Picture Perfect

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Bnei Yisroel had been freed from the Egyptian enslavement and had received the Torah at Sinai. But the process of redemption was not yet complete, says Ramban, until there would be a permanent place to maintain that connection and be able to re-experience the stand at Sinai. This would be the purpose of the Mishkan/Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Beit Hamikdosh, and, in the Diaspora, in the mini sanctuaries of our shuls and study halls. Hashem commands Moshe to build a dwelling place for Him on earth that would recreate the picture of God's heavenly abode in heaven, as Moshe himself saw it. And further, we are told that each of us must build within ourselves a tabernacle for Hashem's presence.

But there is a problem. How can we bring the spiritual heavenly Presence down to a material, physical world? How can I recreate the vision atop Sinai here on earth? According to the Medrash, Moshe himself asked this question, to which the Medrash presents a metaphor: A great and extremely handsome king asks his servant to paint his likeness for all to see. The artist, as talented as he may be, feels incapable of capturing the full glory and beauty of the king with mere paints. The king reassures him that he should do his best with the paints at his disposal, and the king himself will invest his glory into the body of the painting.

This is a truly enigmatic analogy. What the medrash implies, says Rabbi Wolbe zt”l, is that Hashem is telling Moshe to use the colors and physical materials Hashem is instructing him to use in building this Tabernacle. When Moshe has done all that he can do, Hashem Himself will leave his angels in heaven and rest His presence in this earthly "home."

However, here we have another problem. How could the all encompassing Hashem be confined within a physical world? As the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l explained, Hashem chose to contract and condense Himself to make room for the rest of creation. [Not a perfect analogy: Concentrated orange juice, containing only orange juice essence, fits into a smaller container than full orange juice. When emptied into a larger pitcher, there is room for the water to reconstitute it. The essence is diluted, but it is still orange juice. CKS]

Hashem created the world, as Rabbi Pincus zt”l and many others teach us, for the specific purpose of creating a place for His presence to rest. While Hashem indeed has a heavenly abode, He wanted one on earth, one that would resemble the heavenly one. While the two cannot look exactly alike, the purpose of each is to carry Hashem's presence.

Rabbi Pincus zt”l provides the analogy of a tractor and a car. Although the two appear outwardly different, both have the purpose of travel from one place to another. Therefore, both must also have similar, if not identical, engines. Similarly, the Mishkan in this world parallels Hashem's dwelling place in the celestial world. Further, He desires that His presence resides in each of us.

The essence of Hashem's presence appears in multiple forms. It is in man, in the Mishkan, the Beit Hamikdosh, the upper and lower worlds, and in the Torah. While each of these appears different, the character and essence of all is the same, being a vehicle for Hashem's presence and glory.

The Mishkan encompassed the entire celestial world, and through its utensils, mirrors all the significant parts of the human body, writes Rabbi Moshe Shapiro zt”l in Mimaamakim. For example, Rabbi Wolfson quotes the idea that the Kodesh Kadashim/innermost sanctuary/holy of holies parallels the heart. We must keep our thoughts pure so that we remain a vessel worthy of Hashem's presence.

As we have now entered the month of Adar, let us be cognizant of one of the interpretations of the name of this month, אדר = א דר, it is the month in which the א, the One דר /lives. Our goal during this month should be to improve ourselves so that we become a worthy vessel for Hashem's presence to rest within each of us. In that sense, each of us is a miniature world. As the Torah says, "Make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them," not within it.

While Hashem structured nature so that revelation of Godliness would be limited within bounds that would still admit the existence of the material world, He did not limit Himself, and He could change the structure of the physical world to accommodate His presence as He saw fit, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l. Therefore the measurements of the Mishkan defy human calculations, as the Aron Kodesh, although measuring two and a half cubits long, takes up no space within the total measurements of the length of the wall on either side of it. God transcends both the finite and infinity. We become conscious of His essence which both transcends and encompasses both the spiritual and the physical.

For the world to continue to exist requires that man elevate the physical and mundane to the spiritual. When God revealed His full essence at Sinai, all existence stopped. Only when physical man is engaged in elevating the physical, in building the Sanctuary within the physical world in partnership with Hashem, can Hashem's presence descend without nullifying the world, and His presence can be revealed within the elevated materials.

We are not often privy to how the symbolism of elevating the material to the spiritual, but occasionally our Sages present us with an example. Rabbi Levenstein zt”l transmits to us the explanation of how seeing the blue thread of tzitzit will remind us to keep Hashem's mitzvoth: The blue thread reminds one of the sea, which reflects the sky, which in turn, reflects Hashem's throne of glory. The "colors' and the materials in the Mishkan will similarly reflect the celestial colors. Similarly, each mitzvah we do is a reflection of Hashem's presence when we do it appropriately. [As my grandson Zvi Mordechai/ Zachary reminded me, Hashem is pure light, too dangerous for the human eye. In order to be visible to mankind, His pure light goes through the prism of nature of the physical world, and is divided into individual colors, each color reflecting a facet of Hashem's essence but within the limits of our perception. CKS]

We do not know how the earthly altar reflects the heavenly altar, yet Hashem brings down His presence and accepts our offerings. Nor can we know how the tefillin, or any other sacred vessel reflects a heavenly counterpart, yet Hashem has told Moshe and Bnei Yisroel to use these paints He has given us according to His instructions, and He will invest His glory into the finished product. The "painting," although not Hashem Himself, will be a representative likeness of the Creator much as a photo is a representative likeness of its subject. Once we do our action with the proper focus and intention, adds Rabbi Wolbe zt”l, Hashem will respond and we will reach our goal. Our first step is to create the proper space for our focus, eliminating from our surroundings all those devices that tend to distract us.

Most of us go through our lives, and especially our religious rituals by rote, never realizing the tremendous power our mitzvah observance wields in heaven, writes Rabbi Levenstein zt”l. Citing the Saba of Kelm zt”l, Rabbi Levenstein zt”l teaches us that although we think we have power on earth, our real power is in the heavens through our mitzvah performance, while the power on earth truly belongs only to Hashem. What we have the power to do on earth is create a masterpiece of Hashem's reflection through the "paints," the mitzvoth Hashem has given us, thereby bringing His honor down to earth. Our forefathers understood that, and the effects of their actions still have power here below. Similarly, our actions today will continue to impact generations to come. Our spiritual paintings can fetch millions of spiritual dollars throughout the generations, just as paintings by Renaissance artists are worth millions of earthly dollars today. As Rabbi Friedlander zt”l tells us, we do not know the value of the mitzvoth, for even the smallest mitzvah can be a miniature masterpiece.

We may think such spirituality is beyond us, but Rabbi Fryman reminds us that Hashem asks of us only what we are capable of doing. Even at Sinai, Hashem tempered His voice so that each individual could hear it according to his own power of reception. Hashem has given each of us our own unique set of talents and skills, and He asks us to use these in His service. It is our uniqueness that Hashem loves, and He will help us as we apply His gifts to use appropriately.

But we sell ourselves short, as the yetzer horo convinces us that we are not capable. How do we overcome the negative power of the yetzer horo? Rabbi Levenstein zt”l suggests breaking down each task into its smallest, achievable steps. As you reach each mini goal, that success will encourage you to continue until you complete the entire project. [Having a very poor sense of spacial organization, my cleaning the kitchen is broken down to clearing meat counter, clearing dairy counter, scrubbing meat sink, etc. How good it feels to cross each small step off my list. CKS]

What power we have! In Nishmas we say that "if our mouths were as full of song as the sea, and our tongues like the multitude of its waves, and our lips as full of praise as the heavens... it would be insufficient to thank and to bless Hashem." Yet we continue and declare that "Therefore the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and the soul that You breathed into our nostrils... shall thank, bless and glorify... You... All my bones shall say, 'Who is like You?' "

Rabbi Ezrachi zt”l explains that nature is limited by the constraints Hashem has placed upon it. Nothing in nature has the freedom to sing Hashem's praises as does Man. Because Hashem has created us in His image, and our soul is connected to Him, we have the ability and the goal to sing His praises and connect with Him. We have the ability to connect to Him with every part of our body, and, indeed, to elevate all of creation, even the inanimate world, to be a vessel worthy of containing His presence. We are charged with taking the "paint" within ourselves and use it to convert the vessels, the walls, the floor of the Mishkan as a dwelling place for Hashem, as a place overflowing with Hashem's love.

Even with a world around us submerged in decadence, writes Rabbi Wolbe zt”l, each of us must attempt to create within our homes and within ourselves a mini Tabernacle, a place where Hashem's presence can comfortably reside. Take your paint and create that scenic, spiritual landscape.