The Goal of the Sanctuary: Elevating the Children of Israel
The Sages teach, “Moses was greatly surprised when he heard, ‘They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them’ [Exodus 25:8]. He asked Him, ‘You, concerning Whom the verse states, “The whole world is filled with His glory” [Isaiah 6:3], will You contract Yourself into the 48 beams of the Sanctuary?’ ” (Yalkut Shimoni, Terumah 365). Is such a thing conceivable?
The answer is that everyone should learn how to conduct himself from the Sanctuary. In order to reside in this lower world, Hashem commanded Moses, already in the desert, to build a Sanctuary for Him. The question nevertheless remains: Why would He ask the Children of Israel to build Him a Sanctuary and a Temple? “Would G-d truly dwell on earth with man? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You” (II Chronicles 6:18). What does G-d need with a house? What does He need with our offerings?
We know that in general people are influenced by what they see, and the less integrity a person has, the more impressionable he is to what he sees.
Allow me to explain:
The Children of Israel observed Passover even after the second year of their departure from Egypt, as the Torah states (Numbers 9:1). Why? It is because those who lived through that event (and not only heard of it) had to relate it to their descendants through all the generations, which is the essence of the Passover holiday. Our Sages teach, “In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). Moreover in the Torah we find, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes” (Numbers 30:2), who were the leaders of Israel (Sifri ibid.), in order for everyone to see how great the reward is for one who bears the burdens of his fellow (Perkei Avoth 6:6).
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, turned “leprous as snow” (Numbers 12:10) after she spoke ill of Moses. However the people did not travel until she could return to the camp (v.15). This is to remind everyone that she waited for Moses by the side of the river (Sotah 13a). She was nevertheless punished for having spoken ill of him (see Shabbat 97a).
The Torah constantly enjoins us to perform the mitzvot with the utmost devotion. It lavishes us with very sensible advice for our daily lives. For example it tells us of Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, who was the first person to jump into the sea (Sotah 37a). It commands us not to bow down to the idols of the nations, but rather to break apart their pillars, etc. (Exodus 23:24). Concerning this subject, we may ask ourselves how a person can bow down to statues if he knows that only Hashem our G-d is real. It is because he does not know the Torah. It testifies to G-d’s existence and warns Jews to refrain from idolatry. G-d jealously watches over them and does not want them to act like the other nations.
It is written, “G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines” (Exodus 13:17). This is because He did not want the Children of Israel to imitate their ways, for “a man in general tends to imitate the conduct of his fellow” (Hilchot Deot 6:1,2). A man should therefore come closer to the Tzaddikim and distance himself from the wicked, who walk in darkness. A person must not stand in the path of sinners (see Ketubot 111b), nor live in a place where idols are worshiped. In short, if the Torah warns the Children of Israel not to act like the other peoples among whom they live, it is in order that they not be influenced by their wicked ways.
Likewise the Torah warns us, “When you build a new house, then you shall make a rail for your roof, that you not bring blood upon your house if any man fall from there” (Deuteronomy 22:8). If we must watch over our bodies, how much more should we watch over our souls? A person who regularly watches television literally puts his life in danger, for is the soul not tainted by what the eyes see?
The Sanctuary therefore teaches us to conduct ourselves in purity and holiness. It instills us with modesty, awakens us spiritually, and brings us closer to G-d. It gives us the feeling of being at home, at ease in the House of G-d. If we falter, our prayers and repentance go through the holy Temple, as it is written, “and [they] pray to You by way of their land” (I Kings 8:48). The Talmud states that one should pray in the direction of the Temple (Berachot 30a), from where all our prayers ascend to the Holy One, blessed be He.
It is written, “For the cloud of the L-RD would be on the Tabernacle by day” (Exodus 40:38), and the winds and rain had no affect [just as the rain did not extinguish the fire that burned on the Altar, nor did the wind prevail over the column of smoke that arose from the sacrifices (Perkei Avoth 5:5)]. This cloud allowed one to see rivers that were blue like the sky, as well as the sun (Yalkut Shimoni, Pekudei 426-427). Jews and gentiles flocked there from all over to savor the experience up close. Now that the Temple has been destroyed, it is yeshivot and synagogues that serve as a “little sanctuary” (Megillah 29a).
A non-observant Jew wanted to convert to another religion. “Go to the yeshiva,” I suggested to him. “It’s there that you’ll understand your identity, that you’ll see the light – the light of the Torah and G-d’s commandments – as it is written, ‘For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light’ [Proverbs 6:23]. Try to understand who you are and what role you must play in life.”
The Sanctuary in particular brings out the virtue of modesty, self-effacement, and submission before the Holy One, blessed be He. On this topic we read in the Mishnah, “The chalil [flute] played before them. They even slept in the street” (Yerushalmi Bichurim 3:4). In other words, the entire chalal, the entire universe, belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He, Who fills it with His glory. That it “played before them” means that it taught them to submit to G-d. A man must rid himself of this cloud that hides him from the eyes of his Creator. He will then rediscover his identity and serve Him with greater enthusiasm.
“The people that dwell in the land are powerful!” (Numbers 13:28), the spies exclaimed. Having spoken ill of Eretz Israel, they were severely punished. What then of the person who speaks ill of his fellow, whose soul is divine? Daring to speak ill of the Sanctuary is a true indication of pride (see Erchin 15b). Slander is an extremely grave sin that brings about leprosy and diphtheria (Shabbat 33b).
In addition, the death of the young men of Israel is as serious as the destruction of the Temple, and even Hashem deplores it. They are destined “to emit a sweet fragrance like Lebanon” (Berachot 43b), meaning the holy Temple. From the Temple, shefa (abundance) descends upon the entire world, and its destruction is mourned to this very day. The death of the young men of Israel, who bring joy to their families and the entire world (see Vayikra Rabba 20:7), is like the destruction of the Temple, with similar consequences.
Let us therefore refrain from speaking ill of our fellowman. This extremely serious sin brought about the destruction of the Temple, whose primary goal was the spiritual elevation of the Children of Israel.