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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Mishkan or Mikdash

Harav Yosef Carmel

In this week’s parasha we read of the command to build that which people generally call the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). However, if we take a good look at the p’sukim, the Torah commands to erect a Mikdash (Shemot 25:8) – a Temple or Sanctuary. Only the roof of this Sanctuary, covered by special hides, was actually called a mishkan (ibid.26:1). This mishkan served Bnei Yisrael until the destruction of Shilo, some 383 years after Bnei Yisrael entered the Land of Israel. As the Rambam (Beit Habechira 1:2) calculates, this soft-roofed structure stood for 14 years in Gilgal and 369 years in Shilo. After all this time, the construction of a structure with a permanent roof at the time of King Shlomo was a novel idea.

We should try to understand the difference between these two terms; mikdash and mishkan. The root of the former is “kadosh” – holy. The root of mishkan is shachen (dwell). As we have discussed in the past, holiness implies the presence of fear, distancing, and the attribute of judgment. It is related to the idea that Hashem is High above all high, to the extent that it is not even possible to understand His greatness. In contrast, the matter of the dwelling of the Divine Presence implies closeness and love, along the lines of one of the most important ideas which the masters of Kabbala discussed: “There is no place that is bereft of His Presence.”

It is wrong to relate to only one of the aforementioned approaches to Hashem. If we think just in terms of fear of Hashem, we are liable to develop a cold philosophical approach that leaves no emotion in the relationship. The Baal Shem Tov was very sensitive to this concern, and he trained the followers of Chassidut to put the stress on Hashem’s ongoing Presence. They put more emphasis on “I will dwell among them” than on “They will make for Me a Sanctuary.” The Vilna Gaon was concerned that such an approach would cause an over-familiarity that would allow for searching for closeness to Hashem even in unseemly settings. He explained the Glory of Hashem as less related to a Divine Dwelling and more of an expression of Divine Providence. The Gaon’s disciple, Rav Chayim of Volozhin did draw closer to the Chassidic approach (see Torah Shleima, vol. VIII, pp. 248-251).

Let us return to take a look at what changed when Shlomo erected the Temple. The dwelling of Hashem’s Presence was obvious in the Mishkan, and while the place was holy, the site of the Mishkan did not retain its sanctity after the Mishkan was removed from the place. The movable hides were a reminder that the sanctity was always capable of being transferred from here to there or of disappearing if the people sinned.

With the building of the Mikdash, Shlomo sent a double message. The Temple Mount would maintain an eternal status of holiness, with halachic ramifications. The Divine Presence would always dwell there even if and when the structure would not be there. To a certain extent, Bnei Yisrael understood too well – the sanctity would always remain no matter how improperly we behaved. May we regain the wisdom to be worthy to see with our eyes the return of the palpable spirit to the holy places, for which we are waiting.

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