This Torah reading begins: “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within,” commanding the Jewish people to establish a place where G‑d’s presence will be manifest. Originally, this command was fulfilled through the construction of the Sanctuary that accompanied the Jews through the desert, as related in this and the subsequent Torah readings.

Afterwards, when the Jews entered the Holy Land, they built several intermediate Sanctuaries until ultimately, the Temple was built on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. From that time onward, it is forbidden to build a Temple for G‑d in any other place, as it is written: “This is My resting place forever.” For that reason, even though the Temple is now destroyed, G‑d’s holiness still rests on the Temple Mount. Accordingly, our Sages interpreted the prophecy: “I will lay waste to your Sanctuaries,” as teaching that “Even though they have been devastated, their sanctity remains.”

Nevertheless, our Sages explain that even after the destruction of the First Temple, the Divine Presence accompanied the Jews into exile. Thus they explain that the building of synagogues in Babylon was not merely to provide the Jews with houses of prayer, it was to provide G‑d with a dwelling, as it were, for these synagogues were “sanctuaries in microcosm,” places where the Divine Presence rests in a diminutive manner.

In a larger sense, the term “sanctuary in microcosm” is used to refer to every Jewish home. In most homes, the windows are constructed in a way that lets light in. In the Temple, the windows were built to shine light outward, to enable the light from the Temple to disseminate throughout the world. In a similar way, even when a Jew establishes a private home, it is not merely a place where he and his family dwell and the light merely shines in, it should serve as a lighthouse, illuminating all the surroundings with the awareness of G‑d.

On a deeper level, the indwelling of G‑dliness mentioned in the verse refers not only to G‑d manifesting His presence in the Temple or in the various “sanctuaries in microcosm” mentioned above, but in the heart of every Jew. Indeed, that is intimated by the verse cited above: “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within.” For the term “within” is written in a plural form, indicating that G‑d’s presence did not dwell only within the Sanctuary, but within every individual person. Each one of us has a spark of G‑d, dwelling within our hearts. Indeed, many of the Torah commentaries explain how all the different utensils, structures, and services in the Temple have parallels in the relationships we share with G‑d and with our fellow men.

What a revolutionary view of ourselves! We are not limited human beings, enmeshed in the pathos of existential reality. We are sanctuaries for G‑d’s holiness with a mission to shed G‑dly light in our surroundings. When we realize and express this potential within ourselves, the atmosphere in our homes changes, making our homes “sanctuaries in microcosm.” And this motif continues to expand, sending ripples throughout our surroundings, enabling there to be a community center where G‑d’s presence is manifest.

Looking to the Horizon

Studying the laws of the Temple is not just an exercise in history or even, as above, a guide to find parallels in our own spiritual development. It is the beginning of the process of causation leading to the actual rebuilding of the Temple and is relevant to us at present, even if we do not live in the Land of Israel.

When the Jews were in exile in Babylonia, G‑d revealed the structural details of the future Temple to the prophet Ezekiel. Our Sages tell us that the prophet replied: “Master of the Universe! Why are You telling me to tell Israel of the form of the House?... They are now in exile in the land of our enemies. Is there anything they can do? Let them be until they return from exile. Then I will go and inform them.”

G‑d answered: “Should the construction of My House be ignored because My children are in exile?... The study of the Torah’s [description of the Temple] is deemed equal to its [actual] construction.... And, as a reward for their study..., I will consider it as if they had actually built the Temple!”

Fulfilling the commandment to build the Temple through study paves the way for us to be given the opportunity to build the structure in actual fact.