From this week's Torah portion until the end of the book of Exodus, the Torah mostly deals with the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the necessary preparations for its construction, and the garments of the kohanim (priests) which were worn during their service in it.
From this week's Torah portion until the end of the book of Exodus, the Torah mostly deals with the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the necessary preparations for its construction, and the garments of the kohanim (priests) which were worn during their service in it. The Mishkan was created to develop the relationship between Hashem and His children, the Jewish people. This was done by having the Divine presence of G-d rest in the Mishkan at all times. The Jewish people would go and bring offerings to Hashem with the hope of spiritual elevation for themselves, as well as for the entire nation. The Mishkan was carried with the Jewish people while they traveled through the desert to reach their final destination the land of Israel. After they arrived in Israel, the Mishkan was erected the majority of the time in the city of Shiloh, until King Solomon, the son of King David, built the Beit HaMikdash (the holy Temple) in Jerusalem.
Rav Aaron Kotler, a leading Torah sage from the previous generation and founder of the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, explains that the building of the Beit HaMikdash is the act that brings Hashem's presence closer to us. As the verse in this week's Torah portion states, "And they shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I shall dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8).
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 119b) illustrates the importance of Torah study by comparing it against the importance of the building of the holy Temple. The Talmud says, "School children may not be made to neglect [their studies] even for the building of the Temple." However, the Talmud (Tractate Baba Batra 21a) also states that "teachers of children should be installed in Jerusalem, so that any youth could go there and be taught Torah." This concept is derived from the verse in Isaiah, "For Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). Tosafot, the Talmudic glosses of the French and German rabbis of the 12th and 13th centuries, explain that the environment of Jerusalem was particularly conducive to Torah study. When a person beheld the tremendous sanctity of the Temple in Jerusalem with the kohanim (priests) engaged in the Divine service, he was inspired to direct his heart to the awe of Hashem and the study of Torah. If so, why were the sages so strict not to neglect the studies of the school children for the building of the Beit HaMikdash? The Beit HaMikdash will have the Divine service of the kohanim, which will lead to mass Torah study in Jerusalem and around the world. Consequently, it would seem that the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash should certainly override Torah study.
The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 20b) clarifies the process of the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash. It states that the nation of Israel is commanded to perform three commandments sequentially after they occupy the land of Israel. They are to appoint a king, to eradicate the offspring of Amalek, and to construct the holy Temple. Earlier in history, Joshua severely weakened the power of Amalek before erecting the Mishkan in Israel. Before the first Temple was built, Saul almost completely destroyed the entire nation of Amalek. The story of Purim with Mordechai and Esther in which we defeated Haman (a descendant of Amalek) occurred right before the building of the second Temple. Rav Aaron Kotler elucidates that even though in all of these cases Amalek was not completely destroyed, their strength as a world power was severely weakened.
After leaving the land of Egypt, the nation of Amalek attacked the Jewish people in a place named Rephidim (Exodus 17:8). The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 106a) interprets Rephidim (which comes from the root word ripu meaning to weaken) as "the Jews allowing themselves to weaken in their study of the words of Torah." The Mishnah (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 3:8) illustrates the situation. It states that when Moses raised his hands in the air during the war with Amalek, the Jewish people prevailed. Also, when his hands would be down at his side, the nation of Amalek prevailed (Exodus 17:11). The Mishnah explains that the Torah is teaching us that "as long as Israel looked heavenward and subjected their heart to their Father in heaven, they would prevail. However, when they did not, they would be defeated." This, as Rav Kotler explains, is emulated with the study of the words of Torah.
The Ramban, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, in his introduction to the book of Exodus discusses a fundamental concept of the Mishkan. He explains that the purpose of the redemption from Egypt was to return to the close relationship that our forefathers had with Hashem. This relationship was a complete surrounding of the presence of Hashem. First, Hashem gave the Torah on Mt. Sinai, where He unmasked a temporary presence that hovered over the Jewish nation. After this accomplishment, G-d's presence was able to rest with the Jewish people on a more permanent basis through the vehicle of the Mishkan. Rav Aaron Kotler explains that in order for the sanctity of the Mishkan to exist, the power of Torah must exist first. Because of this, it is forbidden to disrupt the studies of the children, even for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, since the presence of Hashem and the holiness of the Temple begin with the study of Torah. If we were to disturb the course of their Torah study, even minimally, it would take away from the holiness of the Temple, since the Divine presence within the Temple is dependent on their Torah study.
The Maharal, one of the seminal figures of Jewish thought in the last five centuries, explains that the study of Torah is greater than the building of the holy Temple, since the holiness of the Temple exists on two levels spiritual and physical (since the Temple is, in fact, tangible). Torah, on the other hand, is exclusively spiritual. There are no physical requirements necessary for the study of Torah. There are no demands for a connection to the physical world within the world of Torah.
The Maharal also points out that the reason one is not allowed to disrupt the children's Torah study, even for the rebuilding of the holy Temple, is because these students are anointed with the holiness of Torah. Since the holiness of Torah is an integral part of the building of the Beit HaMikdash, when one studies Torah, he takes part in the building of the Beit HaMikdash.
Now we can understand the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat when it states that the study of Torah is greater than the building of the Beit HaMikdash. Before we can even consider rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash, the destruction of the nation of Amalek is necessary. In order for the Jewish people to decimate Amalek, we do not need swords, guns, or tanks; rather we need to have the word of Hashem on our lips. As we say every day in the morning prayers, "Some with chariots, and some with horses, but we in the Name of Hashem, our G-d we call out" (Psalms 20:8). This extermination of Amalek, the epitome of evil, is needed before the Jewish people can create the holy Temple to house the epitome of good. After the annihilation of Amalek is complete, the importance of the study of Torah parallels the construction of the Temple, since Torah itself constructs the spiritual foundation of the holy Temple.
Nowadays, we have a chance to take part in the most pure and holy act that this world will ever see. Studying Torah has no attachment to materialism. It is completely removed from the physical world. There are those who believe that since the Beit HaMikdash is not standing, the possibility and opportunity of instilling holiness in our everyday lives has disappeared. Nothing could be further from the truth. We still have complete access of involving ourselves in purity. If we decide to take part, and to make a set time each day whether it be five hours or five minutes to learn the word of Hashem, it will lead to the eradication of all evil in the world and bring G-d's Divine presence back to Jerusalem through the rebuilding of the holy Temple with the arrival of the Mashiach (Messiah), may it be speedily in our days.
S. David Ram, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and Yeshiva University, is studying at the Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem.
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