“They Shall Make a Sanctuary for Me so that I May Dwell Among Them”
המשגיח, הרב שרון יוסט
As we begin the parshiyot that discuss the details of the Mishkan’s construction, it is insightful to try and understand the role and the function of this unique place.
God instructs the nation: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם"" (Shemot 25:8). The various commentators see in this Divine imperative an expression of the Mishkan’s purpose, in both function and essence. Rashi and Ibn Ezra explain that the word “mikdash” derives from the root word “kodesh” (holy). Rashi accordingly comments: “Make for My name a house for holiness”, while Ibn Ezra writes: “A holy place. This [structure] is called a ‘mikdash’ because it will serve as a sanctuary for The Holy God”. Rashbam and Chizkuni explain that the word “mikdash” denotes a meeting place, a place where God will avail Himself to Am Yisrael, as noted in the verse “and there I will meet with the nation of Israel” (Shemot 29:43). Chizkuni also notes that the word “mikdash” indicates the concept of preparedness and readiness, as per the verse: “Prepare yourselves (hitkadshu) for tomorrow” (Bamidbar 11:18), which Rashi explains as “Prepare yourselves” and Rav Saadia Gaon explains as “Get yourselves ready”.
And yet, we need to understand how these various explanations relate to us and our subjective spiritual experience.
When Shlomo Hamelekh completed the construction of the Beit Hamikdash, at the great moment of inauguration, he stood and offered a prolonged tefilla to God. This tefilla did not emphasize the sacrifices that would be brought in the future, but rather the experience of prayer itself:
And You shall hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward in this place … Oh, hear in heaven and take action to judge Your servants … oh, hear in heaven and pardon the sin of Your people Israel … and send down rain upon the land … in any prayer or supplication offered by any person … he will spread his palms toward this House. Oh, hear in Your heavenly abode, and pardon and take action! Render to each man according to his ways for You know his heart … so that they may revere You all the days that they live on the land that You gave to our fathers. (Melakhim I 8:30-40)
The Beit Hamikdash is first and foremost a house of prayer; a place where God is attentive to the prayers of His nation, judges His servants in righteousness, forgives the sins of those who return to Him, and dispenses abundant blessings to His people. This idea is echoed in the commentary of Seforno: “So that I may dwell amongst them – reside amongst them in order to accept their prayers and their service.”
Indeed, it is critical to realize that prayer is different than physical acts that are performed by rote or instinctively. Prayer is of paramount importance, an avoda in every sense of the word. This concept finds expression in the pasuk: "And to serve Him with all your heart" (Devarim 11:13), on which the Sages commented, "What may be described as service of the heart? Prayer" (Sifri, Parashat Eikev; Rambam, Hilkhot Tefilla 1:1). Anything that is serious and important demands proper preparation.
In his introduction to our parasha, Ramban explains that the nation is commanded to build the Mishkan only after they accepted upon themselves some mitzvot and expressed commitment to a future life that would be filled with Torah and mitzvot: “And the Jewish people accepted upon themselves to do everything that He would command them”. Only at this point, after they expressed their firm commitment, was it possible for Hashem to make a brit with them: “They are His people, and He is their God”. Accordingly, since Am Yisrael is referred to as “a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation”, it is fitting for them to have a sanctuary, a Temple where the Divine presence would rest, where God would avail Himself to listen to their prayers. It is two sides of the same coin – Am Yisrael prepares themselves to become a holy nation and God “prepares Himself” to embrace them and answer them.
Even after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, God left us with ”mikdashei me’at” – namely shuls -and in His abundant kindness He continues to listen to our tefillot. It behooves us to take this opportunity seriously and strengthen and improve our readiness and preparedness for tefilla and heartfelt supplication when we enter our “temples”. The Tur codifies (O.C. 93): “When a person comes to pray, he should spend a few moments in order to direct his heart towards God. And when he stands to pray, he must only stand with a sense of seriousness, namely awe and fear and submission. The Tur continues (O.C. 98): “A petitioner must direct his heart, as it is written ‘Make their hearts firm; incline Your ear’ (Tehillim 10:17), meaning that a person should focus on the meaning of the words that he recites, and he should think that the Divine presence is right before him, as it is written ‘I am ever mindful of the Lord’s presence’ (Tehillim 16:8)”. On a similar note, the Gra writes in his commentary on the Tikunei Zohar: “A person must spend time in quiet contemplation before prayer and think about the tefilla. He will consequently be able to express the tefilla eloquently and articulately, because when a person thinks through something before he speak, he will speak eloquently and articulately, and not haltingly”.
May we be able to feel in our hearts the importance and greatness of tefilla and may our tefillot be lovingly accepted.
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