A World that Guides Ours

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Rabbi Markowitz questioned an apparent interruption. After Torah fully outlines Tabernacle’s design in parshas Truma—all its vessels, curtains and its structure—the parsha following, Titzaveh, outlines all the priests’ clothing. However, before Titzaveh addresses the priests’ clothing, these first 2 verses interrupt a seamless flow between these two related topics of Tabernacle’s vessels and priestly garb:

You shall instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly—the Menorah. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over the Ark of the Pact, to light daily lights from evening to morning before God. It shall be an eternal law for the Israelites for all generations, from before the children of Israel. (Exod. 27:20,21)

How do we understand this interruption of the Menorah and the Ark? 

From all Tabernacle’s vessels, the Menorah and the Ark cover alone are not to be assembled, but are to be beaten whole from 2 blocks of gold into their respective forms. Also unique to these two vessels is that other vessels’ lengths aligned with the length of the Tabernacle: the Table’s long side was placed parallel to Tabernacle’s long side. But the Menorah and Ark alone were positioned length-to-width. What does this teach?

Secondly, we see the Menorah has a “relative” purpose: it is lit “outside the curtain” which is “over the ark.” Thus, Menorah relates to the Ark, as it must be lit only in this location, relating to the Ark. But we wonder why Torah says, “set them up…outside the curtain,” instead of saying, “outside the Holy of Holies,” the room containing the Ark. Truly, the Menorah is outside the room, not outside the curtain. So why focus on the curtain? 

Third, the Menorah functions to illuminate, but illuminate what exactly?

Torah addresses Tabernacle’s structure, but to share Tabernacle’s purpose, Torah must also convey more than mere measurements. When Moses assembled the Tabernacle, he did not first erect the beams and then place the coverings over them, which would be the more intuitive process. No. He held up the coverings and then assembled the beams underneath them [1]. He did this in order to display the essential element of this “Tent” of Meeting: it is a covering, a veil. 

A veil exists between God and man. We cannot invent new ways to relate to God as the sinful Jews expressed in molding the Golden Calf. This calf expressed a sinful conviction by those Jews: they felt that they knew how to relate to God, through forging a metal model of the Egyptian calf deity. God's response was that the Jews must now build the Tabernacle that corrects religious expression, following God's guidelines, not human subjective emotions attached to animal gods. Tabernacle was a concession to man’s errors. Its most fundamental lesson [2] is that there is a room—the Holy of Holies—that is unapproachable. This restriction parallels our inability to fathom God, unlike the sinful Jews expressed confidently with the calf. There is a veil between God and us…Tabernacle’s primary message. “For man cannot know me while alive” [3] was God’s response to Moses who sought to know God.

Menorah’s 6 branches emanating from a central 7th branch parallel the seven days of Creation. Meaning that Creation (Menorah) “illuminates” us to the reality “behind” the curtain. Studying the universe reveals tremendous wisdom that is behind the physical world, and controls it. This means that the physical world is guided by a non-physical active system. Menorah stands directly in front of the curtain covering the Ark, to illuminate it. Lighting the Menorah from “night until morning” parallels the illumination of darkness into light. 

Menorah embodies Tabernacle’s purpose of directing us away from assuming the physical world alone exists, towards our acceptance of the metaphysical world guiding the physical universe. 

Laws—non-physical entities—govern the universe, and were used prior to Creation to create the universe. 

Therefore, the separating curtain is of great significance. Menorah illuminates us to a “reality” behind a curtain, to a metaphysical world that controls our physical world. In other words, the Menorah embodies the seven days of creation—the physical world—a world through which studying it leads us towards metaphysical knowledge, just as the Menorah’s lights illuminate the curtain covering the Ark. Study of creation imbues man with ever increasing knowledge about God and His laws which are “behind the curtain,” behind the physical universe. Therefore the Menorah is located just in front of the curtain, and its center branch’s wick leaning towards the curtain, indicates the Menorah’s purpose is to shed light on the metaphysical world. And the curtain itself had embroidered angels to parallel the angels over the Ark [4]. Even from outside the curtain, God reminds us of the Menorah’s illumination of metaphysical matters. 

It is only due to Tabernacle’s service that the priests require honor through their clothing. Their clothing is not integral to the priest’s, to honor the priests per se, but to honor to God whom they service. We feel that the discussion of the Tabernacle should be followed by a discussion of the priest clothing without interruption. But the priests’ clothing in fact are subordinate to Tabernacle service. Therefore, the order is: 

1) describe Tabernacle’s structure, 

2) immediately followed by Tabernacle’s service (Menorah lighting), and only afterwards,

3) discuss the priests’ clothing, for their honor is only due to Tabernacle worship. 

Therefore, the lighting of the Menorah—a service embodying Tabernacle’s primary message—must precede the priests’ clothing. Menorah must follow Tabernacle’s structure to share the purpose of this structure.

The Menorah’s and Ark’s lengths were perpendicular to Tabernacle’s length to teach that these vessels do not complement Tabernacle, but the inverse: Tabernacle is here for the Ark/Menorah message. That Menorah and Ark target the most precious message of a metaphysical world of wisdom, both Menorah and Ark were to be made with skilled ingenuity beaten from a single block of pure gold. The wise craftsmanship displayed in these 2 vessels intends to direct us towards their sublime underlying message.

Torah’s words are precise and divinely worded. Rabbi Markowitz’s sensitivity to Torah’s words has unveiled a most fundamental lesson.

[1] Sforno, Exod. 40:18

[2] Hil. Beis Habechira 1:5

[3] Exod. 33:20

[4] Exod. 26:31