by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 13, 2012

In the Torah section of VaYakhel and continued into the Torah section of Pekude, Moses repeats to the nation, whom he has led through the desert to the holy land, G-d’s instructions for the construction of the Mishkan (the Holy Tabernacle), a focal point for communicating with and serving G-d.

In one of his talks, printed in Mikhtav MiEliyahu (IV, pp. 294-295), the renowned latter day Torah scholar R. Eliyahu Dessler offers an intriguing comment on the Mishkan, in particular, and Judaism, in general.

This focal point of service to G-d in the desert, R. Dessler notes, is at times referred to as a Mikdash (sanctuary), e.g. “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary” (Sh’mot 25:8), and at times referred to as a Mishkan, a dwelling place, as in the very next verse.

The term Mishkan, R. Dessler tells us, denotes G-d’s dwelling place, so to speak, as the Torah describes (Vayikra 16:16) the “Tent of Meeting which dwells with them in the midst of their defilement.”  G-d’s Presence resides among us even in the midst of our defilement, for He knows that we are capable of extricating ourselves from such defilement.  G-d is close to us and is among us even with our shortcomings, something that should foster among us a sense of joy and satisfaction.

The term Mikdash, on the other hand, denotes a place of holiness.  Holiness, in turn, connotes transcendence, where we feel the gap that divides our lowly existence from that of G-d’s transcendent Presence, which should inspire us to service to Him by way of offerings and prayers, whereby we recognize our lowliness in relation to G-d’s grandeur.

Nevertheless, despite their different and even opposite meanings, these two terms are used interchangeably, for their meaning and existence, R. Dessler concludes, are actually one.  Whereas, Mishkan represents our joy in G-d’s Presence and Mikdash represents our awe in the face of G-d’s transcendence, but together they form one whole – the full and true representation of this holy edifice.  They are two sides of one coin that must both be recognized to truly understand our position in this world.  As the great King David tells us (Tehillim 2:11), “Rejoice in trembling,” and our Sages reiterate by saying (Tanna d’Be Eliyahu Rabba 3), “I experience fear in the midst of my joy and joy in the midst of my fear.”

Life is not “fun and games” and G-d is not Santa Claus.  Life is foremost a gift from G-d that obliges us with an obligation to G-d in reverence and appreciation for Him; and, if we follow His blueprint for life, the Torah, we can expect long-term joy and contentment.  This is the two-fold message symbolized by the Mishkan and service therein.  Joy in service to G-d comes hand in hand with reverence for Him and a responsibility deriving therefrom.  “Rejoice in trembling.”

May we fully internalize the above message and may G-d, in turn, grant us in our time the full fulfillment of our daily prayers wherein we beseech the Al-Mighty: “Be favorable, O L-rd our G-d, toward Your people Israel and their prayer and restore the service to the Chamber of your Sanctuary and the fire-offerings of Israel; and their prayer accept with love and favor, and may the service of Your people Israel always be favorable.”  May G-d fully accept us and may we fully accept Him.