During the past few weeks, it has been incredibly difficult for me to wrap my head around the weekly Torah readings. I find myself skimming through all the intricate details of the building of the Mishkan, the traveling Tabernacle that the Jews built in the desert.

I’m not a historian, I am not an architect, and I do not find myself interested in exactly how each fiber of linen was sewn. How do I reconcile myself to the tedium of these verses? What am I supposed to learn from these teachings?


Glad you asked. It’s a sign you are studying the weekly Torah reading properly, looking for what it teaches you today, and not simply turning the pages as if the Torah is a Jewish history book.

Let’s start with a general principle:

The Torah mentions only that which serves as a lesson for all times. So the fact that the Torah tells us about the Mishkan at such great length means that there is so much there for us to learn.

The key here is that every item in the physical Mishkan has its counterpart in our own lives, the private “Mishkan” we each build. The verse itself suggests this when it gives the first instruction to the Jewish People regarding the Mishkan: “You shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.”1 Why the change from singular to plural? Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1558–1628), known as the Shaloh, explains that the verse does not say that G‑d will dwell “in its midst,” referring to the Mishkan; rather it says “in their midst,” referring to the Mishkan within each one of us.2

The teachings of Chassidism richly detail the connections between the intricate details of the Mishkan’s construction and contents, and the personal Mishkan we make in our lives.

Let’s take one example: the Ark.

The Ark itself was made of wood. Yet, the verse (Exodus 25:11) tells us, “And you shall overlay it with pure gold, from inside and from outside.”

The Jews fulfilled this directive by making three boxes tucked into each other. The larger, visible box was made of pure gold. Inside it, they placed a box of acacia wood. Then a second golden box was placed inside the wooden one. Thus, the middle wooden box was covered with gold inside and out.3

What does this teach us about our personal Mishkans?

We, too, have three layers. The innermost dimension of the soul is “pure gold.” This is our “G‑dly spark”—that part of our subconscious that can never be tainted, just like gold, which is an inorganic element not subject to change.

Next comes the more visible part of our soul: our personality. Feelings, attitudes, moods—the part of us that fluctuates constantly. Like wood, these can either be exquisite and beautiful (our idealistic, spiritual moments), or rotten (the moments filled with depression and negative desires).

Finally, there is the outer ark, that which is visible to all: our behavior. Ideally, this too is to be gold.

There are two lessons here:

  1. We acknowledge that the middle layer of wood will have its dark moments. And that’s okay. Nonetheless, we are instructed to control our temptations and show a brilliant gold. Despite what’s going on inside, our actions are under our jurisdiction.
  2. We should never feel like hypocrites when doing a good deed. On the contrary, it is the middle level that is not true to our essence; the gold we display on the outside simply mirrors who we are at our deepest level.

This is just one example. There are countless other lessons to be learned from the design of the Ark. And the same goes for each of the other vessels, as well as for the overall design of the Mishkan. So you can see how, with a little bit of effort and study, these verses can in fact be understood as talking directly to you.

For more insights on the vessels, see Components of the Holy Temple, and contact your local Chabad House to join a class on the Torah readings.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org