapanim; and the stomach and digestive system — the mizbe’ach which consumed the korbanos). We do this through the Torah, the revealed spirituality of the physicality of this world. When we cannot actualize that spirit, we build a Mishkan to show us its presence. And, sadly, when that, too, fails, when we cannot even be the guardians of Hashem’s presence in that fashion, we are indeed bereft of the clear presence of Hashem, and make do with conceptualizing it, as per the Rema, cited above.
Chazak chazak, venischazek!