Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why do we Need to Know all these Details of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Teruma
Dearest Rebbetzin,
I’ve been wondering why the Torah goes into such details in describing the Mishkan. It seems a bit tedious to go through all the measurements of each of the Tabernacle and its vessels. Why are these details so important? If you could shed light on their symbolic meaning, it would make Parashat Teruma so much more meaningful to me.
Mini Meir (name changed)

Dear Mini,
It is hard to understand the details of the Mishkan because they are so deeply divine, and beyond human conception. This is why it states after each part of the building of the Mishkan, “As G-d had commanded Moshe” (Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Kuzari 25:2). Malbim explains that the Mishkan is like a cosmic person with an all-inclusive body, connecting all of existence. Just as the human body – the garment of our soul – has limbs that serve to actualize our spiritual powers, the Tabernacle and Temple has vessels and body parts. The three parts of the Mishkan correspond to the three parts of the human body: 1. The Holy of Holiest corresponds to the head and skull – the abode of the Intellectual Soul (Neshama) 2. The Tent of Meeting corresponds to the upper part of the body from the neck to the chest – the abode of the Vital Soul (Ruach) – the location of the heart. 3. The Courtyard corresponds to the lower part of the body from the navel downwards – the vegetable soul (Nefesh) -manifesting through the stomach, liver and intestines. Just as our body and organs need exact measures in order to function, so does each of the measures of the Mishkan serve a purpose in the cosmic body. Read on to learn some of the symbolic meanings of the Mishkan based on Malbim’s commentary on Parasha Teruma.

The Mishkan Connects the Body of Israel
A person is a microcosmic world. This is because all the worlds were employed in the formation of the human being and implanted within him during the Six Days of Creation. We conduct our small chariot – our body, just as the upper King conducts His great chariot – the world. Hashem is the Soul of the world, through which He imbues it with light and life. He connects the entire macrocosmic body – all the many worlds from beginning to end, to become one complete unified entity, in which the wisdom of the Creator is revealed. If our soul would separate from the body, all our organs would turn into dead dispersed particles. When the Jewish people are not united, our cosmic Soul disconnects from the body. This is why senseless hatred caused the Temple to be destroyed . When we unite through the Mishkan and the Temple, our cosmic Soul will once again infuse the collective body of Israel and of the world with Divine light.

The Ark Corresponds to the Brain
The Ark was placed within the Holy of Holies, corresponding to the Neshama (intellectual soul). The two tablets in the Ark correspond to the brain, which is divided into two sides. In order to receive the Torah, we need the sense of vision to read it. Furthermore, we need ears to hear the tradition of our Fathers as brought down in the Oral Torah. These correspond to the poles that carry the Ark, since both the visual and auditory centers are connected to the brain. The highest parts of the soul are called Chaya and Yechidah. They do not have a designated place in the body. Rather, they hover over and above it. The Cherubs on the lid of the Ark allude to these soul parts. They spread their wings on high, because they dwell in the upper world, in the source of life, from where they send their light to those who merit prophetic Divine visions. It was, therefore, from above the lid of the Ark that Hashem spoke with Moshe.

The Ark Corresponds to Torah
The Ark was made from wood since the Torah is called “A Tree of Life.” Why does it state וְעָשׂוּ/v’asu – “they shall make” in plural regarding the Ark, whereas by the other vessels it states, וְעָשִׂיתָ/v’asita – “you shall make” in singular? Everyone had to be involved in making the Ark, so that all would merit Torah. Moreover, Torah can only be truly fulfilled through the community of Israel. Three of the Tabernacle vessels have crowns: the Altar, the Table and the Ark. The crown of the Altar belongs to Aharon. The crown of the Table belongs to David. Yet, the crown of the Ark is free for anyone who wants to come and take it. The Torah belongs to all of Israel. Both those who learn it and those who support Torah learning share its reward. All the measurements of the Ark consist of halves to teach us that a Torah scholar must always be humble and his heart broken within him.

The Blessings of the Table
The partition between the Holy of Holies and the Tent of Meeting corresponds to the neck that connects the head with the chest. The Tent of Meeting corresponds to the middle part of the body from the neck to the chest where the living Ruach (spirit) resides. It contains the Table and the Menorah. The Table with its showbreads corresponds to the nourishing heart which brings the blessings of the Sanctuary and sustenance to the whole world. . Upon the Table were twelve breads corresponding to the twelve months of the year. Since blessings can only rest on something physical, the bread of Hashem conveyed blessings of satiation to the entire world. It is called Lechem HaPanim (Inner Bread) because it emanates from the innermost place, from Hashem Himself Who sustains every living being.

The Menorah Corresponds to the Understanding Heart
The Menorah alludes to the intellectual heart – the light of knowledge. Whereas the Ark alludes to the wisdom of the Torah and prophesy (Chachmah), which emerges from Divine revelation, the Menorah alludes to that which we can understand through our own (Binah) and is connected to the heart as it states, “The Heart understands…” (Zohar, Part 2:116b). The fact that the Menorah was fashioned from pure gold teaches us that we must strive for “solid gold” in our motives and behavior. Our character traits on the inside should reflect our actions on the outside, and vice versa. In this way, the Menorah teaches us to bring out the Divine light from within our soul to shine externally. The Menorah’s structure, which branches out from a central stem also inspires us to embrace holiness. It teaches us that our demeanor, personality, and actions must branch out and influence others by illuminating the world around us. Finally, the Menorah reminds the people of Israel that we are called to be “A Light unto the nations” (Yesha’yahu 42:6).

The Courtyard
The Copper Altar was for sacrifices and stood in the courtyard of the Tabernacle. It corresponds to the stomach and the digestive system – the vessels of the Nefesh. Just as the digestive system digests the food by means of the heat of the stomach, the Altar consumes the sacrifices and turns them into ashes by means of fire from heaven, breaking everything down to its root element. The measurements of the altar are whole to hint that a person approaching the altar to bring an offering must repent until teshuva sheleima – complete repentance. The curtains of the Tent correspond to the skin that surrounds and protects the body.

The Mishkan Becomes the Resting Place for Our Divine Soul
The Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem – the undivided city – unites all the souls of the Jewish nation to become as one person with an all-inclusive soul, emanating the light of Divine brilliance that illuminates the entire world with His glory. Therefore, when we pray, we direct our hearts to face the Temple. From wherever we are in the world, our prayers flow to the Temple Mount. In this way, we fulfill our spiritual goal to illuminate and actualize our souls, as it states, “Make me a Tabernacle and I will dwell within them” (Shemot 25:8). When the individual lights of each soul are fused, they become transformed to illuminate as one great light – the light of the Shechinah that dwells within us. May we merit to once again become unified and make ourselves into one cosmic body – The chariot of the Divine presence!

(Based on The Allusions of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to MALBIM, Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, 1809–1879, Volhynia, Ukraine).


  1. what a beautiful explanation of the different parts of the mishkan! like your questioner, I too often wonder why the torah spends so many words on describing something that on the face of it has not been relevant to us for such a long time (the Giver of the Torah must certainly have known that there will be a long time period when we have to live without a Temple. Moreover,the temple differed somewhat from the mishkan structurally). however, could it be that you made a mistake when describing the Tent of Meeting as part of the mishkan? wasn't this a structure outside the mishkan compound? it seems so from illustrations in the book ספר המקדש - מן המשכן לבית המקדש בירושלים by R. Israel Ariel

  2. thanks Chava,
    the Tent of Meeting Ohel Moed is the main part of the mishkan which consists of the Ohel Moed (2/3rds of the Mishkan) and the Kodesh Kodashim (1/3).