Food For the Soul
What is the connection between the Jews travelling forward and the establishment of the Tabernacle in the desert? This information would seem to be more appropriate later in the book of Numbers when it describes in great detail the various travels of the people of Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Secondly, the verse implies that the Jews’ march toward the Land of Israel is specifically connected to the Divine Presence, leaving their camp in the desert. Only when “the cloud lifted” do “the Israelites set out.” Why is this so?
Chasidic thought answers both of these questions. It understands the Tabernacle to be a paradigm for all of the world. What dynamic is at play behind the timing of the Jewish people’s journeys? One answer is that there is no great spiritual accomplishment in fulfilling the Divine Will at a time when G-d’s Presence is revealed and manifest. The ultimate goal of existence is to rise up and connect to holiness, even when it is hidden and concealed from us. The Midrash tells us that G‑d desired a “dwelling place for Himself in the lower worlds.” But relative to G‑d, is there truly an upper or lower world? His realm is infinite.
We can now understand that when G‑d’s cloud was found among the Jewish people and His Presence was revealed, then the material world ceased to be “lowly.” It is only when the cloud of G‑d raises itself higher and higher, and His Divine Light is no longer revealed, can we begin the spiritual fulfilling of G‑d’s design. And the Tabernacle bestows upon the Jewish people the strength and faculties to bring holiness into the world, the ultimate purpose of Creation.
This is an extremely relevant message for us all at this time in Jewish history. There is a darkness that rests on the world, necessitating our best efforts, even more than before, to engage in the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvot. We must understand that our ultimate goal and purpose is to illuminate that darkness with the light of the Torah. Just as the disappearance of the Divine cloud from the Tabernacle became the sign to proceed forward, so, too, should today’s conflicts encourage and arouse us to dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of G‑d’s mission, which is to journey past this era and into the Messianic era of the complete and full redemption.
From an article by Rabbi Shraga Sherman
Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai and Hachodesh
This week we finish the reading of the book of Exodus (Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai – Exodus 35:1-40:38). According to Rabbi Shraga Sherman it is “also known in the commentaries as the Book of Redemption because of its description of the people of Israel leaving Egypt. This second book of the Torah concludes by describing the establishment and dedication of the Tabernacle [Mishkan] and, most importantly, the revelation of G‑d’s Divine Presence within it.”
In addition, this Shabbat, we read “Hachodesh” (Exodus 12:1-20), which recounts G-d’s historic communication to Moses in Egypt on the 1st of Nissan (2 weeks before the Exodus) regarding the Jewish calendar, the month of Nissan and the Passover offering.
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Mind Over Matter
Diversity and Strength
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: When you find someone different from you, seek that which you are lacking. There are no weak people, no people who are a burden on society. Certainly, no worthless people. There are only many different kinds of people, each with their own unique contribution. And that is good. Because endless diversity is a sign of a deep, underlying unity. And unity is strength.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
A Place of Holiness Even in the Desert
The sanctuary was built in the desert, and it traveled with the Jewish people in all their journeys through the wilderness. This emphasizes the important principle that it is possible to establish a place of holiness even in a desert. Thus, even in a wasteland and wilderness, Jews have the ability to build a mishkan, a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among them in general, and within every individual in particular. Just as there is a physical desert, so too there is a spiritual desert which is governed by the most harmful ideas, by desolation and emptiness in matters of Torah and mitzvot. The latter may exist even in a land that is, physically speaking, a blooming garden. The Torah thus teaches us that when we find ourselves in such a spiritual wasteland, we can-and must-establish a sanctuary. Moreover, we can-and must-carry it forward, following in the “footsteps” of the Divine Presence, as it were, until we reach the Divinely blessed Holy Land, i.e., the true and complete redemption by Moshiach!
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The Inside-Out House
Shortly after the Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Horodok (1730? -1788) arrived in the Holy Land, it happened that a man climbed the Mount of Olives and sounded a shofar (ram’s horn). A rumour quickly spread that the shofar’s call heralded the arrival of Moshiach. When word of this reached Rabbi Mendel, he threw the windows wide open and sniffed the air. He then sadly closed the windows and remarked, “I don’t smell Moshiach.”
In retelling this story, Chassidim have often asked: why did Rabbi Mendel need to open the window to sniff the air outside to know if Moshiach had arrived? Why couldn’t he smell the air in his own room? Rabbi Mendel—they would explain—was sniffing the air to determine if the hallmark of the messianic era, the revealed manifestation of the Divine, was present. He, therefore, sniffed the outside air, for within his room, the Divine was already present!
This story sheds light on an exchange, recorded in the Talmud, between Moses and Betzalel, Moses’ chief architect for the building of the Tabernacle. Moses summoned Betzalel and relayed G‑d’s instructions for building the Tabernacle. First, he laid out the measurements of the sacred vessels that would inhabit the Tabernacle, and then the dimensions of the Tabernacle itself. Betzalel, the prototype architect, objected to the order. “As a rule,” he argued, “a person first builds a residence and then makes its furniture.” Moses conceded the point and exclaimed, “Indeed, you stood in G-d’s shadow and understood his intention.”
What is the underlying principle of the different perspectives on the Tabernacle expressed by Moses and Betzalel? The purpose of the tabernacle, and the temple that followed it, was to establish a domain for G‑d within the physical space of our world.
When G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai, his presence was overwhelming, and the people could not withstand the sheer intensity of the experience. They were physically thrown back from the mountain and G‑d dispatched angels to lead them back. Their souls expired from the spiritual intensity, and G‑d nursed them back to life.
After the Sinai experience, it was clear that the people could not be exposed to a direct revelation of G‑d’s presence. G‑d instructed them to build a special chamber instead, where his unrestricted presence would be manifest. Only the worthy, such as the high priest, would access this sacred chamber; but its aura would affect those outside. The environment outside the chamber was yet incapable of supporting a direct revelation of divinity. However, with effort and commitment, revelation could, over time, be made possible. According to our prophets, this will be accomplished in the messianic era when there will be a direct revelation of G‑dliness throughout the world.
The work that makes this possible is diligent study of Torah and the practice of its commandments. This regular diet of divinity gradually purifies our worldly environment and lifts the universal veil. We are closing in on the utopia of direct revelation that will be manifest in the messianic era. When G‑d first instructed that the tabernacle be constructed, he envisioned this utopia. He anticipated a day when the divinity within the sacred chamber would expand to envelop the entire nation and when the human eye would see G‑d and not be overwhelmed by the experience.
Moses, a G‑dly man, envisioned this utopia as well. Gazing out upon the world, he ignored its imperfections and saw only its divine potential. His mandate was to expose the “outside” world gradually to the divine presence on the “inside,” and he wished to accelerate the process. By building the Holy Ark before the walls that would enclose it, he hoped to offer to the “outside” a glimpse of its own capacity and thereby activate its potential. Betzalel, the architect, was a realist with the patience of a man accustomed to long-term goals. The environment on the outside was not prepared to host the Divine presence just yet. It would require centuries of gentle coaxing, committed coaching and tireless training.
Moses was the visionary; Betzalel the realist. Moses’ vision inspired confidence in the project; Betzalel’s realism made it possible. We pray for the day that Moses’ vision becomes Betzalel’s reality.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow