“Let Them Make Me a Sanctuary, That I May Dwell in Their Midst”
Adapted by Immanuel Mayer
Translated by Kaeren Fish
Who makes the menora?
Our parasha includes the command to make the menora, which is introduced with the following verse:
“And you shall make (ve-asita) a menora of pure gold; of beaten work shall the menora be made (te’aseh): its shaft and its branches, its bowls, its bulbs, and its flowers shall be of the same.” (Shemot 25:31)
There is an inherent tension in the verse: on the one hand, “you shall make (ve-asita),” as an active command; on the other hand, “shall… be made” (te’aseh). Rashi (ad loc.) notes this tension and cites the midrash:
“‘[Of beaten work] shall the menora be made’ – on its own. Since Moshe had trouble with it, the Holy One, blessed be He, told him: Cast the talent [of gold] into the fire, and it will fashion itself. Therefore the text does not say, ‘ta’aseh’ (you shall make).”
The difficulty is compounded when we reach the end of the unit discussing the menora:
“Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels. And see that you make (u-re’eh ve-aseh) them according to their form which was shown to you in the mountain.” (Shemot 25:39-40)
Here again Rashi (ad loc.) negates the active command embodied in the word ‘ve-aseh,’ basing himself upon the midrash:
“‘And see that you make’ – See here on the mountain the form that I am showing you. This tells us that Moshe had difficulty [understanding] how the menora was to be made, so the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him a menora of fire.”
Were it not for the words “ve-aseh” and “ve-asita,” we might accept the idea that the command concerning the menora was intended merely as an architectural description, with God having planned from the outset to fashion the menora Himself. However, the verses include explicit commands to actively create it, and we must therefore find a way to understand what exactly God was demanding of Moshe, and how the command was actually carried out. Thereafter we will turn our attention to the ramifications of this understanding of the verses upon our world-view.
It appears that while God did indeed demand that Moshe make the menora, each time Moshe reached a stage that he found impossible to execute, God assisted him. This applies to his understanding of the technical structure of the menora as well as to its actual fashioning.
God’s assistance to Moshe teaches us something important. God is telling Moshe, Know that you are required to exert effort in different areas, but you are not held responsible for a successful outcome where the matter is beyond your control. You must do the maximum that you are able, and God will enhance and complement your actions.
“Toiling and finding”
This insight arises from Chazal’s teaching in Megilla (6b):
“And R. Yitzchak said: If someone says to you, ‘I have toiled but have not found [results]’ – do not believe it; [if he says,] ‘I have not toiled, but I found’ – do not believe it; [if he says,] ‘I have toiled and I have found’ – believe it.”
R. Yitzchak’s choice of words seems rather strange: we usually associate the idea of “finding” with something that happens accidentally or unintentionally. Indeed, this is affirmed by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a):
“Three things come unexpectedly (or ‘catch one unawares’): Mashiach, and something that is found, and a scorpion.”
Hence, we come back to the question of why R. Yitzchak chooses the formulation, “I have toiled and I have found” – rather than, for example, “I have toiled and I have succeeded.”
It seems that, in accordance with what we said above, R. Yitzchak believed that it was not the toil itself that leads directly to the result, but rather the Divine aid that brings success to a person, so that it is like a metzia, or “something found.”
Ark or altar?
Having considered the example of the menora, and what it teaches us concerning the relationship between human effort and Divine input, let us move on to the broader picture – the Mishkan as a whole.
The purpose of the Mishkan is defined by the Rambam at the beginning of Hilkhot Beit Habechira (1:1):
“It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, ready for sacrifices to be offered within it, and [a place where] we [must] celebrate three times a year, as it is written, ‘Let them make Me a sanctuary.’”
Ramban, on the other hand, holds a different opinion:
“Therefore God started by commanding [the building of] the Mishkan, so that He would have a dwelling in their midst that was sanctified for His Name, and there He would speak with Moshe and command Bnei Yisrael. Now, the essence of the purpose of the Mishkan is the abode for the Divine Presence – this is the Ark, as it is written (25:22), ‘And I shall meet with you there, and I shall speak with you from above the covering.’ Therefore the Ark and its covering are mentioned first here, for it takes preference….” (Ramban on Shemot 25:2)
This disagreement concerns the fundamental essence of the Temple – a place for offering sacrifices, according to the Rambam, or a place for the dwelling of the Divine Presence, according to Ramban. This dispute also has ramifications for the question of which is the vessel that is most central to the Temple. According to Ramban, the Ark and its covering are at the center, for it is through them that the most direct contact between God and man is achieved. According to the view of the Rambam, the most central vessel is the altar, by means of which Am Yisrael can offer up sacrifices.
However, the dispute concerns more than just the identity of the central vessel; it pertains also to its location.
The Ark lies over the Foundation Stone, concerning which we learn in Yoma (54b), “It was called ‘shetiya,’ for from it the world was created.” According to Ramban, since the central vessel in the Temple is the Ark, via which God speaks with man, it is clear that this vessel must stand upon the place from which God started the creation of the world. In fact, according to Ramban’s view, the focus of our Divine service is the quest for God and faith in Him, and therefore the rationale behind the building of the Mishkan is the quest for the place where there will be the strongest contact with God. The Ark of the Covenant – the vessel through which God creates contact with man – must therefore stand on that place.
However, the Rambam rules:
“The Altar is [to be constructed] in a very precise location, which may never be changed, as it is written: ‘This is the altar for the burnt offerings of Israel.’ Yitzchak was bound as a sacrifice at the site of the Temple, as it is written, ‘Go to the land of Moriah,’ and as it is written in Divrei Ha-yamim II 3:1,: ‘Then Shlomo began to build the House of the Lord in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, where [the Lord] appeared to David, his father, in the place that David had prepared, in the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite.’
It is universally accepted that the place on which David and Shlomo built the altar, the threshing floor of Ornan, is the location where Avraham built the altar on which he bound Yitzchak as a sacrifice. It is the same spot where Noach built [an altar] upon emerging from the ark. It was also [the place of] the altar on which Kayin and Hevel brought sacrifices. Adam, the first man, offered a sacrifice at that same place and he was [created] from there, as our Sages taught: ‘Man was created from the place of his atonement."
The dimensions of the altar must be very precise. Its design has been passed down from one to another [over the course of the generations]. The altar built by the exiles [returning from Babylon] was constructed according to the design of the altar that will be built in the future. We may not increase or reduce its dimensions.” (Rambam, Hilkhot Beit Habechira 2:1-3)
The Rambam makes no mention of the Foundation Stone anywhere in his Mishneh Torah. Instead, he cites – in most uncharacteristic fashion – a number of midrashim concerning the location of the altar, all emphasizing the importance of that particular spot. The Rambam places the emphasis on man’s efforts and his actions; in the context of the Temple service, the emphasis is, of course, on the sacrificial altar, which stands outside of the Temple building. The midrashim that he cites likewise pertain to Divine service which had been performed at that same spot over many generations – from Adam, via Kayin and Hevel, Noach, the akeda, and more.
The Rambam cites the expression, “Man is created from the site of his atonement,” based on the midrash which teaches that the dust that was used to create Adam was taken from the place of that primal altar. The site of the altar is, in a sense, the fountain of life: it is the place from which man is created, and it is also the place via which man atones for his sins in order to be able to continue existing.
“Let them make Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst”
It seems that the fundamental disagreement between Ramban and the Rambam is also the source of their dispute regarding the menora: to what extent do we make room for human activity, as embodied in the sacrificial service on the altar, and to what extent do we focus on the Divine Presence and the revelation of God via the Ark of the Covenant?
Our conclusion is that we must do the maximum that we are able, and to exhaust human possibilities. Only when we have reached the limits of the dimension of “I have toiled” will we merit Divine aid that will enable us also to say, “I have found.”
(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Teruma 5773 .)