Man Becomes A Sanctuary Through The Study of Torah
After the Holy One, blessed be He, gave His commandments to Moses regarding the construction of the Sanctuary and the making of the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons (which we learn of in parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh), we begin to read in parshiot Vayakhel and Pekudei about the actual construction of the Sanctuary and its vessels, as well as the making of the priestly garments. Things take shape in these latter parshiot, where instruction becomes action.
However when we open up a Chumash, we see that at the very beginning of Parsha Vayakhel, even before work begins on the Sanctuary, its vessels, and the priestly garments, a commandment is given that apparently has nothing to do with the Sanctuary. Moses assembled the Children of Israel and gave them the mitzvah of Shabbat: “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your habitations on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3). This is difficult to understand, for what connection is there between the observance of Shabbat and the construction of the Sanctuary? Furthermore, why does that passage appear before the Sanctuary’s construction? True, Rashi cites the Sages as saying that from here we learn that the construction of the Sanctuary did not override Shabbat. Yet we still have to understand why this commandment regarding Shabbat occurs before the subject of the Sanctuary! On the verse, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them” (Exodus 25:8), the commentators note that it states, “in them,” not “in it,” meaning that Hashem would dwell in each of them. This means that every Jew can, through his good deeds, become a sanctuary in which the Shechinah dwells. The body is the sanctuary, and all a person’s limbs are the vessels of that sanctuary. In addition, even the garments that a person wears can be considered as priestly garments, helping him to serve Hashem at each instant.
However it is not so easy to become a sanctuary suitable for the Shechinah, for that requires a great deal of work. What kind of work is this? It is the diligent study of Torah; it is when a person exerts himself to study Torah, carry out the mitzvot, and follow G-d’s ways, for then his body becomes elevated and sanctified. He can then become a sanctuary for the holy Shechinah, and Hashem will desire to reside in such a sanctified body. Yet before all else, a person must rid himself of the evil inclination, of all that disrupts his service of the Creator. It is only when his mind is free that he can serve G-d. The Creator will then make His Shechinah dwell in him.
As we know, everyone can testify to the fact that their minds are not always free to study. We know that in general, we experience all kinds of troubles and material concerns during the week, and our minds are not always free enough to study. It is true that during the week we pray three times a day, set aside time for study, and push ourselves to perform mitzvot. However even as such, our minds are not always sufficiently free from worry. Thus when the mind is filled with material concerns, it is difficult to conquer the evil inclination and subjugate our 248 limbs and 365 sinews in order to serve G-d. What can we do in that case?
The best advice is to observe the holy Sabbath, for it is on this day that we free ourselves from all our concerns and material occupations, since it is forbidden to work during this time. On Shabbat it is “as if all your work has been done” (Rashi on Exodus 20:9), and then the mind is free to deal with spiritual realities. On Shabbat we can study better – calmly and with ease – and our minds are better able to clearly understand Torah.
On the verse, “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your habitations on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3), the Baal HaTurim wrote: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘My fire [Gehinnom] stops for you. Let your fire stop as well.’ ” This means that on Shabbat, everyone should stop like the fire of Gehinnom. It is not without reason that the Sages said in one Shabbat zemirah: “On Shabbat we do not forget.” In fact we do not forget what we learn on Shabbat, for the six days of the week receive their blessing from Shabbat, as stated in the holy Zohar: “The six days receive their blessing from the seventh” (Zohar I:75b).
That being the case, a person can study Torah with ease on Shabbat, and his body can become a sanctuary in which the Shechinah resides. This is because there is nothing to impede him during that time. This is why Moses gave the Children of Israel the mitzvah of Shabbat before the construction of the Sanctuary, in order to teach them that a person can begin building his own sanctuary on Shabbat. On Shabbat, a person can transform his body into a sanctuary for Hashem, change all his limbs into sacred vessels, and turn his clothes into true priestly garments. Doing these things will then become easier during the rest of the week as well.
We learn all this from parshiot Vayakhel and Pekudei, for the word pekudei comes from the root pekida, which means “to remember.” In fact during Shabbat the remembrance of man ascends before G-d, and he can then free himself from the yoke of the evil inclination and become a sanctuary for Hashem. Even if someone has always found this difficult to do up to now, he can always begin from scratch from this point onwards, taking it upon himself to transform his body into a sanctuary. We see just how much the holy Sabbath gives us, since the six days of the week draw their blessing from Shabbat. If we conduct ourselves in this way, the blessings of the Sabbath queen will spread over us.