Parshat Truma - 5765
“They shall make Me a Mikdash (sanctuary), and I will dwell among them” (25:8).
The Midrash Tanchuma teaches: “The commandment to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was told to Moshe on Yom Kippur. The Torah, however, records the portion of the Mishkan before the sin of the golden calf.* Rabbi Yehuda the son of Shalom explains that the Torah is not necessarily written in the order that the events transpired.** Hashem told Moshe ‘They shall make Me a Mikdash and I will dwell among them,’ so that the nations of the world would know that the sin of the golden calf was forgiven.”
This midrash seems to be saying that the commandment to build the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple)*** was given only because Bnei Yisrael sinned in creating the golden calf, and had Bnei Yisrael not sinned there would have been no need to build it! It also appears from this midrash that the purpose of the Beit Hamikdash is not for Bnei Yisrael, but rather to inform the nations of the world that the sin was forgiven.
I can’t deny that the idea that seems to be conveyed by this midrash is difficult to accept. Am Yisrael has been dreaming of the return of Hashem’s presence to the Beit Hamikdash for over 2,000 years. Rivers of tears were poured in prayer before the Creator of the World asking that we should merit seeing the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt. King David, from whom the mashiach will descend, requested permission to build the Beit Hamikdash, but was turned down. It was only his son Shlomo (Solomon), who was able to build the Beit Hamikash in grandeur, and merited dedicating the structure in a grand ceremony. When the Mikdash was destroyed Am Yisrael felt that the world had darkened. The Mikdash was rebuilt and then once again destroyed. To this day something is left unfinished in Jewish homes as a reminder of the Temple’s destruction, and this great tragedy is marked at every Jewish wedding. It is difficult to accept the premise that our long history of life centered around the Beit Hamikdash, and the strong connection to the Beit Hamikdash that remained after its destruction all started as an outcome of the unfortunate incident with the golden calf.
There is another difficulty in the explanation of the Midrash Tanchuma. Why did the Torah change the order of the events and record the commandment to build the Mishkan before the sin?
Furthermore, the midrash itself quotes Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachman who says: “Until the Beit Hamikdash was built the world stood on a chair of two legs, once the Beit Hamikdash was built the world’s existence was strengthened. Hashem told Moshe ‘build a Mishkan so that I will speak to you within it, and be close to my children.’ When the angels heard this they said: ‘Lord of the World, why are you leaving the heavens and descending to the earth?’ Hashem answered them, ‘don’t be surprised that I am descending to the earth. You can see that I favor the earth, , , , for I am descending to dwell in sheets of goats’ skin, as the Torah says, Make sheets of goat’s wool to serve as a tent over the tabernacle’” (26:7).
From this midrash we see the importance of the Beit Hamikdash as a pillar of the worlds existence, and although the angels can’t comprehend this, Hashem desires to dwell on earth and not only in the heavens.
This midrash is clearly saying that building the Beit Hamidkash is the ideal. It is important for the world, and is not just an outcome of the sin of the golden calf.
The Mikdash is the Ideal (L’chatchila)
To explain the seeming contradiction between the two midrashim, we’ll examine how the Mishkan serves as testimony that the sin of the golden calf was forgiven.
The making of the golden calf seemed to reveal that Am Yisrael in its essence wasn’t compatible with the Torah, and if so perhaps a different nation should have been charged with the task of revealing Hashem’s presence in the world. If Bnei Yisrael were capable o such a serious transgression immediately after receiving the Torah, this is an indication that deep inside they didn’t identify with the Torah.
A nation that is incompatible with the Torah isn’t worthy of building the Mikdash, since the Mikdash is representative of the Divine presence in this world. The golden calf, on the other hand, is an expression of the desire to force G-d out of our world and of being subservient to materialism. However, this is a mistaken notion. The sanctity of Am Yisrael is not dependent upon its actions. Am Yisrael is sanctified because Hashem created us thus, as the prophet Yeshayahu said, “This people I have formed for myself; they shall relate my praise“ (Yeshayahu 43:29). Our task is to reveal our inner sanctity. Although there might difficulties and setbacks on our way to fulfilling this task, they don’t negate our inherent kedusha (sanctity). That being the case, even after we have sinned our role in this world is not void, nor can it be transferred to another nation.
When Hashem commanded Moshe to build the Mishkan after the sin of the golden calf, He was teaching us that building the Beit Hamikdash is an ideal that will help bring the world to completion and enable Hashem’s presence to settle in this world. Bnei Yisrael were instructed to build the Mikdash even though they had sinned with the golden calf, since only they have the inner sanctity necessary for this task, and even their grave sin can’t negate their inherent kedusha. The sin remains “external” to Bnei Yisrael’s essence, and as soon as they repented for the golden calf, they were commanded to build the Mishkan.
The Mishkan is not something that came about just because of the golden calf incident, but rather an ideal. The world needs the Mikdash to exist. Therefore, despite the setbacks, the Mikdash has to be built.
The same is true for Torah. Even though Moshe broke the tablets after the golden calf, Bnei Yisrael received the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur. This displays the bond between Bnei Yisrael and the Torah, a bond that can’t be severed by sin.
Mishkan and Torah
The commandment to build the Mishkan (according to the above midrash) and the second set of tablets were both given to us on Yom Kippur, and both display the unbreakable bond between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem.
The Mishkan commandment was given to Bnei Yisrael in the plural form, “They shall make Me a Mikdash and I will dwell among them.” The same is true for the commandment to build the aron (ark), “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood…” (25:10). The commandments to build the other vessels were given in the singular form (And you shall make….).
We will explain the change in form based upon our understanding of the Mishkan. The Mikdash and the ark that housed the tablets express Bnei Yisrael’s essence. We are the nation of G-d, because we were created as such. This is why the commandments to build the Mishkan and the ark are in the plural. This teaches us that we have an obligation to build the Mikdash and to hold on to the Torah because of the inherent bond between Am Yisrael and both the Mikdash and Torah. This bond can never be undone, but it can be temporarily suspended if we do not live up to our spiritual potential.
The Midrash Rabba states: “When Hashem commanded Moshe to build the Mishkan, Moshe said, ‘Lord of the world, can Bnei Yisrael do this?’ Hashem answered, ‘Every individual of Bnei Yisrael is capable of it, as the Torah says, ‘…from every man whose heart wishes to give, you shall take my offering.’”
We can explain this midrash in the following way. Moshe wasn’t sure that the obligation to build the Beit Hamikdash could be carried out by Bnei Yisrael. Although the commandment is a task given to us as a nation (“They shall make Me a Mikdash…”), Moshe wasn’t sure that each individual could live up to the standards demanded by the Mikdash. Hashem answered that the soul of Am Yisrael as a whole is revealed through each individual Jew, and therefore every Jew has the potential power to build the Mishkan.
The commandment to build the ark is also in the plural form, “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood,” because our relationship to the Torah stems from our status as a nation, and not as individuals. We express this each morning when we recite the blessing on the Torah, “Who has chosen us from all the nations” which is followed by, “and given us his Torah.” This clearly states that we were given the Torah as a nation. Even so, the Torah of Yisrael can be studied and fulfilled by every Jew.
The permanent tie of each individual in Am Yisrael to the Torah is expressed through the unique commandment to place poles in the ark. “The poles must remain in the ark’s rings and not be removed” (25:15). Although other vessels also had poles, the commandment prohibiting their removal appears only by the ark. The poles enable us to carry the ark and similarly, we carry the Torah by studying it and spreading its light throughout the world. This depends upon each person’s dedication to Torah study, and is something that can’t be stopped. That’s why the poles may not be removed from the ark.
We’ll end with another midrash from the Tanchuma. “The wood used to form the beams and vessels of the Mishkan were from trees that Yaakov Avinu planted when he went down to Egypt. He told his sons, ‘My children, in the future you will be redeemed from this land and Hashem will command you to build the Mishkan. Plant trees now so that when Hashem will instruct you to build the Mishkan the trees will be ready.”
The building of the Mishkan began with the pure thoughts of our forefather Yaakov, who was the root from which Am Yisrael sprouted. If we strengthen our connection to our roots and to the Jewish People, we strengthen our personal bond with the Mikdash and Torah. Eventually this will lead to the understanding that we are capable of building the Beit Hamikdash.
By understanding the great potential within us, we can merit the building of the great and permanent Beit Hamikdash .
*In the Torah the commandment to build the Mishkan precedes the story of the golden calf. The actual building of the Mishkan is recorded after the sin of the golden calf.
**This principle is “Ein mukdam u’meuchar baTorah.” The commentators vary in their willingness to apply this rule. Some (such as Rashi) use it relatively often, while others (such as Ramban) try to avoid using it whenever possible.
***The Mishkan was a temporary, transportable house of worship, designed for travel in the desert. In Eretz Yisrael a Mishkan of stone was made, and during the days of King Solomon the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem replaced it.
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