As we make our way through the Mishkan parshas, the Torah may not seem as engaging as earlier chapters. But if you look closely, say at the… terumah offering or the designation of Batzalel, son of Urij falscmnvx, k,jkjlkj jlk….
Sorry I fell asleep on the keyboard.
For other dry chapters at least you’re learning about mitzvahs that are more or less applicable to your life. But intricate details of the Mishkan, something that doesn’t even exist anymore, after having just read about it two parshas ago? Oy.
However it is a deeply held belief of our tradition that every part of the Torah is applicable to every Jew in every generation. It just means you’re going to have to dig. But don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for. So without further ado lak jsdfkl;aj iojaiodfklai oeu….
Sorry my cat, Mr. Kohen Catdol, jumped on my laptop.
The World Endures on Three Things
Pirkei Avos 1:2 is famously quoted for saying “The world is based on three principles: on Torah, on service of God (avodah) , and on acts of enduring kindness (gamilus chessed).”
The rabbis teach that those three principles correspond to three profound character traits that show up throughout Jewish thought and history. Those traits are truth (emmes), inner strength (gevurah), and acts of loving kindness (chessed).
If we look back at the three forefathers, Avraham, Yizchak, and Yaakov, we see these three traits correspond with each of their essences. Avraham would go above and beyond with his chessed, putting this tent at the cross roads of cities to reach as many people as possible, preparing extravagant meals even when he was exhausted and ill. Yizchak was the archetype for gevurah, willing to sacrifice himself to Hashem. You can’t become a bigger master of your desires than making the ultimate sacrifice. And finally Yaakov came along to balance the two traits resulting in truth. He studied for 14 years to go toe to toe with the Torah’s most dishonest character, Levan.
So clearly, these three traits are in our Jewish DNA (along with Tay Sachs disease). But they also correspond to 3 essential parts of our most holy of structures, the Mishkan.
The Aron HaKodesh (aka the Ark of the Covenant) contained the Tablets of Testimony (what the Ten Commandments were written on), the shattered pieces of the original Tablets, a few pieces of the manna God gave to the Jews in the desert, and eventually the very Torah itself that Moses wrote. Everything that was the essence of the Torah was found in the Aron HaKodesh. Truth. Just to drive the point home further, the Cherubim (angels) that sat atop the Aron would face each other when the Jews were righteous and turn away from each other when the Jews were not.
Sacrifice It To Say
I said above, gevurah was about inner strength. Resisting desire, staying strong, and letting things go that think you really want. If we resist those things for a bigger goal (resisting the cake so I can lose weight) that’s noble but still about one self. But to resist their urges for the sake of what’s good and for something bigger than themselves, that the essence of a sacrifice. Hence the sacrifices that were performed on the Mizbeach.
Show Me The Lechem
Lastly the Shulchan (literally, the table) is where the lechem hapanim (often translated as showbred, but literally the Bread of the His Presence) was placed for all to see for an entire week. Miraculously, the lechem hapanim was always hot, never went moldy or dried out, and maintained it’s odd shape (pictured above). Eventually eaten by the Kohanim on Shabbos, the lechem hapanim was a constant reminder that our sustenance comes from Hashem as an act of incredible kindness.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
So that’s a cool thing to know about the parts of the Mishkan, but other than a making for a good Dvar Torah at a Shabbos table, what do you do with that? Well, Rabbi Noach Weinberg makes an important connection. Have you ever learned such an incredible insight or had a moving experience? Then you went to share that with someone and they were like, “Huh. Good for you.”? You’re astounded at this person’s lack of enthusiasm. Maybe you didn’t say it right. Maybe the person wasn’t listening.
Rabbi Weinberg has a different explanation for their indifference. According to him, just as each of the traits were differently pronounced in each of the forefathers, so to does each Jew resonate more with one trait over another. So if we want to reach every person, we should be aware of who we are talking to.
A person who identifies with the trait of emmes will be inspired by ideas that get to the heart of making sense of the world. They probably won’t care so much about the nitty gritty details of a halacha. They resonate with philosophical ideas that get to the heart of what is right and what is true. “Through learning Torah they will gain a great understanding of themselves and the world around them.”
A person concerned with self improvement as well as tikkun olam (fixing the world) is on the frequency of gevurah. They desire responsibility. These people know they have a mission and have great respect for justice and doing the right thing. “Emphasizing the impact the Jewish people have made on the world” is the key their connection.
Lastly we have gamilus chessed. Social workers, doctors, nurses, first responders to the world’s crises, and anyone who gives tzedaka from the goodness of their heart falls into this category. Their defining trait is building lasting and fulfilling personal relationships as they get tremendous pleasure through helping others. Where Yaakov was studying and Yizchak was praying, Avraham was actively providing the experience of a Jewish life. Their connection won’t be found in an intellectual argument, but a Shabbos meal or a transcendent Carlebach style song.
Knowing yourself and knowing your audience is essential for authentic connection and any hope of affecting or influencing others. But to know that these traits connect us all the way back to the beginning of the tradition and are expressed not just in our thought but in the mitzvahs themselves, to me is just another incredible example that Hashem is One.