Lecture 57: SUMMARY OF LAST YEAR'S SERIES AND INTRODUCTION TO THIS YEAR'S SERIES

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

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This week of Torah learning at the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
 is being sponsored by Ronni & Nachum Katlowitz
in honor of Ronni's father's birthday.
Mr. Yanik Pasternak, Happy Birthday!

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Lecture 57: SUMMARY OF LAST YEAR'S SERIES AND INTRODUCTION TO THIS YEAR'S SERIES

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

            In this lecture, we will briefly review the topics dealt with over the past two years and describe the program for the coming year.

 

            Two years ago, after discussing the absence of the Mikdash from our lives and the various roles played by the Mikdash, we recounted the history of the resting of the Shekhina from its very beginning – starting with the creation of the universe, the period of the patriarchs, and the people of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness. Regarding the Mishkan, we dealt with the issue of to what extent the resting of the Shekhina in that structure was le-khatchila or be-di'eved, and we concluded the year with the dedication of the Mishkan.

 

            Last year, we continued to recount the history of the resting of the Shekhina, and in this framework we dealt with the following topics:

 

1)         In the first unit of lectures, we tried to understand the monumental change that transpired from altar and pillar to the Mishkan, examining the most important differences between them.

 

a)         The altar and pillar symbolize the act of the individual. Anyone can take the initiative and serve God. The individual offers his service, which is primarily sacrificial service, performing it in a natural manner - wherever he so chooses. The main characteristic of this service is a place that allows for man's service of God. In contrast, the Mishkan is a public place that serves both for man's service of God and for God's resting of His Shekhina in a very specific place, where the priests and Levites perform the service.

 

Whereas in the world of altars and pillars, anyone may serve God, without distinction - in a sanctuary encompassed by walls, only those who are fit for service may approach (following Rav Kook).

 

We explained that the transition from altars and pillars to a Mishkan is connected to the transition from the service of individuals to the service of the community. The one-time revelation at Mount Sinai that was witnessed by all of Israel required a continuation and made it possible for God's kingdom to be revealed in the Mishkan as a direct continuation of the Sinaitic experience. This had many expressions in the Mishkan (the important status of the Torah and the concrete closeness between God and the people of Israel). We also discussed the transition of the sanctity from Mount Sinai to the Mishkan, which is manifest in the many parallels between them.

 

b)         In this context, the commandment regarding the altar in Parashat Yitro can be understood as an introduction to the commandment regarding the altar in the Mishkan (Rashi), or as directed at the period when bamot are permitted (Rambam), or as indicating the ideal reality in contrast to the Mishkan (Seforno). In this way, it is possible to serve God "in all places where I cause My name to be pronounced, I will come to you, and I will bless you," both in the various stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Israel and in one place which wanders in accordance with the word of God.

 

Based on this understanding, we analyzed the history of the prohibition of bamot, the change that took place when the people of Israel entered the Land of Israel, and the allowance to eat meat in order to satisfy the appetite as opposed to sacrificial meals.

 

2)         In the second unit, we examined the roles played by the various groups of people who participated in the Divine service – the firstborns, the Levites and the priests.

 

The service of the firstborn expresses the primal point in every family, an essence that embraces everyone and expresses the fact that the entire family belongs to God, as a continuation of the father. The prevalent view is that the firstborns were replaced by the Levites in the wake of the sin involving the golden calf, although there is also a view that the service of the firstborns ended already at the time of the revelation at Mount Sinai. The primary role of the Levites' service was to guard the Mishkan as befits its dignity and in order to bar strangers from entering. They were also involved in the dismantling of the Mishkan, in its transport to the next station, and in its reconstruction.

 

The Levites, in their very essence, represent the people of Israel, belong to God, and are given over to Aharon and his sons the priests. God took them to Himself from among the people of Israel in place of the firstborns, and after having taken them, He gave them over to the priests. This essence expresses itself in the Levites' process of purification and entry into service (the purification, the sacrifices, the laying of hands, and the various wavings). The relationship between the priests and the Levites may be understood based on the relationship between the sanctify of the priests and the purity of the Levites, which finds expression in the way they entered into service, in the relationship between the camp of the Shekhina and the camp of the Levites, in the special laws governing the priests, and in the priestly and levitical gifts. Some define the difference between the priests and the Levites as the difference between loving-kindness and justice.

 

3)         In the third unit, we examined the relationship between the Mishkan at rest and the Mishkan in transit:

 

a)         On the one hand, the arrangement of the camp around the Mishkan sharpens the equality between the tribes, while on the other hand, all the tribes constitute a chariot for the Shekhina. The advancement of the camp "like a box" expresses the equality of the tribes and perpetuates the relationship between the tribes and the Mishkan, whereas the advancement of the camp "like a beam" shows preference to the objective of the journey, the progression toward a goal. The camp moves based on the holy, based on Moshe and based on the trumpets, all of these emphasizing the absolute dependence on God.

 

b)         The primary revelation around the Mishkan in the fire and the cloud is a continuation of this same revelation at the exodus from Egypt and at Mount Sinai, and it will appear again at the dedication of the first Temple. The fire and the cloud represent the two manners in which the glory of God reveals itself. The fire and the cloud that lead the camp demonstrate that the camp is being led by God. The cloud, which both conceals and reveals, allows for Divine appearance and revelation.

 

c)         The transport of the Mishkan necessitates dismantling, carrying and reconstruction.

 

4)         In the fourth unit, we dealt with two aspects relating to the site of the sanctuary in Eretz Yisrael: the "place chosen by God" and the territory of Binyamin as the territory of the Shekhina.

 

a)         The place chosen by God – We dealt with the question of whether the reference is to one place or to several places. We examined the relationship between the exclusivity of Jerusalem and the temporariness of Shilo, and the extent to which the latter is considered a place chosen by God. We clarified the significance of the fact that this choosing is formulated in future tense. We saw that one of the main ways of understanding this is that God's choosing of the place is conditioned on human action. What is the meaning of the choosing of a city that expresses both the camp of Israel and the idea of kingdom? The akeida story already alludes to a place about which "it is said to this day, 'In the mount the Lord will appear'" (Bereishit 22:14), but this is because of the intrinsic destiny of the place.

 

b)         In this context, we dealt with the question of why Jerusalem is never mentioned by name in the Torah. There are many reasons for this; here we will mention several aspects:

 

· The revelation of Jerusalem was conditioned on a fitting spiritual and royal reality.

 

· Jerusalem will only become revealed when Israel properly yearns for it – "There you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come" (Devarim 12:5). The revelation is conditioned upon seeking, upon Israel's desire to draw close to God who reveals Himself in a building.

 

 

· Reaching Jerusalem is conditioned on the unity of the people of Israel.

 

 

· The conquest of Jerusalem will only be achieved by a monarchy that rules over all of Israel.

 

 

c)         We continued with fact that the territory of Binyamin is considered the territory of the Shekhina. This fact is known from Moshe's blessing of Binyamin, "And of Binyamin he said, 'The beloved of the Lord; he shall dwell in safety by Him; He shall cover him all the day long, and He shall dwell between his shoulders'" (Devarim 33:12), which can be understood as "between the borders of his territory."

 

There are various dimensions to this issue. First, why does the Shekhina rest specifically in a low place? This point is true about the territory of Binyamin in general and about Jerusalem in particular. We saw that this gives expression to Jerusalem's dependence upon God, to God's humility, and to the fact that there is no place void of the Shekhina and that the Shekhina reveals itself both in a high place and in a low place. There are many proofs that the territory of Binyamin is the territory of the Shekhina, among them that the Mikdash, most of the stations of the Mishkan¸ and other sanctified places are found in the territory of Binyamin.

 

Chazal offer several explanations as to why Binyamin was chosen as the tribe in whose territory the Shekhina rested: because of his modesty, because he was the only brother born in Eretz Yisrael, and because he did not take part in the sale of Yosef.

 

 It is interesting that several of the explanations are not direct consequences of Binyamin's efforts. One of the important explanations relates to the fact that Binyamin joins all the tribes together. For example, Binyamin's arrival in Egypt and the discovery of the royal goblet in his sack is what in the end brings about the reunion of the brothers. Yehuda says, "I will be surety for him," and Yosef asks for Binyamin. So, too, regarding his tribal territory in Eretz Yisrael: Binyamin is the tribe who bridges between the two great forces in the nation – Efrayim in the north and Yehuda in the south, representing the messiah son of Yosef and the messiah son of David. Owing to his ability to unite the tribes in practice, the territory of Binyamin was chosen as the resting place of the Shekhina.

 

It is interesting to note that following the leadership of Yehoshua from the tribe of Efrayim came the leadership of Shaul from the tribe of Binyamin and the leadership of David from the tribe of Yehuda. Regarding leadership as well as rule, Binyamin bridges between Yosef and Yehuda.

 

5)         The fifth and final unit dealt with various aspects of the resting of the Shekhina in practice. The conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael, an analysis of the unique elements of each station including Shilo, and finally the history of the priesthood following Israel's entry into the land.

 

a)         Conquest of Eretz Yisrael:

 

In addition to the general transition from miraculous to natural governance when Israel entered the land, one of the most importance expressions of the change in their situation was the allowance to eat meat to satisfy the appetite, and not just in the context of sacrificial meals. The settlement in all parts of Eretz Yisrael made it possible to eat meat in all places, as opposed to the situation in the wilderness, where all the tribes camped around the Mishkan and the people were only permitted to eat the meat of peace-offerings.

 

We saw that the ark played a most important role in Israel's entry into the land. We considered the relationship between the ark's leading the camp on Israel's first journey from Mount Sinai, and the ark's leading the camp when Israel entered into the land.

 

We examined the relationship between the Levites' carrying of the ark and those places where the priests carried it (at the crossing of the Jordan river and during the circling of Jericho, which came to mark out the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael; when the ark was brought into the Holy of Holies; when the ark was carried during Avshalom's revolt, which was directly connected to the selection of Jerusalem; and when the covenant was made at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, completing the covenant made at Arvot Moav).

 

We considered the interesting parallelism between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the land, and the special status of the city of Jericho, "the teruma of the land," which explains its miraculous conquest and its connection to the Mikdash.

 

b)         The stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael:

 

We dealt with the overall time frame and examined the sources that describe the various stations of the Mishkan. One of the clear conclusions from the accounts of the prophets is that Scripture hardly ever relates to the Mishkan and to what transpired there, and it doesn't describe mass pilgrimages to it (except for during the period of Yehoshua). This seems to indicate that the Mishkan did not play an important role in the life of the nation.

 

            The reasons for this may include each tribe's preoccupation with establishing its hold on its territory, the presence of idol worship, and the conduct of the sons of Eli in the Mishkan in Shilo, which discouraged the undertaking of pilgrimages to the Mishkan.

 

            We studied the difference between the attitude toward the ark before the time of David and David's attitude toward it.

 

            We dealt with the issue of whether the Mishkan was a place chosen by God. We examined the connection between the site of the Mishkan and Israel's progress in settling the land. And we saw the clear relationship between the location of the leadership and the location of the Mishkan.

 

            We then attempted to characterize each of the stations through an examination of the events that transpired in each one. We saw the primacy of Gilgal and the uniqueness of Shilo, where the stones at the bottom and the curtains on top of the structure characterized its temporary nature - an intermediate state between primacy and permanence, a place where kodshim kalim and the second tithe could be eaten any place from which the Mishkan could be seen, the sanctity depending upon human vision. We considered the essence of Nov and Givon, and we related to Kiryat-Ye'arim, the place where the ark was taken by the people of Bet-Shemesh after the plague that struck in the wake of the return of the ark by the Pelishtim. To complete this discussion, we dealt with the status of the ark in the book of Shmuel.

 

            Finally, we dealt with the history of the priesthood from the death of Aharon until the construction of the first Temple. We saw why the priesthood passed from the descendants of Elazar to the descendants of Itamar and how it was returned from the descendants of Itamar to the descendants of Elazar, from Evyatar to Tzadok.

 

PROGRAM FOR THIS YEAR'S SERIES

 

            In this year's lectures, I intend to complete the discussion of several aspects of the Jewish People's entry into the Land.

 

            The first unit will deal with several events and places involving a special spiritual experience – the building of the altar on Mount Eival, the writing of the Torah on the stones, the ceremony involving the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, the great assembly at Shekhem described in Yehoshua 24, the story of the Givonim and their relationship to the Mishkan, and special places of spiritual significance, such as Bet-El and Mitzpeh.

 

            In the second unit, we will examine David's attitude toward the Mikdash and the actions that he took on its behalf - bringing the ark to Jerusalem after its conquest, asking for permission to build the Temple, and continuing to act on behalf of the Mikdash despite God's explicit answer that he would not build it.

 

            In the third unit, we will deal with Shlomo's actual construction of the Mikdash in an attempt to understand the transition from the Mishkan to the Mikdash; the relationship between the royal palace and the house of God; the differences between the Mishkan and the Mikdash and their significance; Shlomo's attitude toward the Mikdash; and the spiritual reasons for the fall of Shlomo's kingdom.

 

            In the fourth unit, we will consider the attitude toward the Mikdash during the First Temple period, from the days of Rechavam until Tzidkiyahu; the spiritual reality of that period, especially in the kingdom of Yehuda against the backdrop of the kingdom of Israel; the relationship between worship at the bamot in Yehuda and worship of Ba'al, distinguishing between the periods during which there existed a strong relationship to the Mikdash and the periods during which there was considerable idol worship, worship of Ba'al, worship of the sun, and worship of Molekh in Jerusalem.

 

            In the fifth unit, we will examine the spiritual meaning of the period of the Return to Zion; the stages of the construction of the Second Temple; the relationship between the First and Second Temples; and the outstanding characteristics of the period of the Return to Zion and the Second Temple.

 

            I wish you all a fruitful year of study.

 

            Yitzchak Levi

 

(Translated by David Strauss)