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Meeting in the Middle

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

A few weeks ago we began to read the Torah portions dealing with the mishkan, its structure, its vessels, its priests and their garb.  We took a break for a week, and then this week we read it all again.  Detail after detail.  Obviously, the Torah thinks we have what to learn from all this description, and sets up the mishkan as something we are to appreciate and learn from.  But, what exactly is the mishkan all about?  What messages does it hold for us today, living not only without a mishkan but without a Beit Hamikdash as well?

A look at the Torah's various names for the mishkan might give us a clue.  The structure is referred to as 1) A Mikdash, a sanctified place 2) A Mishkan, a dwelling and 3) Ohel Moed, literally, tent of meeting.  Each of the three terms brings with it different images and connotations.  The word mikdash makes one think of a shul or a place of worship, while the term mishkan might conjure images of home, a cozy couch and warm kitchen.  Ohel moed on the other hand, might bring to mind a conference room or the like.   So, what was the mishkan - home, synagogue or office?

The midrash suggests that the Children of Israel requested to build Hashem a tabernacle, much like a king's subjects might build their monarch a palace, as a way of honoring him.  And so, they made for him a royal house, with a kitchen (the altar), a living room - replete with table (shulchan), candelabra (menorah) and incense (ketoret), and finally a "bedroom" - the holy of holies, where the most intimate relation between God and man can take place. The Torah, though, suggests that the request came not from the nation, but from Hashem. He tells us to make for him a tabernacle "so that I may dwell in your midst" (Shemot 25:7).  It is God who asks to come down and join us, to be part of us and live amongst us.

Elsewhere, Hashem emphasizes the "mikdash" aspect of the tabernacle; through it, He tells us, the nation will be "sanctified in my honor" (Shemot 28:43).  The mishkan is a means through which the nation might elevate itself towards God.  If He is to "come down" to greet us, we, too, must "go up" to greet him.  This read sees the altar as the focal point of the mishkan.  It is here that we bring sacrifices and offer of ourselves to Hashem. It is here we learn to sanctify the mundane, to take the "table of bread," the physical, and the menorah, the "intellect" and sanctify both.

Yet others suggest that the essence of the Tabernacle is really in its role as "Tent of Meeting."  The ark, the holiest vessel, is the main focus for it is here that Hashem speaks to Moshe, that the two meet "face to face."  God has "come down," we have "come up" and now we can listen, converse, and relate.  And it is this conversation that the mishkan is all about.

Today, without a mikdash and without a mishkan, we must look for substitutes, for other places where we approach Hashem, He approaches us, and in that middle ground, we have a conversation. We look for places, too, where we can model that same relationship with others, each stepping forward towards the other so we can meet in the middle and talk. 

Iy"H our batei midrash and our homes can become that meeting place; may we sanctify them and feel Hashem's presence there!

Shabbat Shalom!








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