“He set up the courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he put up the screen at the entrance to the courtyard; and Moses completed the work.”(Exodus 40:33)
Over the last number of Parshios we have read of the collection and subsequent creation of the Mishkan. God asked for an earthly abode, a place where His beloved children could come to connect. And now, in this week’s Parsha, the last section of the book of Shemos, the work was complete. The Mishkan was brought to Moshe, the Divine Presence descended upon it and the relationship between God and His nation was further cemented. Yet, the Torah adds a seemingly extraneous piece of information.
“When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the Children of Israel set out in all their journeys.” (Exodus 40:36).
Over the course of the next three verses the Torah discusses Mishkan movement. Specifically, when the cloud of God would ascend, it signaled a need to break camp and journey forward. But why is this mentioned here? This belongs in the book of Bamidbar which details our various journeys in the desert. Yet, this is the last piece of information closing out the book of Shemos. What is the deeper meaning?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) provides an incredible insight. The purpose of the Mishkan was to create a home for God within our midst. Although, we believe that God is everywhere, as physical beings it is helpful for us to have an address, a place where we can dedicate ourselves to connection and elevation. The Mishkan was the place where God allowed His Presence to be more acutely felt. The cloud which hovered over theMishkan was a manifestation of God. When one saw the cloud, he understood that Hashem was dwelling within our midst; he felt God next to him. There are times in life when we feel close to God and there are times when we feel distant. What is the approach of the Jew when he feels disconnected and distant? What should we do when we don’t feel inspired and holy? We must find the strength to seek out our Father. We must find the courage to run after the cloud when we are no longer enveloped by it.
This is the message of the verse.
U’Vheyalos He’Anan Mey’Al HaMishkan, (When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan) – There are times when the cloud of inspiration seems far away. At times, we don’t feel connected to God. The cloud of holiness seems to leave our inner Mishkan.
What is our approach in these moments of disconnect?
Yis’u Bnai Yisroel B’Chol Maaseyhem, (the children of Israel set out in all their journeys) – we move forward trying to catch up to the cloud. Sometimes, the cloud is distant but attainable if we are willing to journey towards it. Spiritual inspiration doesn’t show up at our doorsteps. More often, it is hovering, waiting for us, beckoning to us from a distance. We must travel to it, seek it out, find it and claim it. If we truly want to be enveloped by the cloud of godliness, we must be ready to travel for it.
And now we understand. The entire purposes of the Mishkan was to create a space for God within our community and daily lives. Yet at the end of this incredible endeavor we are taught that no matter how much we want to keep the cloud near us, at some point it travels forward. It is then that the true nature of our spiritual mettle comes through. We all love holiness, inspiration and closeness to God but are we willing to push ourselves, to travel and venture out to acquire them? Meaningful and lasting personal holiness is never acquired with ease. It requires effort, exertion and willingness to chase after the cloud.
Numerous Parshios are devoted to the creation and fabrication of the Mishkan and its utensils. The details contained in these Torah portions are not simply the architectural framework for this sacred space and its vessels; these details contain the roadmap for successful, enriched and meaningful living.
Betzalel made the Ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. And he overlaid it with pure gold from inside and from outside, and he made for it a golden crown all around.” (Exodus 37:1-2)
The Talmud (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1) explains that the Ark was unique in its construction. It was comprised of three separate boxes. The innermost box was made of gold, the larger one which held it (the inner one) was made of wood and the largest exterior box (which held the smaller two) was made of gold. This construction was quite unique. There were utensils made of solid gold and others made of wood coated with gold. Why did the Aron (Ark) have this unique construction of wood enveloped by gold?
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) explains that the Aron was supposed to represent paradigmatic man. Every aspect and detail of the Ark teaches us how to self-actualize and live a meaningful and successful life. The male and female Cherubim (angelic figures perched on the lid of the Ark) teach us to be passionate in our relationships with each other and with God. Their upstretched wings teach us that we must aspire to climb higher and accomplish more. The Luchos (tablets) resting in the center remind us that the Torah and its values must be the foundation, core and center of the decisions we make and things we do. The poles that remained inserted even when the Aron was at rest teach us that the Torah and its values are transplantable and must follow us and inform the way we live – wherever we may go.
While both wood and gold can be used for construction their properties are fundamentally different. Gold is inanimate; it is mined from the earth and can be manipulated but cannot grow and cannot change. Wood is alive. The tree takes in nutrients; its branches grow and bear fruit.The tree changes with the seasons and through the years. The Aron contains both of these materials to teach another very important lesson. Man must be gold and he must be wood. He must possess golden principles that he will stand by and stand up for no matter what. We must possess a sense of right and good and be able to maintain them no matter how much external pressure we may face. We must be rigid in our adherence to the tenets of our faith and the principles of our people. We must have gold-like, immutable resolve to uphold the ideas and ideals we hold to be sacred. Yet, we must also learn to be a tree, to be wood-like in our approach to life and others. We must learn the art of change and recognize that just because we each have been a certain way until now does not meanweI must continue to be that same person going forward. We must learn to adapt to new circumstances. Life doesn’t always go the way we plan or hope, but wecan be wood, we can grow, change, and adapt. Wood is pliable. We must learn that when dealing with others we cannot always stand our ground, but must learn when to yield for the sake of shalom (peace).
Man must be gold on his inside and his outside. We must have the principles, ideas and ideals that we will live and die for. We must know what we believe and stand ready to defend those beliefs no matter how fierce the opposition may be. But we must possess an inner layer of wood and learn the art of compromise, change, accommodation and collaboration. The Ark is only fit for service in the Temple if it has these multiple layers. Man can only be successful if he possesses them as well.