By His Behavior, Man Builds A Sanctuary For G-d
It is written, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I shall dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). This command was given to Moses as soon as the Children of Israel began to bring their gifts to the Sanctuary. Yet why does the verse state “among them [literally ‘in them’]” rather than “in it”? Our Sages explain: “It is not written, ‘in it’ but ‘in them,’ which means that each Jew can be a sanctuary for G-d.”
Let us examine what all this implies. Can a mere mortal make his physical body a sanctuary in which the Shechinah can reside, since the Holy One, blessed be He, is a devouring fire? How can a mortal even approach such a fire, without even speaking of making a sanctuary of himself for G-d? Did the Sages mean that each person must accomplish the mitzvot of the Torah, and by so doing his body will become a sanctuary? In that case, why would the Children of Israel have needed to build an actual Sanctuary? There is something else that we need to understand. Normally we start out by building a beautiful home, from the foundation to the walls, and only then do we begin plastering and painting. We finally bring in various pieces of furniture and objects that add to the charm and beauty of the home. In the verse before us, however, Hashem commanded the Children of Israel to start by bringing all the various materials needed to construct the Sanctuary, and only then did He command them to build it. He should have started by giving them the command to build the Sanctuary, and only then have told them to donate articles to beautify it, not the reverse!
As we know, everyone is composed of two elements. The first is materiality, the body. The second is spirituality, meaning the Torah, mitzvot, and proper conduct that one acquires during his life on earth. What is the connection between these two elements? The material side constantly draws man toward an immoral life of pleasure-seeking as it tries to distance him from G-d. The spiritual side – the Torah, mitzvot, and moral behavior – act in exactly the opposite way, attempting to bring him closer to G-d. When somebody wants to come closer to Hashem and change his physical body into a holy and spiritual thing, the evil inclination comes and tries to dissuade him in every possible way. It attracts man by all kinds of seductive things and pretexts, trying to convince him that he cannot come closer to G-d: “What do you and Hashem have in common? How can you possibly compare to Him?” Nevertheless, people do indeed want to come closer to G-d and make their bodies a sanctuary in which the Shechinah can reside. What should a person do in that case? This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Children of Israel the following directives: It is true that you cannot instantly transform your physical bodies into a sanctuary for My Shechinah, but I will give you some advice. First, prepare the things necessary for building Me a Sanctuary. That is, before anything else, study the Torah and immerse yourselves in it. Perform a multitude of mitzvot, work on your character, and then automatically your body will become holy; it will become a sanctuary for the Shechinah. Yes, it is true that we first build a house and then fill it with beautiful objects. However here, when it comes to having the Shechinah reside among the Children of Israel, it is the reverse. Hashem asks us, before all else, to take the necessary steps. First we must elevate ourselves, carry out the mitzvot, conduct ourselves impeccably, and then automatically our bodies will become a sanctuary for G-d.
This parsha teaches us yet another lesson.
Gold, silver, and copper were the first things that the Children of Israel were asked to bring for the work of the Sanctuary. Reflecting upon this, we see that the first material thing that disrupts a person’s service of G-d is money! People are ready to devote their entire lives to amassing as much money as they can, and it is precisely this money that disrupts their service of G-d. It is known that one who enters into a financial and material career finds it very difficult to later get out of it and come closer to G-d. Furthermore, money can drive a person mad and turn him away from his Creator. Money makes the heart of man cold and indifferent, and he thinks of nothing other than amassing material wealth, while completely forgetting about amassing spiritual wealth. This is quite obvious, for we can see with our own eyes that when people chase after money, their minds and hearts are completely absorbed by this pursuit, and they simply have no time to study, pray, and perform mitzvot. What becomes of their service to G-d in that case? This is why Hashem first commanded that money itself be brought as a contribution to the work of the Sanctuary, for it is in this way that we can channel the material side to serve G-d. Once we have done that, our entire body can be a sanctuary and an abode for the Shechinah, in which case “I shall dwell in them.”