The Generous Economizer

When you see a miser spending money in generous amounts, you can assume that something out of the ordinary is afoot. It might be a simchah, such as an upcoming wedding, or perhaps a tragedy or an illness. Whatever it is, you would certainly assume an exception before assuming that your frugal friend experienced a change of heart.

Similarly, though not in any way comparable: when the Torah, usually highly economical with its words, suddenly devotes two entire portions to essentially repeat what has been already been delineated, we don’t assume that G‑d has changed His style. Rather, we assume there is a message therein. You see, G‑d doesn’t always make His lessons obvious. He often leaves clues and wants us to search. When we see an exception, we immediately clue in to a hidden message and begin to search for it.

In our case, the Torah devotes two entire portions to describing the actual building of the Tabernacle, after already having devoted two entire portions to G‑d’s precise instructions thereof to Moses. This seems highly repetitive and invites us to seek an explanation.

G‑d doesn’t always make His lessons obvious. He often leaves clues and wants us to search.

On High

Our sages taught that everything in the physical world evolves from a spiritual counterpart in the celestial worlds.1 Of the Tabernacle it is written that there was a parallel Tabernacle in the celestial sphere, the design of which was perfectly replicated in the physical Tabernacle that our ancestors built.2

The Midrash taught that when G‑d instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle, He illustrated the blueprint with red, green, black and white flames. Moses asked, “How can I build a Tabernacle of fire?” G‑d replied, “Build according to the image that I have shown you, but use materials such as turquoise, purple and crimson wool, as well as twisted fine linen. If your people replicate this celestial design on the physical plane, I shall abandon my celestial Tabernacle, descend below, and compress My infinite expanse [to dwell] among them.”3

This account is highly instructive. The design of the terrestrial Tabernacle precisely mirrored that of its celestial counterpart. The Midrash recounts that the beams of the tabernacle’s walls stood upright rather than horizontal, because the walls of the celestial Temple are comprised of angels who stand upright. As it was with the walls, so it was with each of the artifacts that Moses was instructed to build.

G‑d showed Moses the physical Tabernacle and its celestial counterpart, but Moses imparted to the Jews only the physical dimension. When G‑d spoke of acacia wood, Moses saw, in addition to wood, angels whose posture and image mirrored the properties of acacia wood. But when he descended and explained his vision to the people, he spoke only of acacia and not of angels. In this way, Moses succeeded in building a complete replica below of the Tabernacle above, even though the architects were oblivious to the celestial dimension of their work.

A Tabernacle built of physical materials can become a home for G‑d only if it is built to divine specifications.

Two Portions

We can now appreciate that both portions are crucial. A Tabernacle built of physical materials can become a home for G‑d only if it is built to divine specifications. To get it right, Moses had to see the celestial version. Then again, seeing only the celestial version does not a physical Tabernacle build—and G‑d wanted a physical Tabernacle. He therefore showed Moses the celestial version wrapped inside the physical version, and it was the physical version that Moses shared with the people.

This reminds me of the engineer who was called in to fix an engine. After inspecting the entire engine, he tightened a single screw and the engine purred to life. His fee was twenty thousand dollars. When he was challenged on the exorbitant fee to tighten a screw, he explained that tightening the screw costs only two dollars, but knowing which screw to tighten costs 19,998.

Moses is the engineer who spent forty days figuring out just how to tighten the screw and make it an effective abode for the divine. That alone deserves two complete portions. Then again—notwithstanding the clarity and spiritual transcendence that Moses enjoyed on the mountaintop—prophecy, meditation and study do not a physical Tabernacle produce. For that, Moses had to translate the celestial image into physical language, and recruit architects to build it physically. This deserves two additional portions.

It would not have been sufficient to simply write that the Jews built all Moses that had seen, because they didn’t. What Moses saw, the Jews could not build; and what the Jews built was not all that Moses saw. The vision shown to him by G‑d on the mountaintop’s celestial plane was transcendental, and the version built by the architects was physical. Each is its own subject, and each deserves its own portion.

The Lesson

Couldn’t Shabbat be observed on Sunday, and couldn’t Chanukah candles be kindled on Thanksgiving?

A Jew might sometimes wonder why each commandment must be performed precisely according to its halachic specifications. What happens if we change it a little? Couldn’t Shabbat be observed on Sunday, and couldn’t Chanukah candles be kindled on Thanksgiving? What if we mix our milk and meat, or affix our mezuzah to the wrong side of the door? If our hearts are in the right place, why is the rest important?

We must remember that the Tabernacle was tailored to fit the precise specifications of the celestial Tabernacle, so that they would fuse seamlessly and channel G‑d’s presence downward. The same is true of every mitzvah. Each mitzvah is designed to channel a specific formula of divine energy downwards, and must therefore replicate the formula of this energy in detail. And though the specifications we are given are physical, they mirror the celestial specifications perfectly.

However, one might wonder whether we do in fact forge divine connections through our mitzvot, considering that we are completely oblivious to this spiritual dynamic. The Torah provides for this question as well. By dividing the two parts of this story into two separate sets of portions, the Torah teaches that even a mortal Jew—residing on planet Earth, absorbed by physical cravings and desires and divorced from the transcendental mindset of Sinai’s mountaintop—can achieve a transcendental connection through the ordinary action of a mitzvah.

On the surface, it might seem that eating matzah on Pesach is no different from eating it at a summer barbecue; but underneath, there is a world of difference. So long as we fulfill the commandments in accordance with Moses’ instructions, and so long as we do so with passion, we too—mortal and unholy as we are—can open channels of connection between our soul and G‑d.4