We read in Parashat Teruma of God’s commands to Benei Yisrael concerning the Mishkan. In introducing the lengthy series of detailed commands, God tells Moshe that Benei Yisrael are to construct the Mishkan and its furnishings “ke-khol asher ani mareh otekha” – “in accordance with all that I show you” (25:9).
The Sefat Emet notes a grammatical irregularity in this phrase, namely, that the word “otekha” is normally used in reference to a direct object, not an indirect object. Accordingly, the phrase “mareh otekha” technically means not that God will show something to Moshe, but rather that He will show Moshe to somebody. If God was saying that He will show to Moshe the information he must convey to Benei Yisrael concerning the Mishkan’s construction, He should have said, “mareh lekha” – which would mean that God shows something to Moshe. The fact that God said “mareh otekha,” the Sefat Emet writes, implies that God would show Moshe to somebody – presumably, to Benei Yisrael. This idiosyncrasy led the Sefat Emet to a novel Chassidic reading of the verse, claiming that God somehow engraved the form of the Mishkan upon Moshe’s image. In order for Benei Yisrael to understand how to construct the Mishkan, the Sefat Emet writes, they needed to look upon Moshe, and the sight of their righteous leader would inspire them with the knowledge they needed. Thus, God said He would “show” Moshe to the people in order to convey to them the information for building the Mishkan.
The Sefat Emet’s intent, it would seem, is that there were two bodies of information that needed to be taught to the people regarding the Mishkan. First, they needed the technical information about the way it was to be constructed and used, the nitty-gritty details and specifications that had to be meticulously followed. But in addition, they needed to know the Mishkan’s general aims and goals, how God’s presence within it must affect and inform the people’s behavior, and what it ought to inspire them to be and achieve. Correspondingly, Moshe was assigned two roles. The first, as the simple meaning of the verse suggests, he was to convey to the people God’s detailed instructions. But the Sefat Emet draws our attention to the fact that this was not all. Moshe was to also convey to the people what it means to live in God’s presence, how the Shekhina’s residence among the people was to transform and uplift them. This information was conveyed primarily not through verbal communication, not via the spoken word, but rather by personal example. God showed Moshe how to build the Mishkan – and also showed the people Moshe, the living example of how to conduct oneself in the presence of the Almighty.
The way we conduct ourselves sets an example for those around us and has a profound effect upon them, often in ways we cannot readily discern. The Sefat Emet’s insight perhaps challenges us all to “engrave” the Mishkan upon our beings, to develop our characters and refine our conduct to the point where we become living examples of the Mishkan, of the ideals of Torah and holiness. The most effective way to teach people about what it means to live in God’s presence, with an awareness of God and of our obligations towards Him, is through personal example, becoming living embodiments of kedusha and all that it entails.