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MISHKAN: UNDER CONSTRUCTION

by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This week's Torah portion introduces us to the holy mishkan (Tabernacle) which traveled with the Jewish people throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert, and accompanied them into the Land of Israel.

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This week's Torah portion introduces us to the holy mishkan (Tabernacle) which traveled with the Jewish people throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert, and accompanied them into the Land of Israel. The bulk of the Torah portion contains detailed descriptions of the various vessels used in the mishkan. Thus, Hashem dedicates several verses to each component, describing its exact measurements and appearance so that Moses would understand exactly how to construct each vessel. Such a Torah portion, which seems to contain just a list of the different vessels, would appear to be rather uneventful. However, we are confronted with a strange discrepancy right at the outset.

Upon beginning the explanation of the Holy Ark, Hashem commands Moses, "They shall construct the Ark" (Exodus 25:10), using a plural form, as if speaking to a group of people who are to participate in the construction of the various parts of the mishkan. Now one would certainly expect that the description of each of the numerous items in the mishkan would follow a parallel grammatical structure. However, this is not the case. In fact, the Ark is the only time where we find the plural form used; every other item's description is preceded by the singular command "you shall construct," indicating that only one person was to be involved in the erection of the mishkan. How are we to resolve this contradiction? Who in fact was responsible for the actual construction of the mishkan?

Before we attempt to resolve our problem, we must first preface with an important idea concerning the mishkan. The commentators explain that the many vessels and garments of the mishkan were not simply selected at random. Rather, each and every component represented a particular facet of Judaism and the Jewish people. Thus, each vessel and its description contained numerous messages and underlying themes for the Jewish nation. The Holy Ark, the commentators further explain, corresponds to the Torah and its study; not surprising, since the Ark held the actual Torah scroll and tablets of the Ten Commandments given directly by Hashem to Moses. Therefore, the description of the Ark should provide us with some insight into the nature of the Torah and its study.

In this vain, the Ramban, the great 13th century commentator from Spain, seeks to answer the grammatical discrepancy posed above. With regard to any worthwhile project or venture undertaken for the sake of Judaism, one may be considered a partner by simply contributing his money and other resources to allow other people to actually complete the project. For this reason, by all of the other vessels in the mishkan, the Torah directs its command toward Moses alone, for the Jewish people have already done their part by contributing the raw materials to the building fund. Now Moses must complete the job by actually building the vessels.

However, this is not the case when it comes to Torah study. One can offer his money, time, and effort so that others may study the Torah, but that is not enough. Every member of the Jewish nation must actively involve himself in the actual study of the Torah. Therefore, the command to build the Ark, which as mentioned before represents the Torah and its study, is directed not only towards Moses, but to all of the Jewish people. Hashem wishes to indicate that although the people have contributed their gold and silver, they must nonetheless participate in the actual construction of the Holy Ark - and in the actual study of the Torah.

Of course, one who donates his resources for the sake of Torah study is to be greatly commended and congratulated. However, at the same, he must realize that he can not simply sit on the sidelines and allow others to accomplish the actual Torah study alone. We must all participate in this venture. Nor should we think that the Torah is a closed book, reserved for scholars and brilliant minds. The Torah can be studied on so many different levels and from so many different angles, that each individual can approach the Torah according to his own level. From the amateur to the greatest scholar, one can only gain from studying the Torah. The Torah will forever be waiting for us -- now is the time for us to open it and see what treasures it contains.

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Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.

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