Everyone remembers the iconic image of Uncle Sam from the World War I poster, pointing and proclaiming “I want you for the US army”. This stark and colorful graphic, elicited very strong emotions.
The Torah tells us “Let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within their midst.” Everyone knows the famous question: Why does it say “in their midst”, rather it should say “in it” (the temple itself)? The very next verse continues, “According to all that I will show you”…again it should’ve stated “to you”. It’s as if Hashem is telling us I want to dwell in YOU, and when I’m showing you how to build the Mishkan, I’m showing you, YOU.
Another question, why is it that the Mishkan is far and away the topic that’s given the most space in the entire Torah- all in all close to 300 verses- that are repeated at least twice, sometimes three times? Also, why should we care about the various height and width of all of the holy vessels, curtains, skins, joints, sockets, and/or the types of woods or skins used? Why is this so important for us to understand?
The Alshich says something very startling. He says that the main place that Hashem desires the resting of his Shechinah is on the human being, and not on stick and stones. In fact, Rav Avigdor Miller comments on the second verse in Genesis, “And the spirit of G-d hovered upon the waters”, Why did G-d hover upon, instead of resting on the waters?. Because G-d only rests his holy Shechinah on Jews! So we can interpret that when Hashem says: “Build for me a Mishkan”, however, I will not dwell in the Mishkan…. I will dwell in YOU.
If that is the case, why do we need to build a Mishkan at all, for what purpose? The Rabbeinu Bachya says something very extraordinary. The Mishkan is a microcosm of the universe. Man is also a microcosm of the universe. Man is known as the “small world”, which means that the Mishkan is an allegory of man. So if you can understand the Mishkan, you can understand man. Just like man has three distinct parts, the Mishkan also had three distinct areas. (I will cite just the first one, which will be more than sufficient to understand this theory). The holiest part of the Mishkan was the Holy of Holies- which contained the ark with the two tablets and the cherubim. This area was known kabbalistically as the area of the “inside hidden vessels”, the throne of G-d, where G-d himself rested on the cherubim. This corresponded to man’s power of speech, and his brain-his temple of wisdom, The Shechinah rested on him because of the tefillin that he wears on his head and his arm, which is next to his brain and his heart, which correspond to the two cherubim.
The Rabbeinu Bachya continues “from here we can understand how important is the mitzvah of wearing tefillin , and how extraordinarily powerful it is; that just like G-d’s Shechinah rests on your tefillin, YOU, when you wearing tefillin are just as important as the ark and the two cherubim. Rav Shach comments on this Rabbeinu Bachya and says; that Hashem “concentrated his Shechinah on your head”. In other words, the Mishkan is just an allegory for man. The holiness in the Mishkan is just to give us but a glimpse of how much holiness WE are capable of hosting in our entire body.
So back to our question; why do we need to build the Mishkan, if it’s just an allegory? The Ohel Yehoshua says, we know that the sum of all of the physical parts of man is 613, which are the limbs, bones and muscles. This equals the sum total of all the components of the Mishkan which was also 613! (He actually counts every one of them). So when Hashem is instructing us on all that we need to know about building the Mishkan- in reality, he is telling us all we need to know about OURSELVES. Hashem is saying: When I’m showing you the Mishkan… Im showing you, YOU, When Hashem rests his Shechinah on sticks and stones, it gives me a glimpse of how holy I can become. If a piece of blue wool, Shittim wood, or a flask of olive oil can have so much holiness, how much more holiness can I achieve?
Now we can understand why the Torah devotes so much verbiage to the Mishkan, because in essence the Mishkan is YOU! You never get tired about reading about yourself. The Mishkan teaches us about the greatness of man, that man can attain greater heights of holiness than the Mishkan, because he is an Olam Kattan, a small world. So now when we are faced with a moral dilemma or challenge, we need to imagine ourselves standing in the Holy of Holies- because Hashem wants us, and wants his Shechinah to dwell within us.