Lecture 87: The Structure of the Mishkan - A Reflection of Israel's Spiritual Situation

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy






Lecture 87: The structure of the mishkan – a reflection of israel’s spiritual situation


Rav Yitzchak Levi





            In the previous lecture, we examined several ways in which the Mishkan served as a model for the resting of the Shekhina in the world in general. We saw how, based on this understanding, it is possible to argue that in certain senses the structure of the Mishkan contains within it the Temples that came after it.


            A simple examination of the plan of the first Temple, its dimensions, and the number of vessels found in it shows that that they are all very different than those of the Mishkan in the wilderness. These changes obligate us to deal with two questions:


1)      How was it at all possible to deviate from the command regarding the Mishkan when we know that there is a prohibition to add or subtract from the mitzvot, even on the basis of the express pronouncement of a prophet?


2)      What was the spiritual meaning of these changes?


Inasmuch as our interest here lies in the fundamental aspects of these questions, we shall not conduct a precise comparison between the Mishkan and the Mikdash, but merely bring several examples that will illustrate the principle.




            An answer to this question emerges from the remarks of the commentators regarding David's words to Shlomo:


All this, said he, is put in writing by the hand of the Lord who instructed me, all the works of this pattern. (I Divrei Ha-yamim28:19)


            The Radak (ad loc.) explains that the verse means that Shmuel received all the plans for the Mikdash through prophecy, or as Rashi says, through an exposition of the words of the Torah by way of the Holy Spirit. This is also what Rashi explains in his commentary to Sukka (51b): "All the works of this pattern that the Holy One, blessed be He, instructed him by way of Gad the seer and Natan the prophet."


            A slightly different explanation is brought in the Yerushalmi in Megila (1:1), namely that the reference here is to a scroll that Shmuel passed down to David.


            It may be assumed that Shlomo did not introduce any changes into what David received from Shmuel through prophecy, but the difficulty remains: How is it possible to deviate from what is written in the Torah? Chazal expounded: "'Even so shall you make it' – for the coming generations" (Sanhedrin 16b)! How then is it possible to make changes?


1.              The Chatam Sofer in his commentary to Torah expanded at length on this question:


"According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Tabernacle… even so shall you make it" – for the coming generations. Thus explained Rashi. And the Ramban raised an objection: Surely King Shlomo changed the altar, and did not fashion it in accordance with its pattern! And I say that the matter requires examination in the other direction. Why was it necessary to say: "'Even so shall you make it' – for the coming generations"?  Would it enter your mind to change anything from the pattern about which the Holy One, blessed be He, was precise and showed to our master Moshe? Moreover, the building at Shilo and the permanent Temple require further study – who granted permission for this? Surely, the Holy One, blessed be He, showed our master Moshe the Mishkan with boards and curtains! And even though it was built in accordance with the words of a prophet, as it is written: "All this, said he, is put in writing by the hand of the Lord who instructed me" (I Divrei Ha-yamim28:19), and in the second Temple there were Chaggai, Zekharya and Malakhi, and the future building was shown to Yechezkel, nevertheless, who gave us permission to believe these prophets to innovate something? (See end of chapter Ha-Nechenakim - Sanhedrin 899b.)

God, however, has illuminated my eyes regarding this [exposition]: "'Even so shall you make it' – for the coming generations." Even though we learn a stringency from this in the second chapter of Shevu'ot (15a) that we require for [future] generations a king, a prophet, a High Priest, and the Urim Ve-Tumim, it seems, in my humble opinion, that the verse comes primarily [to teach] a leniency - that each time, we can change the building and the vessels in accordance with a vision that God, blessed be He, will show the prophets of the generation. Even though with respect to the other mitzvot in the Torah we do not listen to a prophet to change anything whatsoever, nevertheless, this mitzva of building the Temple and its vessels was given from the outset on condition that it would change in accordance with a vision. And this is what it says: "According to all that I show you… even so shall you make it" – for the coming generations, in accordance with the vision that I will show the prophets of the generations. Here, permission was granted to make changes, including the change in the altar made by King Shlomo. But that regarding which no change was shown… must be made in accordance with the original pattern shown to our master Moshe on the mountain. Thus, the words of Rashi are correct, and the objection raised by the Ramban is resolved. (Torat Moshe, Shemot 25:9).


            As opposed to the simple understanding, that the teaching "'even so you shall make it' – for the coming generations" comes to limit building in the future, the Chatam Sofer suggests the very opposite. According to him, what is taught here is that the building will be in accordance with what God will show the prophets of each generation.


            From here we can reach an important and interesting conclusion, namely, that there is a correspondence between the building of the Mikdash and the generation and its prophets. As it were, the resting of the Shekhina is reflected in every generation in accordance with the period and the generation, and this finds expression in the structure of the Temple, its dimensions, its shape, and its vessels.


2. The Or Ha-Chayim proposed a different answer:


In my opinion, "'Even so shall you make it' – for the coming generations" applies only to the form of the structure, but not to its dimensions. (ad loc.)


In other words, the limitation regarding the building of the Mishkan applies only to the form of the structure, which was indeed preserved, but not to its dimensions.


3. Another answer to our question was suggested by Rav Kook. Rav Kook related to the gemara in Zevachim (62a) which describes the days of the return to Zion. There it says that three prophets went up with them from the Exile: "One testified to them about [the dimensions of] the altar, another testified about the site of the altar, and the third testified to them that they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple." Rav Kook expanded this to include not only the site of the altar, but also the plan and structure of the Mikdash:


Even though regarding all Torah matters we maintain that "it is not in heaven," and regarding the laws that were forgotten during the days of mourning over Moshe, when they said to Yehoshua, "Ask," the answer was, "It is not in heaven;" and "these are the commandments" – for a prophet is not permitted to innovate anything… nevertheless all these words do not apply to the arrangements connected to the building of the Mikdash. Regarding this, we explicitly learned in a baraita in Sifrei, Parashat Re'eh on the verse, "There shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come" (Devarim 12:5) – seek at the command of the prophet. The Torah innovates here that matters relating to the altar are given over to prophecy, following seeking based on the Torah or seeking based on prophecy, etc. It seems that the same is true about all matters concerning the plan and building of the Mikdash – they are given over to the prophet, to seek from him that he inform us from heaven by way of prophecy. This does not fall at all into the category of "these are the commandments" – a prophet is not permitted to innovate anything, and not in the category of "it is not in heaven." (Mishpat Kohen, no. 93, p. 175)


According to Rav Kook, one area stands out as exceptional in comparison to the rest of the Torah, in that it is possible to introduce changes from what is written in the Torah - namely, the Temple.


            Why is change permissible only in this realm?


            It may be proposed that the manner of the Shekhina's resting changes from one generation to the next and one period to the next. It is a direct consequence of the spiritual situation of the people of Israel in that generation. There is no comparison between the people of Israel after having just emerged as a nation, wandering in the wilderness, dwelling according to tribes around the Mishkan, surrounded by miracles, revelation, and the direct providence of God (the cloud, the manna, the quail, the well, etc.) and the people of Israel settled in its land, each person under his grapevine and fig tree. There is no comparison between a situation in which a king rules over the entire nation, each tribe in its territory, and the situation of the people of Israel in the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple and seventy years of exile, when only a small minority returned to Eretz Yisrael.


In each situation, the manner of the resting of the Shekhina - its force, its frequency and its form – is different, and this also finds expression in the structure of the sanctuary, in its size, and in the vessels found in it. In other words, the structure expresses the resting of the Shekhina in the world, the changing spiritual reality. Since we are dealing with a most fundamental point, it was established from the very beginning that in the realm of the Temple, it would always be possible to make changes based on the words of a prophet, even against what is explicitly stated in the Torah.


            The reason that this happens precisely with respect to the Temple is that the Temple represents the presence of the Shekhina in the world, and the manner of the Shekhina's presence directly depends upon the Israel's relationship with God.


4. This idea is nicely explained by the author of the Kedushat Ha-Levi:[1]


"The pattern of the Tabernacle and all its vessels, etc." was a garment and picture of holy spirituality, and in accordance with the prophecy seen by Moshe and all of Israel at Mount Sinai… For this reason, Moshe and the generation of the wilderness, in accordance with their service and the spirit of the prophecy that they attained at Mount Sinai, had to make the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of the vessels which become a garment for the spiritual lights of holiness. Accordingly, this is the meaning of the verse: "According to all that I show you" – in accordance with the prophecy thus shall be the pattern of the Tabernacle and all the vessels, "even so shall you make it" – for the coming generations, that is to say, in each and every generation, when you shall want to build the Temple, it shall be built in accordance with the pattern of the prophecy that shall be attained at that time, thus shall be the design of the Temple and the vessels. And Shlomo - in accordance with his service and with the prophetic spirit that he attained, so he made the design. (Shemot 25:9)




            We wish now to bring several examples of changes in connection with the structure of the Mishkan and the Mikdash, the vessels and the service performed with them. In addition to the practical and technical changes, these examples reflect different levels of the resting of the Shekhina, in accordance with the spiritual reality of the people of Israel.


1. The Mishkan in Shilo[2]


            The mishna describes the Mishkan in Shilo as follows:


When they came to Shilo, the bamot were [again] forbidden. [The Mishkan] there had no roof, but [consisted of] a stone edifice at the bottom and curtains at the top, and this was the "rest" [alluded to in Scripture]. (Zevachim 14:6)


This situation is an intermediate stage between the situation in the wilderness, in which the Mishkan had boards on the bottom and curtains on top, and the situation in the permanent sanctuary in Jerusalem, which had stones on the bottom and stones on top.


On the face of it, we can relate to the mishna as a technical description of the situation in Shilo, but we can also see in it a description that reflects the spiritual situation in Shilo.


After the people of Israel were in the camp in Gilgal throughout the period of the conquest and settlement on the western bank of the Jordan, the Mishkan moved to Shilo. This move reflects the move to the mountainous region of Eretz Yisrael as well as the transition from temporariness to permanence.


In this sense, the period of Shilo – the period of the Judges – also constitutes a transitional period between the leadership of Yehoshua – the leadership of a single leader over all of Israel – and the leadership of Shmuel, which was also the leadership of a single leader over all of Israel. The period of the judges was an intermediate period. On the one hand, we no longer have the leadership of Yehoshua, but rather each time, a judge comes from a different tribe to lead Israel and deliver them from the hands of their enemies. On the other hand, there is still no permanence or continuity of rule (to the exclusion of the story of Gidon and Avimelekh, the very exception that proves the rule).


In addition, from a spiritual perspective, the Mishkan in Shilo was far more permanent than the Mishkan in the camp in Gilgal (which apparently was identical in structure to the Mishkan in the wilderness), both with respect to its location on the central mountainous massif in the tribal territory of Ephraim and with respect to the period of time that the Mishkan stood in Shilo (369 years according to Seder Olam Rabba and the Rambam in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 1:2). On the other hand, even if according to Chazal the place is defined as "a place that the Lord shall choose" and during the period of Shilo, bamot were forbidden, it is still not the final permanent place – Jerusalem. Therefore, even the structure of the Mishkan itself has a permanent component – the foundations and the walls, which were walls of stone that replaced the boards of the Mishkan – but its roof preserved its temporariness, the temporariness of the wilderness. The mishna calls this Mishkan "the rest," as opposed to Jerusalem, which is called "the inheritance." It turns out, then, that the structure of the Mishkan in Shilo reflects the spiritual reality of that period.


2. The increase in the number of vessels in Shlomo's Temple:


"He made also ten lavers" (II Divrei Ha-yamim4:6), in order to increase the rainwater that was in the lavers. Ten lavers corresponding to the Ten Commandments. Why did he make only one laver in the wilderness? Because Israel did not need rain in the wilderness, because the manna fell for them and there was a well with them. Shlomo made ten lavers in order to increase the rain, for he was in settled land, and they needed much rain, as it is stated: "A land of hills and valleys, and drinks water of the rain of heaven" (Devarim 11:11). And there were ten tables to increase the crops. Why did Moshe make only one? Because they did not need crops in the wilderness… And therefore he set five on the right side, which is to the south, corresponding to the right side of the world, from where rain of blessing goes out into the world. "And he made ten candlesticks of gold" (II Divrei Ha-yamim4:7) – corresponding to the Ten Commandments. And each candlestick had seven candles, so that there were seventy [candles], corresponding to the seventy nations. For as long as the candles burned, the nations were subdued, and from the day that the candles became extinguished, they grew stronger. (Midrash Tadshe 2)


The midrash explains the increase in number of the Temple vessels by the change in circumstances as opposed to the time of the Mishkan. The increase in the number of the vessels of the Temple as opposed to the Mishkan was meant to express the dependence on rain in Eretz Yisrael. The material blessing is a function of the people of Israel's performance of God's will in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore the many vessels. This was not needed in the Mishkan, when there was miraculous governance and absolute dependence on God. The Mikdash reflects the reality in Eretz Yisrael and the spiritual reality of the people of Israel in their land in that particular generation.


3. The gemara states:


R. Ketina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the keruvim were shown to them, whose bodies were intertwined with one another, and they would be thus addressed: "Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman." (Yoma 54a)


R. Chisda raised an objection against this assertion. Surely even the Levites, who carried the vessels of the Mishkan on their shoulders, were forbidden to see the vessels, and they did not take them until they were covered by Aharon and his sons. How, then, is it possible that the people of Israel were permitted to see the keruvim? R. Nachman answers:


This may be compared to a bride: As long as she is in her father's house, she is reserved in regard to her husband, but when she comes to her father-in-law's house, she is no more so reserved in regard to him. (ibid.)


In other words, the connection between God and Israel in the Mishkan is similar to the connection between a bridegroom and his bride while she is still in her father's house during the period of betrothal. During this period, she conducts herself with great reserve, and accordingly the people of Israel were warned not to gaze upon the holy vessels. In contrast, the Mikdash, a permanent structure, is likened to marriage – the bride in her father-in-law's house – when the relationship is more permanent and intimate, and at which point it is possible to see the holy vessels.


            It goes without saying that this explanation which distinguishes between the Mishkan and the Mikdash, between betrothal and marriage, has many other ramifications. These ramifications find expression in intimacy, in permanence, in the keruvim, and the like, and here we shall only bring a few examples to illustrate this principle.


4. The keruvim in the Mishkan and in the Mikdash


            The gemara in Bava Batra discusses the location of the keruvim:


How did they stand? R. Yochanan and R. Elazar [disagreed]: One said: They faced each other; and the other said: Their faces were inward. But according to the one who said that they faced each other, surely it is written: "And their faces were inward" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 3:13). [This is] no difficulty: The former [was] at a time when Israel did the will of the Omnipresent; the latter [was] at a time when Israel did not do the will of the Omnipresent. And according to the one who says that their faces were inward, surely it is written: "With their faces one to another" (Shemot 25:20). They were slightly turned sideways. (99a)


It seems that the simple resolution of the contradiction would be to say that the expression "with their faces one to another" in Parashat Teruma relates to the keruvim on the cover of the ark in the Mishkan, whereas the expression "and their faces were inward," found in an account describing Shlomo's Temple, relates to the keruvim standing inside the Holy of Holies on the floor spanning the width of the chamber (twenty cubits).


            R. Chayim Volozhiner, the Gaon of the Vilna, and the Netziv all relate to this issue, and explain the manner through a clear distinction between the generation of the wilderness in the Mishkan and the generation of the first Temple in Eretz Yisrael. We shall cite their words:


a. The words of R. Chayim Volozhiner:


The generation of the wilderness who merited to eat from the supernal table daily bread from heaven, and whose clothing did not grow old upon them, and who did not need any worldly support whatsoever – all agree that they would not be called "obeying the will of God" unless they looked heavenward with absolute uprightness and subjugated their hearts exclusively to Torah and service, and to the fear of God, blessed be His name, day and night not departing from their mouths, literally, without turning aside whatsoever, for even a short moment, to occupy themselves with their support. And as the Sages said: "The Torah was only given to those who eat the manna" (Mekhilta, Beshalach 17, and elsewhere). Therefore, the keruvim were made to stand then in accordance with the way that they were obeying the will of God, the one actually facing the other, to show that the upright shall behold His face, blessed be He, face to face with His holy people.

In the days of Shlomo, however, when the masses of Israel were forced to turn a little to earning a living, at least to the extent of maintaining themselves, this being the fundamental truth of His will, blessed be He, according to R. Yishmael, who maintains that for the masses it is better to act in this manner. As they said in Avot: "Torah study together with an occupation is an excellent thing… any study of Torah without some kind of work…" (Avot 2:2). And all the words of Avot are words of piety. Only that even when they engage in an occupation, their hearts should be turned to wisdom in contemplation of the words of the Torah. Therefore, the keruvim were made to stand from the outset, in accordance with the way they were obeying the will of God, their faces turned a little to the side, but nevertheless… with an affectionate face, to show His love for us, this being His will, blessed be He, as stated above. (He agrees with R. Yishmael, and the one who says that even the keruvim of Shlomo were set from the outset, in accordance with the way they were obeying the will of God, the one actually facing the other, agrees with R. Shimon ben Yochai.)

The question remains why it was necessary to stand the two keruvim turned to the side. Surely the one keruv which alludes to Him, blessed be He, should have been made to face forward. Rather, it is as we wrote, that His connection, as it were, to all the worlds and all the powers … is in accordance with the movement and stirring reaching them from our actions below, and in that measure His smiling and gracious face devolves also down to us. Therefore, even the keruv that alludes to Him, blessed be His name, had to be set turned to the side to the same degree as was the keruv that alludes to us. (Nefesh Ha-Chayim, gate 1, chap. 9)


The keruvim standing face to face reflected the situation of the people of Israel in the wilderness, a situation in which there was a Miskhan and the people of Israel did the will of God and subjugated their hearts exclusively to Torah and Divine service, having no need to work for their livelihood. In contrast, in the days of Shlomo, when the Temple stood and the people of Israel had to work for a living, the faces of the keruvim were turned a little to the side. Of course, what underlies all this is the fundamental difference between the days of the Mishkan and those of the Mikdash, between primacy and permanence, and between following God in the wilderness and permanent life in the time of the Mikdash.


b. The Gaon of Vilna in his commentary to Shir Ha-shirim also relates to this issue:


For a wife is intended for two things: the one, marital relations, and the other, taking care of the house. That which is stated in the gemara, "I never called my wife 'my wife,' but rather 'my house'" (Shabbat 118b, Gittin 52a) – this is because she is for two things. I never called her "my wife," because that is vulgar, but rather "my house," which signifies the second benefit, that she takes care of the needs of her house. This is the difference between the Mishkan and the Mikdash, for in the Mishkan, there was a manifestation of the marital relationship, the cleaving at all times to the Holy One, blessed be He, and therefore it was called "our couch" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:16), the place of coupling. But the two Batei Mikdash were at the level of a woman who takes care of her house, there being no manifestation of cleaving… And this is the meaning of "You shall no longer call me Ba'ali" (Hoshe'a 2:19), in the sense of ba'al ha-bayit, owner of the house, but rather Ishi (ibid.). The marital relationship will be evident to all, when they will cleave at all times to the Holy One, blessed be He. As it is written: "When I should find you outside, I would kiss you; and none would scorn me" (Shir Ha-shirim 8:1), on account of the cleaving. (Shir Ha-shirim 1:17)


The Mishkan expresses intimacy and cleaving – there the keruvim stand with their faces one to another. In the Temple, there was no manifestation of such cleaving, but rather of a woman who takes care of her house, as reflected in the faces turned inward. Once again, we see an essential spiritual distinction between Israel's cleaving to God in the wilderness as it was revealed in the Mishkan and Israel's connection to God in Eretz Yisrael in the days of Shlomo when the keruvim in the Mikdash faced inward, like a woman taking care of her house.


3. The Netziv of Volozhin also draws a comparison between the period of the wilderness and Eretz Yisrael, between the Mikdash and the Mikdash, between a bride in her wedding chamber and a woman in her house:


For in the wilderness, Israel was likened to a bride in her wedding chamber, and after they entered into Eretz Yisrael, they were likened to a married woman. A bride has nothing whatsoever to do but adorn herself so that her groom will gaze upon her and enjoy her appearance… Therefore, the keruvim were positioned the one facing the other. In Eretz Yisrael, however, they were like a married woman whose maintenance is provided in exchange for her handiwork, and so [the keruvim] faced inwards… So too in future generations when [the people of] Israel will obey the will of God and occupy themselves in Torah, about them it is written: "And their faces shall look one to another." And when they maintain themselves through work it is written: "And their faces were inward." (Ha'amek Davar, Shemot 25:20)


            To complete this section, let us note two additional differences between the structure of the Mishkan and the Mikdash, which also have spiritual significance.


a. The absence of silver


            Silver played an important role in the Mishkan both in the contributions made on its behalf and in the actual work; it is from the silver that the sockets and pillars were fashioned. In the Mikdash, on the other hand, gold was used on the inside and copper on the outside, but no silver. It is possible that the simple explanation of this phenomenon is as stated in Melakhim: "None were of silver; that was considered nothing in the days of Shlomo" (I Melakhim 10:21). But it is also possible that the separation between gold and copper was meant to emphasize the separation between holy and profane that was more important in the permanent Temple.[3]


b. The Hall


The Hall (Ulam) was a colossal building (according to Divrei Ha-Yamim, it was 120 cubits high – four times the height of the Temple itself!) that was not found in the Mishkan and was added in the Mikdash between the courtyard and the Sanctuary – the Heikhal and the Holy of Holies. According to our approach, this addition was part of the tendency to emphasize the separation from the holy, and the huge building was meant to signify that from there inwards was found the sanctified region.[4]


The FIrst Temple versus the Second Temple


            The gemara in Yoma lists the differences between the First and Second Temples:


Resh Lakish was swimming in the Jordan. Thereupon Rabba bar Bar Chana came and gave him his hand. [Resh Lakish] said to him: By God! I hate you. For it is written: "If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver; if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar" (Shir Ha-shirim 8:9).  Had you made yourself like a wall and had all come up in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which no rottenness can ever affect. Now that you have come up like doors, you are like cedar wood, which rottenness prevails over. (9b)


            R. Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari adopts the view of Resh Lakish, according to which the reason that the Shekhina did not rest in the Second Temple is the fact that the exiles did not return to Eretz Yisrael like a wall. He says as follows:


This is a severe reproach, O king of the Khazars. It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple, i.e., "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion" (Zekharya 2:10), from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, while the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs. An allusion to them might be found in the enigmatic words of Shlomo: "I sleep, but my heart is awake" (Shir Ha-shirim 5:2-4). He designates the exile by "sleep," and the continuance of prophecy among them by the "wakefulness of the heart." "It is the voice of my beloved that knocks" means God's call to return; "My head is filled with dew" alludes to the Shekhina which emerged from the shadow of the Temple. The words: "I have put off my coat," refer to the people's slothfulness in consenting to return. The sentence: "My beloved stretches forth his hand through the opening" may be interpreted as the urgent call of Ezra, Nechemia, and the Prophets, until a portion of the people grudgingly responded to their invitation. In accordance with their mean mind, they did not receive full measure. Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. (Kuzari II: 24)


            Accordingly, the reason for the absence of the Shekhina according to Resh Lakish was the failure of the majority of Israel to return to Eretz Yisrael from the exile. In practice, only a very small minority returned, and therefore in the absence of the presence of all of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, the Shekhina could not rest there. This manifested itself in the Temple in the absence of the most important vessels – the ark, the ark cover, and the keruvim.


            This understanding is sharpened based on the Maharal's understanding of the level of the Second Temple, which is the level of Israel. The Maharal emphasizes the difference between the Second Temple, where baseless hatred brought to its destruction, and the First Temple, where the Shekhina rested and the sins that brought to its destruction were idolatry, incest, and bloodshed:


You can ask: Why was the First Temple destroyed because of these three sins and the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred? You must not say that this was by chance. And furthermore, these three sins, i.e., idolatry, incest, and bloodshed, have a common characteristic, for regarding [all] three of them, one must allow oneself to be killed rather than violate [these sins]; why did these three share in the destruction? The explanation according to the plain sense of things is that in the First Temple, the Shekhina was among them. This is the virtue of the First Temple that was unique in its standing in that the Shekhina rested upon it. And therefore it was destroyed when it was no longer fitting that the Shekhina should rest among them, that is, when they defiled the Temple, for God, blessed be He, does not rest among their impurity unless the sin was unintentional… And therefore it was on account of these three impurities that the Temple was destroyed. But in the Second Temple, the Shekhina did not rest as it had in the First Temple, and therefore it was not destroyed on account of these three sins. But the superiority of the Second Temple was on account of the people of Israel themselves. It is clear that the people of Israel become unified through the Temple that they have. One priest, one altar, and the bamot were forbidden, so that there be no division or separation in Israel… Through the Temple, they are one whole nation, and for this reason the Temple was destroyed on account of baseless hatred, for their hearts were divided, and they were in disagreement and not worthy of the Temple, which is the unification of Israel. (Netzach Yisrael, chap. 4)


            In the days of the Second Temple, the essence of the Temple was at the level of Israel; in practice, the essence of the Temple was the service of Israel at a time that there was no resting of the Shekhina. Therefore, the essence was the sacrificial service on the altar, the lighting of the candelabrum, the daily burning of incense, and the showbread each Shabbat. But there was no revelation of the Shekhina in the Holy of Holies. This is the character of the Temple which is at the level of the people of Israel, and therefore it was destroyed because of baseless hatred.




            In this lecture, we tried to understand how, as opposed to all the other commandments, it was possible to introduce changes in the Temple. We explained that, on the one hand, the Temple is the perfection of the world, while on the other hand, its very existence is an expression of the spiritual situation of the people of Israel in each generation. Therefore, the spiritual situation of the people must match the form, size, and vessels of the Mikdash. We brought several examples to illustrate the ways in which the structure of the Mishkan or the Mikdash reflected the spiritual reality of the time.


            We chose to start with this topic in order to clarify that our entire occupation with the building is not only an attempt to understand the practical physical reality of the structure of the Mishkan. Rather, this building reflects a spiritual reality and the nature of the connection between God and the people of Israel.


            In general, this issue is exceedingly broad, and it could have been presented in a much wider manner. It is possible to relate to the functionality of each and every element, and it can be argued that beyond the functional issue, we are dealing here with something essential relating to the structure of the rooms and the vessels found in them, the materials, and the changes and additions that take place in the transition from the Mishkan to the First Temple and from the First Temple to the Second Temple.


In the next lecture, we will consider the meaning of the words that describe the structure in which the Shekhina resides – Mishkan, Mikdash, Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting), Ohel Edut (Tent of Testimony), and the like.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] I was pointed to this source by R. Moshe Odes, "Min ha-Mishkan el Ha-Mikdash," in his book, Bi-Levavi Mishkan Evneh (Jerusalem 5766), p. 356.

[2] We dedicated a separate lecture to the Mishkan in Shilo: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/mikdash2/54mikdash.htm, "The significance of the stations of the Mishkan (Part II): The Uniqueness of Shilo."

[3] We brought here the essence of the words of R. Yigal Ariel, Mikdash Melekh: Iyyunim Be-Sefer Melakhim (Chispin, 1994), pp. 70-71.

[4] According to the book of Melakhim – if we assume that it disagrees with the book of Divrei Ha-Yamim and maintains that the height of the Hall was the same as the height of the Heikhal - it may be argued that the Hall constitutes a transitional area between the courtyard and the Heikhal. This too is part of the same tendency: a transitional structure is necessary in order to prepare one who is about to enter for his entry into the Holy.