Lecture 101: The Mishkan - A Unique Artistic Creation

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

LECTURE 101: THE MISHKAN – A UNIQUE ARTISTIC CREATION

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

I.          INTRODUCTION

 

            In this lecture, I wish to examine the beauty of the Mishkan and relate to it as an amazing artistic creation. On the face of it, the Mishkan was the most perfect work in the world, in which beauty found expression in a most unique manner.

 

            We will relate to the dimension of beauty as it was expressed in the Mishkan, the Mikdash, and in all of Jerusalem. All of these express the same principle – the earthly beauty of the site of the revelation of the Shekhina – the structure and the city – reveals heavenly beauty.

 

“ THIS IS MY GOD AND I SHALL MAKE HIM BEAUTIFUL (VA-ANVEIHU)”[1]

 

            The Mishkan was built with unique artistry by craftsmen chosen by God and headed by Betzalel, about whom it is stated: "And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship" (Shemot 31:3). This teaches us the importance that God, as it were, attached to the Mishkan's artistic element. The craftsmen were indeed bestowed with special Divine wisdom in order to execute this project in the most perfect manner possible.

 

            The author of the Even Ha-Ezel noted the great importance of the inner beauty of the Mishkan.[2] In the book of Devarim, the Torah commands, "You shall not plant an ashera of any tree near the altar of the Lord, your God, which you shall make for you" (Devarim 16:21). Rashi there comments: "A warning to one who plants a tree or builds a house on the Temple Mount," and the Even Ha-Ezel adds:

 

A place of sanctity must be beautiful by virtue of its holiness, and not because of external decorations, such as a beautiful tree or grand buildings. Therefore, if you wish to glorify the sanctity by way of external means, the implication is that you make light of its intrinsic beauty.

 

In other words, the beauty of the Mikdash stems from its essential sanctity, and any external addition only impairs its inner essential beauty.

 

            This is also the way that the Radak explains the designation for the Mikdash found in the book of Yechezkel, "As for the beauty of his ornament which he set in majesty" (7:20):

 

This refers to the Temple, which is majestic beauty, the glory of God who is sanctified within it, with which they would beautify themselves as with an ornament. And the Holy One, blessed be He, set it as a [source of] pride, for Israel would boast and praise themselves with it above all other nations.

 

In his remark, the Radak notes a related element found in the Mikdash tiferet, "beauty, majesty" – to which Scripture relates in several places: "Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised You" (Yeshayahu 64:10); "And He has cast down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not His footstool in the day of His anger" (Eikha 2:1, and see Rashi, ad loc.). It is interesting that God Himself is referred to as the beauty of Israel as well: "For You are the beauty of their strength, and in Your favor our horns shall be exalted. For our shield belongs to the Lord, and our king to the Holy One of Israel" (Tehillim 89:18-10). Similarly, the priestly garments are worn "for honor and for beauty" (Shemot 28:2). In other words, the element of beauty in God reveals itself in the Mikdash and in the priestly garments, similar to what we saw regarding the element of justice.[3]

 

            Apart from the building itself, the beauty of the Mikdash revealed itself in the things that were added to it. For example:

 

  • When King Shlomo built the Mikdash, he planted therein “all kinds of [trees of] golden delights" (Yoma 21b)

 

  • "A golden vine stood at the door of the Heikhal on poles" (Middot 3:8).

 

  • The Rambam ruled: "The most preferable way to fulfill the mitzva is by strengthening the building and raising it [to the utmost degree] within the potential of the community, as [implied by Ezra 9:9]: "To exalt the House of our Lord." They must make it beautiful and attractive according to their potential. If possible, it is a mitzva to plate it with gold and to magnify all of its aspects" (Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 1:11).

 

Even some of the services in the Mikdash were performed for the sake of beauty:

  • The Rambam explains the extra fire that burned on Yom Kippur as follows: "And all agree that in any event we add a fire on the fast day, Yom Kippur, as an adornment and beautification of the fire" (Commentary on the Mishna, Yoma 4:6).

 

  • The mishna describes the end of the service and taking leave of the altar on Sukkot:

 

When they departed, what did they say? "Yours, O altar, is the beauty, yours, O altar, is the beauty." (Sukka 45a)

 

            Rashi explains there:

 

We do this beauty for you, for you atone for us. (Sukka 45b)

 

In other words, the entire service performed around the altar on Sukkot - circling the altar with the lulav and etrog and standing the arava against the altar – is a beautification of the altar.

 

  • The mishna states:

 

The heap was in the middle of the altar, and sometimes there was as much as three hundred kor on it. On festivals, they did not clear away the ash because it was reckoned an adornment to the altar. (Tamid 2:2)

 

            R. Ovadya of Bartenura explains (ad loc.):

 

So that it would be evident that many sacrifices were offered on the altar; when the altar is used for many sacrifices and this is evident in the heap, this is its adornment.

 

WHY WERE BETZALEL AND AHOLIAV CHOSEN?

 

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: See, I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda; and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to contrive works of art, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiav, the son of Achisamakh, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all who are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you. (Shemot 31:1-6)

 

            God himself chose those who were to be responsible for the building of the Mishkan. Why were these specific individuals chosen?

 

            The Ibn Ezra writes in his long commentary:

 

The Gaon said: Why were Betzalel and Aholiav chosen? And he answered: Because Betzalel was from the descendants of Yehuda, whom Yaakov compared to a lion cub (Bereishit 49:9). And Aholiav was from the descendants of Dan, whom Moshe compared to a lion cub (Devarim 33:22). A lion is narrow from behind, and so was the Mikdash (Middot 4:7). This is a homiletical answer, for Betzalel and Aholiav did not build the Temple, and the width of the Mishkan which they made was uniform. There is, however, no basis for his question, for they were chosen because there was nobody in Israel like them. (Shemot 31:1)

 

R. Saadya Gaon maintained that the selection of Betzalel and Aholiav, who were both likened in the blessings to a lion, accorded with the shape of the Temple, which was similar to that of a lion – i.e., narrow from behind. But, as the Ibn Ezra notes, Betzalel and Aholiav did not build the Temple, which was narrow from behind like a lion, but rather the Mishkan, the width of which was uniform in the front and in the back. The Ibn Ezra himself maintains that they were chosen because there was nobody else in Israel as skilled as they were.

 

            Rashi addresses the question as well:

 

And Aholiav – he was of the tribe of Dan, of one of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the handmaids, and the Omnipresent placed him with regard to the work of the Mishkan on a level with Betzalel even though he was a member of one of the noble tribes in order to confirm what Scripture says: "He regards not the rich more than the poor" (Iyov 34:19). (Shemot 35:34)

 

According to this understanding, Betzalel and Aholiav were chosen as representatives of the entire people of Israel. This understanding emphasizes the attribution of the building of the Mishkan to all of Israel, expressing the fact that the Mishkan belongs to all of Israel.

 

            In a somewhat parallel manner, the first Temple was built by King Shlomo, of the tribe of Yehuda, together with Chiram of Tzor:

 

And King Shlomo sent and fetched Chiram from Tzor. He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naftali, and his father was a man of Tzor, a worker in brass, and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge to work all works in brass. And he came to King Shlomo, and wrought all his work. (I Melakhim 7:13-14)

 

            In II Divrei Ha-yamim it says:

 

The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tzor, skillful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to engrave any manner of engraving, and to work all kinds of artistic work; to do whatever shall be put to him, with your skillful men, and with the skillful men of my lord David your father. (2:13)

 

According to these two sources, the artist Chiram belonged to either the tribe of Dan or that of Naftali, both the sons of Bilha, of the inferior tribes, similar to what we saw in the case of the Mishkan.[4]

 

            R. Kasher brings a midrash from Bereishit Rabbati in his Torah Sheleima:

 

"Nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the works of His hands" (Iyov 34:19). This teaches that the great and the small are equal before him. And with respect to the Mikdash, Shlomo was from Yehuda and Chiram was from Dan. And similarly regarding the Messiah - his father is from Yehuda and his mother is from Dan. Therefore, Yehuda and Dan are called lion cubs, for the Messiah will issue from the two of them. (Shemot 31:3, no. 14)

 

            According to this, there is another reason for the pairing of Yehuda and Dan - the Messiah will issue from these two tribes, and they therefore build the Mishkan, which will enable the perfection of the world.

 

            In a manuscript of one of the Rishonim on the Torah, we read:

 

And we know that for the building of the Mishkan two people were chosen, two tribes of Israel, from Yehuda and from Dan, the one likened to a lion cub, and the other to a serpent and a lion, teaching you how much the building of the Mishkan is likened to them. And also to allude to the attribute of mercy that is hinted at in the name Yehuda, and to the attribute of justice that is hinted at in the name of Dan.

 

            Another midrash clearly explains the relationship between these two tribes with respect to the building of the Mishkan:

 

Let him come and join him so that they not mock him, and so that nobody be arrogant, for the great and the small are equal before the Omnipresent, Betzalel from Yehuda and Aholiav from Dan, and he joins him. (Shemot Rabba 40:4)

 

            The Ramban relates to the fact that owing to the conditions of the servitude in Egypt, where the Jewish People were deeply sunk in the material world, there was no one capable of building the Mishkan. He therefore cites a midrash that states that the selection of Betzalel for this task took place already at the beginning of creation:[5]

 

"See, I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur." God said to Moshe: See, I have called by name. And Moshe said to Israel: See, God has called by name (Shemot 35:30). And the reason is that Israel in Egypt were crushed by work in mortar and in brick, and they never learned work in silver, gold, and precious stones; they never saw them at all. It was a miracle that there was found among them someone who was of great knowledge in silver and gold and stone and wood, and artistry, and embroidery and weaving. For even among those who studied by masters, you will not find one who is proficient in all these arts. And those who know and are familiar with them, when their hands always come into contact with mortar and filth, they cannot do fine and intricate artwork. And furthermore, he was a great authority in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge, to understand the mystery of the Mishkan and all its vessels, why they were commanded and what they allude to. It is for this reason that God said to Moshe that he should see this wondrous matter, and know that He had filled him with the spirit of God to know all these things so that he can make the Mishkan. For it was His desire to make the Mishkan in the wilderness, and He created him for the sake of His glory, for He calls the generations from the beginning (Yeshayahu 41:4), in the manner of "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you did come out of the womb I sanctified you" (Yirmiyahu 1:5)…

And our Rabbis have a midrash about this: He showed him the book of Adam and said to him: I ordained each individual at that time, and Betzalel as well I ordained at that hour. As it says: See, I have called by name, Betzalel. And this is like what I have explained. They further said that Betzalel knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created. The idea is that the Mishkan alludes to these things, and he knows and understands His mystery. (Ramban, Commentary on Shemot 31:2)

 

            The Netziv emphasizes God's selection of Betzalel as paralleling the selection of Moshe and Aharon, which stems from the sanctity of the Mishkan:

 

"See, I have called by name" – According to the simple understanding, the meaning of "See" is: Contemplate the good that I do with this, that you will not have to search after many artisans for each of the different types of work. But now, I have called by name one artisan who will embrace them all, and he will oversee all the types of workmanship. And Moshe said to Israel (below 35:30): "See." And in the Mekhilta Beshalach on the verse: "See that the Lord has given you the Sabbath" (above 16:29) – "take care." And it seems that this is the meaning of "see" here - contemplate the work of the Mishkan that it is not like a royal palace that is mundane, and he who wishes to build it by learning the craft before he comes to do it can do so. But not so the Mishkan, which is holy, and something unique, and like the Torah which could only be given through Moshe, and the priesthood through Aharon, so too the Mishkan could not have built by the greatest artisan in the world, but only by Betzalel. And this is not because he was from the outset a great artisan, but rather the Holy One, blessed be He, filled him – now – with the knowledge needed for this, and therefore it is fitting that one take care with it. This is the meaning of "see" that Moshe said to Israel below in Parashat Vayakhel.

 

            The Meshekh Chokhma adopts a different approach:

 

"See, I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda." The idea is that total devotion must be without examination and excessive intellection. Yehuda risked his life at the Sea, as it is stated in Tosefta Sota, and so too Chur risked his life at the Golden Calf. For examination will block the inner will and prevent a person from offering his life for the sanctification of God's name… It therefore says that because they did not engage in excessive examination and intellection, therefore, "He has filled him [with the spirit of God] in wisdom, and in understanding, etc." (Shemot 35:31). Understand this.

 

The editor of the Meshekh Chokhma (R. Yehuda Cooperman) notes (ad loc.) that the reward bestowed upon the family of Chur was measure for measure: They gave their lives without using wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, without excessive judgments and considerations, and therefore they merited using these special qualities in the building of the Mishkan, which came to atone for the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the killing of Chur.

 

The Malbim adopts yet a different approach:

 

"See, I have called by name." For he was given the name Betzalel because Moshe said to him: "You were in God's shadow (be-tzel El) and you knew," as Chazal have said. That is to say, the entire world is the shadow of God and an image of His wisdom. As I explained in Parashat Bereishit that the "image" (tzelem) of God is the "shadow" (tzel) of God… and the universe (the macrocosm), and corresponding to it, man (the microcosm), are shadows and images of God. And the Mishkan in which all the worlds were depicted, and so too all the pearls of man, was also a shadow of God. And all this was understood by Betzalel, and because of this it says that Betzalel knew how to join together the letters with which heaven and earth were created, and therefore he was called by the name Betzalel. God called him by this name, because he was prepared to build his holy edifice, as it says: "He lay up sound wisdom for the righteous" (Mishlei 2:7), that God prepared from the beginning righteous people who would arise in each generation, and be prepared for the great things that were to be done in their time.

 

            The Malbim emphasizes the closeness between the world, which is the shadow of God, the Mishkan, which is also the shadow of God, and the name of Betzalel, which intimates that he was "in the shadow of God" and therefore knew how to join together the letters with which heaven and earth were created.

 

“THE SPIRIT OF GOD, IN WISDOM, AND IN UNDERSTANDING AND IN KNOWLEDGE, AND IN ALL MANNER OF WORKMANSHIP”

 

            Scripture explains the uniqueness of the selection and the craftsmanship of Betzalel and Aholiav:

 

  • Regarding Betzalel, the Torah states that God filled him with the spirit of God. In general terms, it describes how God filled him with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and all manner of workmanship, and it spells out, "to contrive works of art, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship."

 

  • Regarding Aholiav it says: "And, behold, I have given with him Aholiav, the son of Achisamakh, of the tribe of Dan, and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom"

 

Scripture seems to distinguish between what God gave Betzalel and the wisdom that He gave Aholiav and all those that are wise in heart.

 

1. The Spirit of God

 

            What is meant by the words "the spirit of God"?

 

            R. Sa'adya Gaon explains: "Knowledge from God." The Ibn Ezra writes in his long commentary:

 

"And I shall fill him," like "And Yehoshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom" (Devarim 34:9); and it is written: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him" (Yeshayahu 11:2). And it explains what the spirit of the Lord is, namely, "the spirit of wisdom and understanding" (ibid.)… Now Betzalel was filled with all wisdom, with mathematics, and geometry… and astronomy and nature, and the mystery of the soul. And he had an advantage over all the people of his generation, for he knew all forms of workmanship, for many of those who are wise in heart do not know even a single workmanship. Therefore it says: "And in all manner of workmanship," with a vav.

 

            The midrash explains as follows:

 

"And I have filled him with the spirit of God" – from where is all this wisdom? From the Holy One, blessed be He, the spirit of God. And similarly you find regarding Yehoshua, who came from Yosef: "And Yehoshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom" (Devarim 34:9). And similarly you find regarding Otniel the son of Kenaz, who came from Yehuda: "And the spirit of the Lord came upon him" (Shoftim 3:10). R. Chanina said: This is what it says: "But there is a spirit in man, [and the breadth of the Almighty gives them understanding]" (Iyov 32:8). All the understanding that Betzalel had came from the Almighty; thus: "And I have filled him with the spirit of God." (Shemot Rabba)

 

The Malbim explains that we are dealing here with a holy and prophetic spirit. He writes as follows:

 

"And I have filled him with the spirit of God," a prophetic spirit and a holy spirit, as Onkelos translates: "And I have filled him with a prophetic spirit from before God." Because for the building of the Mishkan, besides having to know all types of workmanship, he had to understand the hidden secret of the building, which involves the attainment of all perfection and connection with the spirit of the living God that gives life to them and dwells among them. For this reason, He clothed him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, which are the three highest levels with which the world was created, as it is written: "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth" (Mishlei 3:19), and it is written: "Through wisdom a house is built" (ibid. 24:3), and as I have explained these matters at length in my commentary to Mishlei. And this was to comprehend the great Mishkan and all its mysteries; "and in all manner of workmanship" refers to the crafts with which he will actually build the Mishkan.

 

2. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge

 

            Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer continues in the direction of the Malbim and draws a clear connection between the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in creation and the wisdom, understanding and knowledge in the building of the Mishkan and in the building of the future Temple:

 

"In wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge." The world was created by means of ten utterances, etc. They are included in the following three: "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up" (Mishlei 3:19-20). And with these three, the Mishkan was built, as it says: "And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding and in knowledge" (Shemot 31:3). And with these three the Mikdash was built, as it says: "He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naftali, and his father was a man of Tzor, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge" (I Melakhim 7:14). And with these three it will be built in the future, as it says: "Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge are the chambers filled" (Mishlei 24:3-4). And with the three of them He will in the future give three good gifts to Israel, as it says: "For the Lord gives wisdom; out of His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Mishlei 2:6). And the three of them were doubly given to the messianic king, as it says: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and the understanding, etc." (Yeshayahu 11:2). (End of chapter 3)

 

            The Netziv writes similarly:

 

"In wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge." It has already been explained (Shemot 25:8) that all of the worlds were included in the building of the Mishkan and its vessels. For this reason, the Shekhina rested within it, as it was at the beginning of the creation, when the Shekhina oversaw His world in general. Just as the world in general was created with these three attributes, as it is written: "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up" (Mishlei 3:19-20) – in this way the Mishkan had to be built with these three attributes, and similarly the Mikdash in which the Shekhina would rest. And this is what we find in Midrash Rabba that Betzalel knew how to join together the letters with which heaven and earth were created. Thus is explained the words, "And I have filled him with the spirit of God," this word sometimes meaning that He created heaven and earth, as I have written at the beginning of Parashat Bereishit (1:1) and in other places.

 

            The Netziv is consistent here with his own position according to which the Mishkan was a structure that reflected and represented all the worlds, and therefore it is very understandable that Betzalel reflects the ability to join together the letters with which heaven and earth were created.

 

R. Shamson Raphael Hirsch has a fitting comment on the verse that relates to the priestly garments:

 

And you shall speak to all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aharon's garments to consecrate him. (Shemot 28:3)

 

If here, at the making of the garments, the requisite wisdom is specially stressed, whereas for the making of all the rest of the work this quality is only mentioned in chapter 31 when Betzalel and Aholiav are named, the reason can well be that regarding the Sanctuary itself and its appurtenances, everything in every detail had to follow meticulously the model shown to Moshe, whereas in the case of the garments, more room was left for the taste of the maker.

 

VARIOUS COMPONENTS OF THE MISHKAN AND ITS VESSELS THAT ARE CONNECTED TO BEAUTY

 

            Rashi writes in his commentary to Shemot 26:12-13 regarding the spreading of the curtain of goats' hair over the Mishkan,: "The Torah teaches here a rule of life that a man should take care of his beautiful objects."

 

            The simple understanding of this is that the tent of goats' hair covers the Mishkan, thus protecting it from wind, the desert sand, and rain.

 

The inner curtain is the most beautiful curtain – the one that is more hidden, and is made with most perfect artistry, from the most expensive and magnificent materials – blue, purple, and scarlet.

 

The element of beauty is expressed in each and every detail of the fashioning of the Mishkan and its vessels:

 

  • In the various types of workmanship with which they were made.

 

  • In the curtains and veils that were works of artistry, works of embroidery, and works of weaving.

 

  • In the vessels that were made of gold, some pure beaten gold (the parokhet, the keruvim, and the candlestick), others gold plated (the ark, the table, and the incense altar).

 

  • In the vessels that were made of silver, such as the sockets of the Mishkan.

 

  • In the vessels that were made of brass –the brass altar (shittim wood overlaid with brass), the laver and its pedestal, and the brass sockets in the courtyard.

 

  • In the stone cutting work with which the shoham stones were fashioned.

 

All of these crafts demand precise planning and exacting work, regarding the proportions, the shape, the manner of work, and the like.

 

The crowns found on certain vessels – the ark, the table and the incense altar – in addition to their spiritual significance as representing the crown of Torah, the crown of kingship, and the crown of priesthood (Shemot Rabba 34:2) - without a doubt embellished those vessels.

 

The blue, purple, and scarlet pomegranates on the bottom of the robe, interspersed with bells of gold (Shemot 28:33), undoubtedly added to the beauty of the garment, in addition to the significance of "and the sound shall be heard when he goes in to the holy place before the Lord, and when he comes out" (ibid. v. 38).

 

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE MISKHAN AND SHABBAT LABORS

 

            Rashi comments on the second verse in Parashat Vayakhel:

 

Six days – He mentioned to them the prohibition in reference to Shabbat before the command about the building of the Mishkan in order to intimate that it does not set aside Shabbat.

 

            R. Hirsch attempts to explain the spiritual meaning of the connection between the prohibited labors on Shabbat and the labors that were performed in the building of the Mishkan:

 

The building of the Mishkan, if not from the point of view of art, still surely from the point of view of the idea and the purpose to be realized by the idea of "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8), is the very highest conceivable plan for human artistic activity. The mastery of man over matter, in getting, producing, changing, and manufacturing the raw materials of the world, attained its highest meaning in the Temple. The world submits to man, for him to submit himself and his world to God and for him to change this earthly world into a home for the kingdom of God, to a Temple in which the glory of God tarries on earth. The building of the Temple is a sanctification of human labor, and in the context here, it is represented as being a combination of all those creative activities of man, by the cessation of which, by resting from all labor, the Sabbath is made into an acknowledgment of man's allegiance to God. Each kind of activity which came to be used for the building of the Temple is made thereby into a major category (av) of forbidden labor, which includes many creative activities of the same basic idea, as derivatives (tolada) of that idea. For instance, sowing and planting is an av, a category of productive activities, under which are listed activities such as pruning trees, watering plants, and all acts of furthering growth, as toledot (see Shabbat 73b).

As our text limits the penalty of "whoever does work on it shall be put to death" to "the words which the Lord has commanded," and then stresses "that you should do them," the intention must be not only to do the act, but also to do them; the intention must be to produce the actual result of the action.

Only productive, not destructive activities constitute the idea of work, and only provided it is neither unintended nor not needed for its own sake is it considered the full desecration of Sabbath, regarding which it says "whoever does work on it shall be put to death." In all cases, reference to the work of the Mishkan is considered. (Shemot 35:2)

            R. Hirsch emphasizes that the building of the Mishkan was man's greatest achievement from the point of view of its idea and purpose. This is the noblest aim of man's rule over the world. Unlike R. Hirsch, we wish to argue that it was also the zenith of man's artistic achievement – the beauty and craftsmanship that brought to expression man's greatest creative activity.

 

            The fact that this is the foundation of resting from work on Shabbat teaches the extent to which man, through his refraining from performing the thirty-nine forbidden Shabbat labors, recognizes God's kingdom over the entire universe.

 

THE PRIESTLY GARMENTS

 

            It was not only the Mishkan that was fashioned with concern for external beauty, but also the priestly garments. This point is emphasized in two places - first, in the command to Moshe: "And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for honor and for beauty" (Shemot 28:2), and then again in connection with Aharon's sons: "And for Aharon's sons you shall make coats, and you shall make for them girdles, and turbans shall you make for them, for honor and for beauty" (ibid. 28:40). The Ramban explains as follows:

 

For honor and for beauty – that he be honored and beautified in honorable and beautiful garments. As the verse states: "As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland" (Yeshayahu 61:10). For these garments were royal garments, kings wearing garments like them in the time of the Torah. As we find regarding the undercoat… and similarly the undercoat and robe… And the miter is known even today for kings and important officers… And the efod and breastplate are royal garments… And the plate is a crown of kings… And blue even today, nobody would raise his hand to wear it except for a king of the nations… And the truth regarding "for honor and for beauty" is that they should make holy garments for Aharon to minister in them to the honor of God who dwells among them and to the beauty of [God who is] their strength

 

            Besides the fact that the priestly garments are royal garments, as argued by the Ramban, they themselves are an integral part of the service in the Mikdash. The assumption is that the external beauty of the garments expresses their inner beauty. One of the most important components of internal beauty is harmony, the mutual correspondence in this case between body and soul.

 

BEAUTIFUL FOR SITUATION, THE JOY OF THE EARTH

 

            "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the earth, the city of the great king."[6]

 

            It was not only the Mikdash that stood out in its beauty, but also the entire city of Jerusalem:

 

Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth: Mount Zion, the sides of the north, the city of the great king. (Tehillim 48:3)

 

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth. (Tehillim 50:2-3)

 

Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth? (Eikha 2:15)

 

Ten kavs of beauty descended into the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem, and one by all the rest of the world. (Kiddushin 49b)

 

There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 28:1)

 

            Several special practices and ordinances were instituted to preserve the beauty of the city:

 

The streets of Jerusalem were swept daily. (Pesachim 7a)

 

Ten special regulations were applied to Jerusalem:… that

no kilns should be kept there… on account of the smoke. That neither gardens nor orchards should be cultivated there… on account of the bad odor [Rashi: Weeds that grow there and are thrown out. Also it is the manner of gardens that they are fertilized, and so there is a bad odor.[7]]

 

But surely we learned: "[The fruit of] a vine in the fourth year was taken to Jerusalem from any point within a day's journey on all sides… [In reference to this] Ulla (or as some say, Rabba bar Ulla) said in the name of R. Yochanan: What was the reason? To decorate the streets of Jerusalem with fruit. (Rosh Ha-Shana 31b; Beitza 5a)

 

            The Maharal explains at the end of his commentary to Avot (Derekh Chayyim):

 

The majesty and beauty come from the Divine dimension found in created beings, for beauty does not relate whatsoever to the material. We have already explained this that beauty and majesty relate to the immaterial.

 

            That is to say, the source of beauty stems from God Himself, and it reveals itself more in those things that represent His presence in the world: in the Mikdash, in the priestly garments, and in the city of Jerusalem – the primary characteristic of all of them being the resting of the Shekhina.[8] This principle was revealed for the first time at the Song of the Sea, when the people of Israel accepted upon themselves the kingdom of God.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Some of the topics discussed here were already discussed in Lecuture no. 21: "The History of the Resting of the Shekhina (Part XI): The Song of the Sea – the First Explicit Mention of the Mikdash in the Torah" (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/mikdash/21mikdash.htm).

This issue was treated at length by R. Y. Shaviv in two articles: "Ha-Mikdash – Moked Le-Yetzira Umanatit Be-Yisrael," Machanayim 10 (5755), pp. 80-85; "Ha-Noi Ve-Ha-Netzach: Perek Be-Ekologiya Yehudit," Techumin 12 (5751), p. 470ff. We will cite some of the sources that he gathered in those articles, along with additional sources. Of course, we cannot fully exhaust this important topic; we will merely address the main points.

[2] Cited by R. Shaviv, ibid., from Sichat Ha-Shavu'a on Parashat Shoftim 5754.

[3] See "Jerusalem – City of Justice"

 (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/06yeru.htm).

[4] This is noted explicitly in Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Ki-Tisa¸ no. 13.

[5] This understanding accords with the close connection between the Mishkan and the creation in general, and in the many parallels between them, as we have previously noted. 

[6] From the well-known poem of R. Yehuda Halevi.

[7] And in the parallel in Avot De-Rabbi Natan (version 2, chap. 39): "… And manure is not brought into it… and nothing is planted within it except for the rose garden that had been planted in the days of the early prophets."

[8] As R. Shaviv aptly formulates it at the end of his article in Techumin (mentioned in note 1): "That which was more sanctified was more beautified, and the greater the resting of the Shekhina in a place, so was a higher level of beauty expected for it. Therefore, care must be taken regarding the beauty of Eretz Yisrael; and more so regarding the beauty of the Levitical cities; and more so regarding the beauty of Jerusalem; and most of all regarding the beauty of our Temple."