The Tabernacle of Testimony: The Heart and Soul of Israel
The Midrash teaches that after having received from the Children of Israel the silver and gold destined for the construction of the Tabernacle and its vessels, as well as for the making of the garments to be worn therein, Moses made a detailed inventory of all the expenses incurred, lest people suspect him of having enriched himself with the silver or gold that he had received (Shemot Rabba 51:6).
Elsewhere it is written, “It was in the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, that the Tabernacle was erected. Moses erected the Tabernacle; he put down its sockets and emplaced its planks and inserted its bars and erected its pillars” (Exodus 40:17-18). Concerning this, the Sages teach that Moses erected the entire Tabernacle alone, without any outside help, and that miracles were performed for him while he was building it (Bamidbar Rabba 12:11; Nedarim 38a). He even managed to lift extremely heavy planks. However when he became tired, G-d told him, “Grab hold of them, and they will lift themselves up,” as it is written, “the Tabernacle was erected [by itself]” (Exodus 40:17).
These Midrashim raise a certain number of questions, ones that we have answered in previous issues. However, since there is no Beit Midrash in which we do not learn something new, we propose suggesting some new ideas:
1. Why did Moses have to count all the silver and gold that he had received from the Children of Israel? Who could have suspected Moses (G-d forbid), the father of all the prophets of Israel (Vayikra Rabba 1:15), who spoke to the Eternal face to face (Exodus 33:11), of having stolen? This was especially so because Moses was very wealthy (he had, as we know, become rich with the remnants of the Tablets of the Law [Exodus 34:1]). As for the 1775 shekels of silver that were amassed (Exodus 38:25), from which hooks for the Tabernacle’s pillars were made (v.28), the Midrash teaches that Moses had forgotten them and that G-d had to remind him about them. How can we conceive of such a thing happening?
2. Why did Moses have to erect the Tabernacle all by himself? Why did G-d have to perform miracles for him? Why didn’t Moses ask the Children of Israel to help him? Was the Tabernacle not destined for them?
If our explanations have been mentioned elsewhere, we know that the words of Torah are poor in one place and rich in another.
We know very well that the Eternal needs neither the Tabernacle nor its vessels, and that “all the earth is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). We know that there is no place that is not covered by His Presence (Shir Hashirim Rabba 3:16), that despite our blemishes He resides in us (see Yoma 56b), and that He gives strength to the Kelipah, for “You made the heavens, the most exalted heavens and all that is in them, and You give them all life; and the heavenly legion bows to You” (Nehemiah 9:6). We know that He created the evil inclination in order for man to untiringly fight, defend himself against, and finally triumph over it. Man will thus have reached a state of perfection, most notably by the diligent study of Torah, which is the remedy against the evil inclination.
However, as we have seen in preceding issues, man’s body alludes to the Sanctuary. A man should therefore examine his 365 tendons and 248 members. The Eternal will then reside in his midst if he really so desires, if he chooses the Torah, which is called “life” (Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan 34:10) and “good” (Berachot 5a).
In the opposite case, the Divine Presence distances itself from him. He will then understand that everything that has happened to him stems from the fact that he did not learn from the example of the Tabernacle. For one can only be imbued with the Shechinah but by the diligent study of Torah and the continual performance of mitzvot.
If a man sees himself afflicted with suffering, he should examine his ways. One thing is certain: His sufferings have been caused by the fact that he abstained from Torah study. We know that the Eternal punishes the one He loves (Proverbs 3:12). He only allows a man to suffer trials that he can overcome. The Hidushei Harim of Gur, commenting on the Sages’ instruction concerning this subject (Kiddushin 69a, according to which there were Jewish slaves only during the Jubilee), explains that through serious introspection and diligent Torah study, we can overcome trials, easily rise above obstacles placed before us by the evil inclination, triumph over the evil inclination itself, and get closer to the Holy One, blessed be He.
Consequently, if Moses had made a detailed inventory of all the silver and gold that the Children of Israel had given him for the construction of the Tabernacle, it was to teach them that a man should constantly examine his conduct lest he sin. If he is afflicted with suffering, it is because he blemished one or several of his members (which are compared to the Sanctuary), spoke bad words, or maintained bad thoughts. If he knows which of his members has been affected, he can return to G-d.
Thus even a great man such as Moses is capable of forgetting a small detail. Only the person who does everything for the love of Heaven finds his consciousness awakened because of G-d, and causes no harm either voluntarily or involuntarily. Just as the sage must measure his words and steps, so too must a teacher (see Perkei Avoth 1:11). In the opposite case, he is capable of succumbing to forgetfulness, as was the case with the generation of knowledge, who, having failed to acknowledge the miracles that G-d had performed for them, finished by committing the sin of the golden calf.
By the extensive study of Torah and serious introspection, one arrives at correcting all one’s sins. If G-d had threatened to bury the Children of Israel under Mount Sinai by obliging them to accept the Torah, even though they had proclaimed, “we will do and we will understand,” it was because He wanted that they should all teach the Torah to their neighbor. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai said, “If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself” (Perkei Avoth 2:8), for one can find everything in the Torah: “Learn it and learn it, for everything is in it” (ibid. 5:21). Therefore Moses made a detailed inventory of everything that the Children of Israel had brought to him in order to provide them with an example of proper conduct.
A man should nevertheless realize that he cannot do everything alone. Without G-d’ help, he cannot triumph over the evil inclination (Kiddushin 30b), which carries the name “old fool” (Kohelet Rabba 4:15), and which tries by all means possible to make a man sin, including the Tzaddik. This is why the Mishnah advises us to not vouch for our virtues before the day of our death (Perkei Avoth 2:4). A man cannot claim that it is impossible for him to triumph over the evil inclination; all that G-d asks of him is that he takes the first step (Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:3). He will then most certainly help him and perform miracles in his favor. He did so for Moses, who experienced difficulties lifting the large beams of the Tabernacle, beams that in the end lifted themselves. As it is written, “He guards the steps of His devout ones” (I Samuel 2:9), meaning that He helps them to not commit sins, even involuntary ones.
If we take the first step, then help from Heaven will not delay in arriving and we will sanctify ourselves like the Tabernacle and the Temple. For even in our days, the Shechinah does not move from the Temple and the synagogue. May we be imbued with it all the days of our lives. Amen.