Speak to the children of Israel, that they should take to Me a terumah (“uplifting”) (Exodus 25:2)
Every created entity has a spark of G‑dliness within it, a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its “soul,” its spiritual function and design. When we utilize something to serve the Creator, we penetrate its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence. Thus we elevate these “sparks,” reuniting them with their Source.
(The Chassidic Masters)
The materials donated for the Mishkan correspond to the components of the human being. “Gold” is the soul; “silver,” the body; “copper,” the voice; “blue,” the veins; “purple,” the flesh; “red,” the blood; “flax,” the intestines; “goat hair,” the hair; “rams’ skins dyed red,” the skin of the face; “tachash skins,” the scalp; “shittim wood,” the bones; “oil for lighting,” the eyes; “spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense,” the nose, mouth and palate; “shoham stones and gemstones for setting,” the kidneys and the heart.
Rabbi Shmuel said: The materials donated for the Mishkan correspond to the heavens. “Gold” is the sun; “silver,” the moon; “copper,” the western horizon at sunset; “blue,” the sky; “purple,” the clouds; “red,” the rainbow; “flax,” the seraphim; “goat,” the constellation of Capricorn; “rams’ skins dyed red,” thunder; “tachash skins,” lightning; “shittim wood,” shooting stars; “oil for lighting,” the seven planets; “spices for the anointing oil and for the incense,” dew and rain; “shoham stones and gemstones for setting”—hail and snow. Said G‑d: “My dwelling is in the heavens; if you make Me a Sanctuary on earth, I shall dwell in it.”
Regarding the work of the first day of creation it says, “He who stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalms 104:2). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says, “You shall make curtains of goat’s hair for a tent over the Tabernacle” (Exodus 26:7).
Regarding the work of the second day of creation it says, “Let there be a firmament . . . and let it divide between the waters and the waters” (Genesis 1:6). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says, “The veil shall divide for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies” (Exodus 26:33).
Regarding the work of the third day of creation it says, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together” (Genesis 1:9). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says, “You shall make a copper basin, and the base thereof of copper, for washing” (Exodus 30:18).
Regarding the work of the fourth day of creation it says, “Let there be luminaries in the heavens” (Genesis 1:14). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says, “You shall make a menorah of pure gold” (Exodus 25:31).
Regarding the work of the fifth day of creation it says, “Let fowl fly above the earth” (Genesis 1:20). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says, “The cherubim shall spread out their wings upward” (Exodus 25:20).
On the sixth day, man was created [to inhabit and cultivate the earth]. Regarding the Mishkan, G‑d says to Moses, “Bring near Aaron your brother [to perform the service in the Sanctuary]” (Exodus 28:1).
Of the seventh day we have it written, “The heaven and the earth were completed. . . . And G‑d completed His work . . . G‑d blessed . . . and G‑d sanctified . . .” (Genesis 2:1–3). Regarding the making of the Mishkan it says: “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle . . . and Moses blessed them. . . . And it came to pass on the day that Moses completed the Tabernacle . . . and sanctified it” (Exodus 39:32,43; Numbers 7:1).
The world was not considered worthy to make use of gold. So why was it created? For the Mishkan.
G‑d desired a dwelling place in the lower realms.
(Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16)
This is what man is all about; this is the purpose of his creation and of the creation of all the worlds, higher and lower—that there be made for G‑d a dwelling in the lower realms.
(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)
The verse does not say “and I will dwell within it,” but “and I will dwell within them”—within each and every one of them.
There was once a king who had an only daughter, and one of the kings came and married her. When her husband wished to return to his country, her father said to him: "My daughter, whose hand I have given you, is my only child; I cannot part with her. Neither can I say to you, ‘Do not take her,’ for she is your wife. This one favor, however, I ask of you: wherever you go to live, prepare a chamber for me that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter.”
In the same way, G‑d said to Israel: “I have given you the Torah. I cannot part with her, and I also cannot tell you not to take her. But this I request of you: wherever you go, make for Me a house wherein I may dwell.”
The measurements of the ark were all in fractions, indicating that to become a vessel for Torah, a person must first “break” his ego.
(Rabbi Natan Adler)
The measurements of the ark were all in halves, indicating that no matter how much one studies Torah, one never masters its whole; “Longer than the land is its measure, and broader than the sea” (Job 11:9).
Any Torah scholar whose interior is not like his exterior is no Torah scholar.
(Talmud, Yoma 72b)
This is actually one of the 365 prohibitions of the Torah—never to remove the carrying poles from the ark, even when the Mishkan is in a state of rest, as it often was for several months at a time. Indeed, the poles remained in the ark for the more than 380 years that it stood in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem! This particular law applies only to the ark, and not to any of the other vessels of the Mishkan.
The ark, which served as the depository of the Torah, was the most secluded of the Mishkan’s vessels, expressing the ideal that the Torah scholar (who serves as an “ark” for the Torah) must remove himself from all worldly endeavors. At the same time, however, he must be in a constant state of “portability”—even more so than the other “vessels.”
If there is a soul thirsting for the word of G‑d in the ends of earth, the Torah scholar must be prepared to leave his inner sanctum to transport the Torah to that place. So even when he sits in his “Holy of Holies,” he must have his “carrying poles” inserted in his “rings”—always at the ready to venture out at a moment’s notice, constantly aware of his responsibilities toward the world outside.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The cherubim had the faces of children (Rashi). They were representations of the images seen by Ezekiel in his vision of the divine “chariot” (Nachmanides).
But in another verse (II Chronicles 3:13) it says, “They faced [the walls of] the room”? When the people of Israel fulfilled G‑d’s will, the cherubim would face each other; and when the people of Israel did not fulfill G‑d’s will, the cherubim would face the walls of the room.
(Talmud, Bava Batra 99a)
There were three crowns: that of the altar, that of the ark and that of the table. The one of the altar (representing the priesthood), Aaron deserved, and he received it. The one of the table (representing the wealth of royalty), David deserved and received. The one of the ark (representing the Torah) is still available, and whosoever wants to take it may come and take it.
(Talmud, Yoma 72b)
The table stood in the Tabernacle, and there rested upon it a blessing from Above, and from it issued nourishment to the whole world. Not for a moment was that table to remain empty, since blessing does not rest upon an empty place. Therefore the showbread had always to be renewed upon it each Sabbath, in order that the blessing from Above might always rest upon it, and that food and blessing, because of it, might emanate from that table to all the tables of the world.
So too should every man’s table [have bread on it] when he says grace after meals: in order that the blessing from Above should rest upon it, it must not be empty.
The height of the menorah was eighteen handbreadths. Three handbreadths for the base and the flower upon it; two handbreadths of unadorned stem; one handbreadth for cup, bulb and flower; again two handbreadths of unadorned stem; one handbreadth for a bulb out of which two branches come forth, one on each side, extending and rising to the same height as the menorah; one handbreadth plain; one handbreadth for a bulb out of which two branches come forth, one on each side, extending and rising to the same height as the menorah; one handbreadth plain; one handbreadth for a bulb out of which two branches come forth, one on each side, extending and rising to the same height as the menorah; and then two handbreadths plain. There now remained three handbreadths, in which space were three cups, a bulb and a flower (in each of the seven branches).
The cups were like Alexandrian goblets (wide at the top and tapered down towards the base); the bulbs, like Cretan apples; and the flowers, like the blossoms around the capitals of columns. It will be found, therefore, that there were twenty-two cups, eleven bulbs and nine flowers.
It should not be made out of sections, and its branches and lamps should not be made piecemeal and welded together. Rather, it should originate in its entirety as a single piece [of gold], which should be hammered and spliced into shape, and the branches bent in either direction.
Rashi, following the basic meaning of the text, states that the branches of the menorah extended upward from its main stem in straight, diagonal lines—not curved, as commonly depicted. This reading of the text is supported by an illustration in Maimonides’ own hand, which likewise shows straight, diagonal branches.
Sketch of menorah by Maimonides’ hand
from manuscript of his Mishneh Torah
(Maimonides refers to the illustration as a rough sketch designed to show the general form and placement of the menorah’s components, rather than an exact depiction; the shape of the branches, however, is a major rather than a minor detail. As Maimonides’ son, Rabbi Abraham, writes: “The six branches . . . extended in straight lines from the menorah stem to the top, as my father drew them—not curved, as others have drawn.”)
Traditional rabbinical sources do include an opinion—that of the author of Maaseh Choshev—that the menorah’s branches were curved. However, it is obvious from the words of the Maaseh Choshev that the author did not see Maimonides’ illustration. (He mentions Rashi’s opinion that the branches were straight, but noting that Maimonides says only that they “extended upward,” he deduces that Maimonides differs from Rashi. This understanding of Maimonides’ opinion clearly indicates that the Maaseh Choshev was unaware of the illustration which Maimonides sketched in his original manuscript of the very text he quotes.)
The common practice of depicting the menorah with curved branches derives from the infamous “Arch of Titus,” erected by the Roman emperor to celebrate his defeat of the Jews and his destruction of the Temple, in which a menorah (with curved branches) is shown being triumphantly carried off to Rome, and which bears the inscription “Judah Captive.” The curved branches are only one of many inaccuracies in this menorah, which differs in numerous ways from the Torah’s specifications. It is most unfortunate that for many Jews the image of the Menorah is as depicted on an arch constructed to celebrate the Temple’s destruction, rather than as described by the Torah and its traditional commentaries.
I therefore urge that every effort be made to correct this error by taking care to always draw the menorah with diagonal branches, and to follow this model in all representations of the menorah, such as menorahs used for the kindling of Chanukah lights, and so on.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 21)
Another interesting feature of Maimonides’ illustration (see previous citation) is that the “goblets” or “cups” that were part of the menorah’s design are shown upside down. Apparently, Maimonides was the recipient of a tradition, or was privy to a nowadays unknown midrash, that this was how the goblets were formed in the menorah.
The significance of the menorah’s upside-down goblets can be understood in light of another “inverted” feature of the Sanctuary, when it attained its permanent form as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “When a person builds a house,” says the Midrash, “he makes the windows narrow on the outside and wider on the inside, so that the light from the outside should illuminate the interior. But when King Solomon built the Holy Temple, he made the windows narrow within and wide without (as per I Kings 6:4), so that its light should emanate to the outside and illuminate the world.” As the Holy Temple was not a recipient of light but a disseminator of light, its windows were turned inside out.
By the same token, a goblet can serve as a receptacle of drink or as a dispenser of drink. The Sanctuary being the source of blessing and nurture for the entire world, the goblets depicted within it were shown in a dispensing mode rather than in a receiving one.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 21)
Moses had difficulty comprehending the construction of the menorah, until G‑d showed him a menorah of fire.
The ten multicolored tapestries, in two groups of five each, represent the Ten Commandments (engraved on two tablets). The eleven sheets of goat hair, sewn together in groups of five and six, represent the Five Books of Moses and the six orders of the Mishnah. . . . The “folded sheet” represents the Talmud, which enfolds and defines the Torah. . . . The fifty clasps represent the fifty days from the Exodus to the giving of the Torah.
“Artistic work” means that the images were not embroidered, but of the weave itself, and done in such a way that one figure showed on one side and a different figure on the other. “Embroidered work” were images made with needlework, and which were the same on both sides.
As seen from the inside of the Sanctuary, the golden clasps embedded in the tapestries were like stars glittering in the heavens.
(Beraita Melechet HaMishkan)
The Mishkan thus resembled a lady strolling through the market with the hems of her dress trailing behind her.
(Talmud, Shabbat 98b)
The tachash was a multicolored animal, which was created specifically for the Tabernacle and existed only at that time.
Rabbi Hoshaya taught that it was a one-horned animal.
In truth, “Everything that G‑d created, He created solely for His glory” (Ethics of the Fathers 6:11). It is only that in our material world, a thing’s exterior face often belies its intrinsic purpose.
But there was one creature, the tachash, which existed only in the time and place it was needed for the making of a “dwelling for G‑d.” Thus the tachash expressed the true nature of every creation: that it exists to the sole end of serving and revealing the divine essence implicit within it.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
According to the Talmud, the shittah was a type of cedar; in Rabbi Saadiah Gaon’s (Arabic) translation of the Torah it is rendered shant, or “acacia.”
Chassidic teaching sees the word shittim as related to the word shetut, “folly”—an allusion to the fact that the function of the Mishkan was to transform the folly of materialism into “folly of holiness,” commitment to G‑d that transcends the rationale and normalcy of “the way things are.”
Why of shittim wood? G‑d set an example for all time, that when a man is about to build his house from a fruit-producing tree, he should be reminded: If, when the supreme King of kings commanded the Sanctuary to be erected, He instructed to use only trees that are not fruit-bearing, though all things belong to Him, how much more should this be so in your case?
How did the children of Israel obtain wood in the desert? Rabbi Tanchuma explained: Our father Jacob foresaw with his holy spirit that Israel was destined to build a Sanctuary in the desert, so he brought cedars to Egypt and planted them [there], and instructed his children to take them along when they left Egypt.
For all the years that the children of Israel were in Egypt, Jacob’s cedars served as a link to their past and a promise of their future. “This is not your home,” the growing trees said. “You, like us, hail from a loftier, holier place. And soon you will leave this depraved land, to be reclaimed by G‑d as His people. You will then uproot us from this foreign land and carry us triumphantly to Sinai, where you will construct out of us a dwelling for the Divine Presence in your midst.”
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
It lay there by a miracle. (It was a single 72-cubit long bar which passed through the three walls; the necessary bending between the angles of the walls was miraculously done by itself.)
(Talmud & Rashi, Shabbat 98b)
Said Rabbi Yitzchak: One who desires to become wise should turn to the south [when praying], and one who desires to become rich should turn to the north. Your sign for this is: the table was to the north and the menorah to the south.
Said Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: One should always turn to the south, because through obtaining wisdom one will obtain wealth.
(Talmud, Bava Batra 25b)
Why copper? Just like copper tarnishes and then can be scrubbed clean, so the people of Israel, although they sin, they repent and are forgiven.
These “pegs” served to hold down the coverings of the Mishkan and the walls of the enclosure, so that they should not lift in the wind. I am not sure if they were stakes driven into the ground, or if they were just weights tied to and hung upon the fabrics to hold them down.
The deeper significance of Rashi’s uncertainty is as follows: If the stakes were driven into the ground, then the earthen floor of the Mishkan formed an integral part of its structure. If, however, the stakes merely weighed down the edges of the coverings, then the relationship of the Mishkan to its floor was more superficial, and its holiness did not permeate its floor to the same extent as it did its other parts.
The Mishkan sanctified and elevated a broad cross-section of physical materials, including “higher” vegetable and animal-derived substances as well as inanimate minerals. But the minerals used in its construction were of the more precious sort—gold, silver and copper. Unless the earthen floor of the Mishkan formed an integral part of the edifice, the “lowliest” elements of the physical world had to await the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (made primarily of mortar and stone) to become part of the divine dwelling on earth.
(The Chassidic Masters)