By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
Although we no longer merit the presence of Hashem in His abode, the Mishkan of the desert or the Beis Hamikdash that was in Yerushalayim, nonetheless the Torah expends four parshiyos discussing in great detail how the Mishkan was constructed and its many inner component, while other mitzvos which are always obligatory only have a verse or two discussing their details. The commentators spend much time explaining the various allusions contained within the different parts of the Mishkan. The Ba’al Haturim mentions that there were 48 beams that surrounded the interior of the Mishkan and formed its walls. This corresponded to the 48 prophets that were the conduit for Hashem’s word to us for many generations. Is this simply a superficial comment or is there a deeper, more meaningful message that the Mishkan is conveying?
Judaism has a certain paradoxical nature to it. On the one hand, we are very insular. We dedicate much attention to the theme of non-assimilation. In fact, the emergence of so many customs that prevail in today’s age is an approach to develop our communities to remain distinct and separate. Indeed, one of the saving graces of our nation while they were in Egypt was that they maintained a safe distance from the alien culture that they were involved with. They were noticeably different since they spoke only Loshon Hakodesh, the Holy Tongue, or the language of the Chumash, dressed in a contrasting manner to their Egyptian hosts and called their children by Hebrew names. Therefore, although they stilled struggled to retain their identity in the midst of a foreign society, nonetheless they were successful to a great extent and this was a merit with which they garnered favor in Hashem’s ‘eyes’.
However, we do exist with the stark reality that we are indeed interspersed within a foreign environment. We speak the language of the land that we live in, we dress in a similar manner although we must not emulate the particular fashions of our society and often we call our children with names that resemble the populace around us. What safeguards us under these trying conditions? Where is our safety net?
The Mishkan was surrounded by 48 pillars that served a two-fold purpose. Firstly, the area within the pillars was consecrated more so and therefore separated from the courtyard and the rest of the camp. Furthermore, these pillars divided the Mishkan from the contiguous adjoining section and maintained its pristine nature unadulterated by areas of lesser sanctity. Within such a structure and based upon the purity represented by this model, we merited a relationship with Hashem unparalleled in the annals of history. Never before nor after did Hashem suffuse the confines of this lowly world with His Omnipresence as He did in the Mishkan and later in the Beis Hamikdash. Yet, we who live in a world devoid of that special situation, where is our Mishkan? How do we build walls that can accomplish the goal of the Mishkan’s walls?
Perhaps we can suggest that even though the Mishkan is not present, but Hashem’s presence still permeates this world, the lower realm, through the voices of the Prophets. Let us not mistakenly assume that it is just as powerful and effective as Hashem, however, we must recognize that they were an authoritative and treasured voice of reason within our midst. They sanitized our communities and warded away those dangerous elements that attempted to corrupt the purity of our heritage. They were truly a traveling Mishkan that accompanied us during the times when we had the Beis Hamikdash and when we did not! However, they are also gone!
We must construct our own Mishkan that will prevail in the face of adversity and withstand the onslaught of assimilation. When we study the works of the Prophets, the themes that they addressed many generations before us, they are still valid and applicable to our lives and our challenges. As we view the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash, we must be able adopt a stance that echoes the stability and serenity that the Mishkan afforded us. Our walls must stand tall and strong and keep out the winds that blow in our direction the polluted effects of a society that has gone awry. And subsequently, those large, stately walls will indeed safeguard our traditions that have been the foundation of our success.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
Although the service of the sacrifices was central to the Mishkan, nonetheless the fundamental core of the Mishkan was the Torah. The Aron which contained the two tablets with the Ten Commandments was positioned within the most sacred part of the Mishkan. From the Aron Hashem spoke to Moshe, it was the conduit of Hashem’s presence within our nation.