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Heaven and Earth

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The 79,976 words and the 304,805 letters of the Chumash (the “Five Books of Moses”) encapsulate the entirety of Torah. Everything is here: all of Halachah (Torah law), the stories of the Midrash, the vast homiletic sea of the Aggadah, the innumerable insights of the mystical, philosophical and ethical Torah works of all generations. Indeed, there is nary a superfluous word or letter in the Chumash: if a verse is lyrically repetitive, if two words are used where one would suffice or a longer word when a shorter word would, there is a message here–a new concept, another law. Rabbi Akiva, the Talmud tells us, would derive “mounds upon mounds of laws from the serif of a letter” in Torah.[2]

Yet there are two sections in Torah, Vayak’hel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) and Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38), that consist, almost in their entirety, of a seemingly needless repetition. In the previous sections of Terumah and Tetzaveh (Exodus 25-30), the Torah gives a detailed account of G-d’s instructions to Moses regarding the construction of the Sanctuary, its furnishings, and the priestly garments worn by those who would perform the service in it. Then, in Vayak’hel and Pekudei, it tells how the Jewish people carried out these instructions. Again we are informed of the construction of the Sanctuary in exacting detail, down to the dimensions of every pillar, wall-panel and tapestry, the materials in every garment, and the decorative forms sculpted in the gold of the menorah (twenty-two goblets, eleven spheres and nine flowers). A single sentence, on the order of “The children of Israel made the Sanctuary exactly as G-d had commanded Moses,” would have “saved” the Torah more than a thousand words!

The Translation

Actually, there were two Sanctuaries: a heavenly model and a terrestrial edifice. In His instructions to Moses, G-d refers to “the form that you are being shown on the mountain.”[3] On the summit of Mount Sinai, Moses was shown an image of the home in which G-d desired to dwell; at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel translated this spiritual vision into a structure of physical cedar and gold.

Never in history had a translator been challenged by two more diverse “languages.” Spirit is nebulous, matter is concrete. Spirit is infinite, matter is defined by time and space. Most importantly, spirit is naturally subservient, readily bespeaking a higher truth, while matter recognizes nothing save its own immanence. Yet it was a physical abode that G-d desired. It was in the earthly Sanctuary that the divine presence came to reside, not in the spiritual Sanctuary atop Mount Sinai.

Yes, the material universe is the lowliest of G-d’s creations–lowliest in the sense that it is least aware of its innate nullity before G-d, least expressive of its divine source and purpose. But it is precisely because of their “lowliness” that G-d wanted that physical substances should be made into a Sanctuary to house Him. G-d desired that the material world, with all its limitations and imperfections, should be sanctified and elevated by being made to serve a G-dly end.[4]

Therein lies the lesson of the two Sanctuaries: Do not be discouraged by the tremendous gap between spirit and matter, between theory and practice, between the ideal and the real. True, it is virtually impossible to duplicate the perfection of the spirit on mundane earth, but it is not a duplication that G-d wants. He wants an earthly sanctuary, a sanctuary constructed of the finite materials of physical life.

To emphasize this point, the Torah expends close to two hundred “extra” verses in its account of the earthly construction of the Sanctuary. Every wall-panel, every tent-peg and every tassel made by the children of Israel resembled, in every detail, the spiritual model described several chapters earlier; but it was a different item, a different Sanctuary.

Yes, earth must be made to mirror the heavens, to reflect, in every detail, the divine blueprint for life. But it remains earthly in nature and substance–a physical home for G-d, employing the unique characteristics of the physical to express the divine truth.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei, 5718 (March 15, 1958)[5]

Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber


[2]. Talmud, Menachot 29b. Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah 2:4: “Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud and Aggadah, and anything a qualified student is destined to state before his teacher, all was already said to Moses at Sinai.”

[3]. Exodus 25:40, 26:30, and 27:8.

[4]. “G-d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms” (Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16); “This is what man is all about, this is the purpose of his creation and of the creation of all worlds, supernal and ephemeral….” (Tanya, ch. 36).

[5]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. I, pp. 195-198.

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