Inner Sanctum

weekly Torah reading: parasha Terumah 5783

 “The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.” – Exodus 26:33, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant with the tablets rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim, the Holy of Holies (Most Holy). The cover was designed with two golden cherubim with their wings spanning the breadth of the Ark. The Holy of Holies was separated by the paroches – a veil – a finely embroidered curtain that was placed between the holiest place where the Ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, and the Kadosh (Holy Place), where the menorah, showbread table and copper incense mizbeach (altar) were located.

Yet, Torah also points us in the direction of making ourselves a sanctuary for H’Shem’s Presence, according to the pasuk (verse), “Make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Therefore, let us consider, that we need to clear away a space inside of ourselves, in order to invite H’Shem to dwell within us.

By preparing ourselves to receive H’Shem’s Presence, through the kedushah (holiness) that we acquire by sanctifying our lives, we remove ourselves from the realm of unholiness. Then, within our inner sanctum, the “holy of holies” of our soul, where only each one of us alone may enter, we may find H’Shem in the solace of a quiet refuge.

Psalm 61: A Refuge in Exile

A Refuge in Exile: reflections on Psalm 61

It is interesting to note, that David’s flight into exile parallels the exiles of the Jewish people. Even today, during the current exile, we can learn from his words, in regard to the challenges that we face. For, we are indeed in exile, inasmuch that the Third Temple has yet to be built. So, even though, Israel has been a recreated state since 1948, many Jews still live outside of Israel in other countries around the world. The ingathering is not yet complete.

So, we may say with David, “May I take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalms 61:5). Because, no matter where we live, the Shechinah, H’Shem’s Presence will be a refuge for the righteous. As is written elsewhere, “For He concealeth me in His pavilion in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of his tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock” (Psalms 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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Insights on the Mishkan

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayakhel 5782

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the L-RD.” – Exodus 35:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before giving the commandment to B’nei Yisrael, concerning the terumah (offerings) that are to be brought (silver, gold, and various materials for the building of the Mishkan, a free will offering from the heart of each and every individual), H’Shem instructs Moshe to remind the B’nei Yisrael about Shabbat.

The juxtaposition of the commandment to observe Shabbos, with the commandment, concerning the construction of the Mishkan is significant. As holy as the project of the Mishkan is, the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the sanctity (holiness) of Shabbos; therefore, even work on the Mishkan was prohibited on the Sabbath.

Additionally, the Shabbos points toward acknowledgment of H’Shem, Who created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, belief in a H’Shem is primary; and, perhaps, by implication, a greater imperative than the construction of the Mishkan. That is the essence of what is truly necessary: first, a belief in the existence of G-d; then, a desire to draw near to Him through our avodah (service).

Although the Mishkan was the officially prescribed way to serve H’Shem, through the bringing of offerings, today the main way to do so is through the service of the heart (prayer). Prayer may be enacted on a communal basis, as well as a personal level – external aspects of prayer, and an internal heartfelt connection to H’Shem, that strengthens the inner dimension of our soul.

Our ultimate avodah (service) reflects the purpose of the Mishkan, inasmuch that we are to make ourselves into a temple for His Presence, for this is implied in the commandment, “let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among [within] them” (Exodus 25:8, JPS). The Mishkan serves as a dwelling-place for H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah, and is a model for us as vessels for the Shechinah, too.

poem: Seeking Refuge

Despite the explosions nearby,

they daven as usual at shul;

a staunch commitment to the Almighty,

in the face of adversity and ruin.

And, the presence of the Shechinah,

who shelters all who seek refuge under her wings;

will guarantee protection to those on the bimah,

and amongst the congregation otherwise serene.

For, neither war, nor the chaos that might ensue,

will damage the spirit of the truly pious;

sending our hopes Above, into the azure blue,

our heartfelt prayers to Whom we trust.

Nothing will shake the faith of the soul,

who aspires to dream beyond what appears bleak;

everything is possible, as silence reveals the toll,

of redemption, soon at hand for the meek.

The Mishkan & Creation

parashas Vayakhel 5782

“And He hath filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, in understanding, and in all manner of workmanship.” – Exodus 35:31 JPS, 1917 Tanach

Moshe assembled B’nei Yisrael, reiterating what H’Shem had commanded to him, while on Mount Sinai, to speak to them that they bring an offering – willingly from the heart – to contribute materials to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Bezalel is chosen by H’Shem to oversee the entire project, that would amount to a great artistic endeavor; moreover, Bezalel is endowed by H’Shem with the Spirit of G-d (Ruach Elokim), in wisdom (chochmah), in understanding (binah), and in knowledge (da’as)” (Exodus 35:31).

The Talmud notes in Berachos 55a that these same qualities were used by H’Shem to create the Heavens and Earth (see also Proverbs 3:19-20). This comparison points towards the idea that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself is a reflection of Heaven on Earth. H’Shem’s Presence (the Shechinah) dwelt in the Mishkan between the two golden Cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where H’Shem spoke to Moshe; in this sense, the Mishkan encapsulated a smaller rendering of H’Shem’s Glory in Shomayim (Heaven), where, according to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10:1), H’Shem is surrounded by Cherubim.

In consideration of the designation of the Mishkan as a place where the Shechinah would dwell, it is all the more understandable why its master craftsman was endowed with the same qualities that H’Shem used to create the Heavens and Earth: a microcosm of the whole (Akeidut Yitzchak), the Mishkan required more than artistic capabilities; rather, it called for divine intuition, in regard to making patterns found in the Heavenly Realm. That may be the reason that the most-used color of various components of the Mishkan was blue, denoting a similarity to “the sea that resembles Heaven, and Heaven resembles the Throne of Glory,” as mentioned in the Talmud, tractate Menachos 43a, based on Exodus 1:24, and Ezekiel 1:26.

“The L-RD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew.”

 – Proverbs 3:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Take for Me

parashas Terumah 5782

“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.

The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance, as is written elsewhere.

For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).

Inner Sanctum

parashas Terumah 5782

 “The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.” – Exodus 26:33, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant with the tablets rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim, the Holy of Holies (Most Holy). The cover was designed with two golden cherubim with their wings spanning the breadth of the Ark. The Holy of Holies was separated by the paroches – a veil – a finely embroidered curtain that was placed between the holiest place where the Ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, and the Kadosh (Holy Place), where the menorah, showbread table and copper incense mizbeach (altar) were located.

“Who shall ascend to the mountain of the L-RD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” – Psalm 24:3-4, JPS

Yet, Torah also points us in the direction of making ourselves a sanctuary for H’Shem’s Presence, according to the pasuk (verse), “Make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Therefore, let us consider, that we need to clear away a space inside of ourselves, in order to invite H’Shem to dwell within us. By preparing ourselves to receive H’Shem’s Presence, through the kedushah (holiness) that we acquire by sanctifying our lives, we remove ourselves from the realm of unholiness. Then, within our inner sanctum, the “holy of holies” of our soul, where only each one of us alone may enter, we may find H’Shem in the solace of a quiet refuge.

“Rest in the L-rd, and wait patiently for him.” – Psalm 37:7

His Presence

parashas Terumah 5782

“That I may dwell among (within) them:”

“It does not say ‘within it,’ which means that the place that G-d will sanctify to dwell there is within the children of Israel that encircle the Tabernacle with four banners.”

– commentary, Or HaChayim; sefaria.org

The key element of this rendering is based upon the translation of the Hebrew shoresh (root word) תוך, as “within,” instead of the usual translation of the word as “among.” This shift in the use of prepositions changes the intent of the pasuk (verse) to a more personalist expression, having to do with making ourselves dwelling-places for the Shechinah (G-d’s Presence). According to Or Ha-Me’ir, a Chassidic sage who sat the Maggid’s table, this is precisely what encompasses our avodah, namely that we should focus on preparing ourselves to be fit vessels for G-d’s Presence (Speaking Torah Vol. 1).

Elsewhere, the understanding is conveyed that if it were not for the sin of the golden calf, B’nei Yisrael would have continued to have a direct connection to G-d, so that the building of the mishkan would not have been necessary. How may this be understood within the framework of making ourselves dwelling places? It is as if to say that, initially, that task would have been already accomplished through the spiritual cleansing of B’nei Yisrael. After passing through the Sea of Reeds, the forty-nine day tikkun (rectification) that had already begun, from the time that they left Egypt, continued up until the day of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Yet, with the sin of the golden calf, our forebears fell from their lofty status.

The actual Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was built, so that G-d’s presence could indeed dwell amongst the people, within the encampment of the twelve tribes of Jacob around the Mishkan. G-d’s presence in the mikdash (sanctuary) was hidden from the eyes of the people; although, the Cloud of Glory that hovered over the Mishkan was visible to the people; this was an external manifestation of the Shechinah. Yet, the ultimate intent of the commandment, to foster our own sanctity, so that we ourselves become a sanctuary for His Presence, remains intact, as the more challenging task gradually over time as a tikkun, because this requires our own efforts at self-improvement to the degree that we become fit dwelling-places for the Shechinah.

The Sheltering Presence

dvar for Sukkot 5782

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the L-RD.” – Leviticus 23:34, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are commanded to dwell in sukkoth (booths) for a seven-day period, as a commemoration of our dwelling in sukkoth –temporary structures –while wandering in the desert for forty years. During this time spent travelling from one place to another, the Children of Israel were protected by the Clouds of Glory that sheltered them from the heat of the day; the Pillar of Fire at night provided illumination for B’nei Yisrael, as well as warmth.

The sukkoth [booths] that we build at this time of year are meant to remind us of the temporary structures in the wilderness wherein our ancestors dwelt. According to some commentators, these structures built between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, wherein we either dwell in, or, at least, have meals within, symbolize the Clouds of Glory that served as a shelter from the elements. Thus, it is the schach – the thatched roof – in particular, that reminds us, that in actuality, it was G-d’s presence, manifested as the Clouds of Glory that protected us, above and beyond what these structures could provide.

When we dwell in sukkot for seven days, we are demonstrating our trust in H’Shem. These fragile dwellings serve not only to remind us of our past journeys in the desert; rather, also, as a personal reminder to seek G-d as our refuge. When we are troubled by the nisyanos (challenges) of Olam HaZeh (This World), we may find relief in H’Shem’s offer of protection for those who seek Him.

“For He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me upon a rock.” – Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Central Glory

drash for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“The L-RD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.’”

– Numbers 2:1-2, JPS 1985 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael were encamped around the Mishkan, according to their tribal affiliation. Aaron’s family and Moshe’s family were encamped on the east side, facing the front of the Mishkan. The Levites were encamped on the other three surrounding sides of the Mishkan. The rest of the twelve tribes were encamped further away from the Mishkan, three tribes on each side, north, south, east, and west.

The Levites were assigned the tasks, regarding the carrying of the Mishkan. B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at Sinai; now, these responsibilities were given, specifically, to each of the three Levite families, in preparation for the movement of the camp. First, a census was taken, of all the men eligible for war. The Levites were counted separately; they were chosen “to do the service of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-8, JPS).

At the center of the encampment of the B’nei Yisrael [the Children of Israel] was the Mishkan, meaning “dwelling place.” This is where H’Shem’s presence, the Shechinah dwelt. The Hebrew word, Shechinah is derived from the word Mishkan. G-d would appear to Moses, when His presence rested between the two cherubim [golden angels], on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Also, He appeared within the manifestation of the Clouds of Glory to all of Israel.