by Rebbetzin Malkah
The car packed to the hilt, the Thule threatening to burst at the seams atop our car, our family drove with desperation for one purpose only: to be near the mountains. The familiar rental cabin nestled fifteen miles from Mt. Baker in Washington affords five star mountain accommodations: no cell phone access, no wireless internet and no cable TV. In essence, the goal was to set up shop, our own Mishkan, away from the roar of everyday life. While some of the usual technological conveniences were lost, we knew we would not be without the four elements crucial to the Mishkan and considered symbolically essential in any Jewish home: the Ark, the Table, the Menorah and the Incense Altar. Ok, well not literally - they wouldn't fit in the car. However, all of these elements are interconnected to the basic physical elements that still exist in this world: air, fire, earth and water. Being out in the more remote areas at the foot of a mountain, it wasn't hard to see that I was in a larger than life Mishkan model that was vitally connected to all of these natural elements. Perhaps it was noticing on our second day the Holy Smoke bus, clad in gold (or school bus yellow paint) that waited outside the gate of the cabin properties boasting of an eatery just down the road. It sat there, as if some beacon, reminding me that even in this remote area, under the Heavens, we carry our own Mishkans with us today and follow suit with the kohanim: setting up, tearing down, wherever we go, wherever we stay.
Holy Smoke and the Golden Mizbeach
Working my way into the deeper recesses of the Mishkan, to the place where the Aron is, I begin with that emblematic "Holy Smoke" bus . While the bus is just another discarded form of transportation decorating an empty parking lot, the name of the grill being advertised, "Holy Smoke", is far too coincidental for me to ignore. It is reminding me of the Mishkan.
There are several ways that one can feel welcome or cozy inside one's own dwelling. Perhaps it is the smell of a lovingly prepared meal, or a fragrant dessert or candle filling the air with sweetness. Or maybe, it is that fire in the living room giving off the faint scent of burning wood, beckoning us to draw near and soak in the familiar welcoming smells of relaxation and comfort.
When the golden mizbeach (the incense altar) was constructed, its placement and purpose were crucial. Upon entering the Holy Place, the first element encountered would be the incense altar. This pleasing aroma of incense was not only present to welcome the King and show honor, but also to place the kohanim in an elevated state of mind for proper service. Only within the Holy Place would they be surrounded with this very unique scent, filling the air morning and evening.
On a physical level, the air or the ambience in a Jewish home is affected by our own incense: the kind deeds, the prayer, words of encouragement, support and love. As guests or family members enter the boundaries of the home, they either perceive an air that immediately is welcoming and orderly, or filled with chaos and uncomfortable relationships. Just as the incense had the power in the Mishkan to quench the fire of a Divinely afflicted plague, so too do we have the ability to bring about a peaceful and meaningful existence within our homes by what we "fill the air" with each day. Our Sages taught that the righteous and their deeds are compared to pleasant smelling spices (Megillah 13a).
Trees and the Menorah
As we drew closer to the cabin, the amount of dense, untouched forests increased. I imagined all of these organic, evergreen wonders giving off nourishing oxygen, lifting us up on the winter days with their green hue of life, growing toward the Heavens because upwards is the proper path to reach the light.
It has long been a comparison that man (and woman too!) is like a tree in the field. Sixteenth century Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal of Prague, published the idea many times in various works. In 1578, Loew wrote:
"'For man is a tree of the field,' and his branches are in heaven, for the head, which is the root of a man, faces upwards, and this is why man is called a 'tree of the field' planted in heaven, and through his intellect, he is planted in his place, which, if all of the winds were to come and blow, they would not move him from his place" (Sefer Gur Aryeh, Genesis 9:21).
In spirit, it felt as if I was witnessing the Menorah in natural form all around. All of these trees reminded me of people all around the world, with the obligation to spread Torah outside of one's own dwelling. Each one of us is to shine forth the light of the Torah in deed and word, just as trees give off their oxygen for all to breathe, for all to partake of and live. This infusing the world with the Spirit of G-d that is within the Torah can be connected to the natural element of fire and the Menorah itself. The Menorah, like a tree that grows as a whole, was constructed from one piece of gold and lit using only the purest olive oil. The wholesome light emanating from the fire was not only enlightening but uplifting. The inspiration that emanates from the memory of the Menorah is to be a symbol for us today to shine as a Menorah to those around us. The fire, as an allegory of the Divine Spirit, is to be shared and passed on to illuminate and enrich the lives of others. Mashiach Yeshua coined this idea in his phrase:
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
Graham's Store and the Table
It doesn't take long after the unpacking process to realize there is something that has been forgotten. And where would we be without that handy camp store down the road, offering everything from organic produce to fuses? For me, I viewed Graham's store as that Golden Table that rested in the Mishkan. Within the Mishkan, the Table retained the bread that was to be present at all times and partaken of on Shabbat. It would represent the very nature of our struggle here on earth to sustain our physical needs daily by seeking out bread. This need for nourishment, this earthly connection, was necessary in a structure such as the Mishkan that would transport the kohanim daily into what seemed another world. By having this visual reminder of our earthliness, we would recognize our service as having roots here on earth as well - and the struggles that others have in meeting their daily needs. Rabbi Aaron of Karlin says it well:
A ladder standing on the ground, and the top of it reached to Heaven (Bereishis 28:2). Rabbi Aaron of Karlin said this: If you have yourself firmly in hand and stand solidly on the earth, your head will reach up to Heaven.
Graham's Store served not only as the place that I could go to purchase that extra milk, but also a reminder that in each Jewish home there is only so much that we are able to have a stock of - there will always be the need to replenish, and to strive and struggle. Accepting that daily reminder not only helps us to draw nearer to Hashem, the provider and sustainer of all, but elevates our service as it brings a sense of humility in our limitations and our ability to pack every necessary item in the car of life. Mashiach Yeshua stated that there would always be poor in our midst. However, it is our job to be a Graham's Store and anticipate those needs, help provide, and have a table that is stocked to help those around us. The link between bread being brought forth from the earth, the very physical needs of our bodies and our humanity is vital in the Mishkan and the Jewish home.
The Cabin and the Ark
While the ultimate goal of our holiday was to depart from the distractions of the city and everyday life, the goal of any getaway is also to achieve a renewal of self. This can happen in our own homes as we enter in from a hectic day at the workplace, or as we enter into a cabin or vacation spot far from the tiring pace of many months of everyday duties.
As the high priest entered only once a year into the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), he did so for the purpose of atonement for the people. But at the same time, there was a level of closeness that transpired between the Creator and the Kohen Hagadol. Standing before the Ark, the golden piece which held the words of Hashem, he was a witness that a heavenly connection and covenant existed between himself, the Holy One and the Children of Israel. This process of going in yearly was not only one of personal preparation, but also a journey to a sacred space and time. All that is contained with the holiest place radiates not only to the Kohen Hagadol, but also outward to the Menorah, the Table and the Incense Altar. The Holy Place would be infused with holiness and the vessels themselves would be more meaningful to the players.
This wisdom and energy of the Torah can be likened unto the physical element of water. Torah is to Jewish survival, said Rabbi Akiva, as water is to fish. Without Torah, no matter what the circumstances are, we would surely perish. But how does the everyday Mishkan
that we have in our homes sustain Torah, sustain us? How is this lifeline to Hashem manifest in our retreats far from our homes? What is the view and the aura inside our own personal and quiet spaces?
Nestled in a cabin framed by logs and interlaced sheetrock, I felt as if I had entered a most holy place - one that only my family and I enter once a year. And the purpose? To seek out that special space and time where we could reconnect to that small, still voice. In the deafening silence of the woods, the Torah has a chance to speak louder and fill my thoughts more fully. While I wouldn't dare compare the massive elk head above the fireplace to any semblance of a cheruv, the aura in the living room with the two-story windows was comparable to a sanctuary. There was a definite holiness to the stillness as the view of the tall trees outside left a feeling of something greater present than myself.
Betzalel and Mashiach
As the time rolled around for us to leave, I felt as if the trip had served its purpose and the temporary Mishkan in the woods was successful. All of us were leaving connected and renewed. Though the chaotic and less organized car-packing process to check out nearly stripped us of the sanity we gained, I felt a tinge of what the kohanim must have felt every time they had to pack up the Mishkan and move on. There was a hint of sadness, for it is human nature to become attached to a familiar place and to want to settle. But the divine push to move onto the next phase, the next stop in life, urges us to press through that melancholy, embrace the pieces of our Mishkan, and with zeal drive to our next destination and set up again.
This week's parasha recounts Betzalel as the master builder of the Mishkan, its inner elements and his calling to do so from the time of Creation. As Betzalel was the builder of the Mishkan then, so now is our Mashiach that upon which we build our homes now. For Yeshua was ordained from the beginning to be part of Hashem's plan in establishing the Malchut Hashamayim, the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth. Mashiach Yeshua's embodiment of all the features of the Holy and Holy of Holies should be our guide. Not only did he welcome those around him with a spirit of kindness, he offered spiritual sustenance, and breathed inspiration and new life into our observance of the Torah. His embodiment of the Torah was with wholeness and beauty.
Our modeling the Messiah begins with each Mishkan that we have charge over - whether in our communities as synagogues, or our homes. May we look upon the elements that symbolically represent our Mishkans today and take care to use them as components not of aesthetic nature, but as agents of inspiration, hope, spiritual nourishment and wisdom for a world in need of a makeover.