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 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 relationship 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.
I must possess golden principles that I will stand by and stand up for no matter what. I must possess a sense of right and good and be able to maintain them no matter how much external pressure I face. I must be rigid in my adherence to the tenets of my faith and the principles of my people. I must have gold-like, immutable resolve to uphold the ideas and ideals I hold sacred.
Yet, man must also learn to be a tree, to be wood-like in his approach to life and others.
I must learn the art of change and recognize that just because I have been a certain way until now does not mean I must continue to be that same person going forward. I must learn to adapt to new circumstances. Life doesn’t always go the way I planned or hoped – I can be wood, I can grow, I can change, I can adapt. Wood is pliable. I must learn that when dealing with others I cannot always stand my ground, I must learn when to yield for the sake of shalom (peace).
Man must be gold on his inside and his outside.
I must have the principles, ideas and ideals that I will live and die for. I must know what I believe and stand ready to defend those beliefs no matter how fierce the opposition may be. But I 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.
No detail is left out, nothing is left to the imagination, the intricacies of the Mishkan are explicit in the text. But why? Why spend so much time describing a structure that was to serve the spiritual needs of our people for a relatively short amount of time? The Mishkan accompanied us in the desert and was to be replaced by the Beis HaMikdash (Temple). Why does the text devote so much time to every last detail? Why must we know about each and every cubit? Why must we know the final collection amounts of gold, silver and jewels? God is exceptionally measured in what He decides to include in His sacred text. What are we to learn from the inclusion and repetition of the Mishkan details?
When describing the craftsmen who would work with the precious metals, stones and fine fabrics the Torah states, “Every man whose heart uplifted him came, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to, generosity brought the offering of the Lord for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments.” (Exodus 35:21) What is the meaning of this phrase “N’sao Libo, whose heart uplifted him”?
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270) writes: “There was no one among them (the people) who learned these skills from a teacher. They received no formal training. Rather, they found within themselves the ability to perform these tasks and they came before Moshe and said, ‘We will do whatever the master requires’.”
The creation of the Mishkan and fabrication of the utensils required great skill. An individual would have had to fully devote himself for years; apprenticing with a master teacher to learn proper techniques. The Ramban explains that our ancestors did not possess any of the requisite skills to build the Mishkan. For two-hundred and ten years they were slave laborers and beasts of burden. They never apprenticed nor were they trained to perform these specialized tasks. But when the call came, they answered it. When Moshe said he needed people to build the Mishkan, these “craftsmen” stepped forward. What training did they have? None. What skills did they bring to the table? None. But deep down they felt they could do it. They felt that if they reached inward they would find the necessary abilities to accomplish the required tasks. This is the meaning of “N’sao Libo, (whose heart uplifted him)” – their hearts lifted them above their current realities and allowed them to believe they could do and be more.
Perhaps, this is why the Torah goes into such great detail regarding the Mishkan. When we see the intricacies and details associated with this temporary structure we are amazed. When we try to imagine a huge block of gold being hewn into an Aron (Ark of the Covenant) or Kohanic vestments where each thread was made of twenty-four smaller threads, we are overwhelmed by the talent required to produce such magnificent results. Only a team of experienced artisans could have undertaken such a task. Yet we know that this Mishkan was produced by our ancestors, men and women forged in the pit of Egyptian slavery. Men and women who knew they had to answer the call when they were needed. Men and women who believed they could be more. When Moshe needed their help, they stepped forward and believed that someway, somehow, they would rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.
There are times when we find ourselves in circumstances which seem daunting and overwhelming. We feel that we are in over our head and we stand ready to throw our hands up and admit defeat. Sometimes, God places us in challenging circumstances because He wants us to step forward, dig deep and find the tools, abilities and talents that, until now, have remained unknown and dormant. Those very circumstances, which we often find difficult and challenging, are often the very circumstances which allow us to understand ourselves and our true God-given abilities. If we find ourselves in the midst of a particular challenge, not only do we have the ability to meet it, but there is something precious and beautiful we will discover and learn about ourselves. We each must find the strength to be an Ish Asher N’Sao Libo; we must believe in ourselves, believe in our abilities and answer the call of life.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.