Temple: The Interactive Museum of God's Providence

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reading through the Torah sections describing the Temple, we must reflect on the Temple’s design, and its uncanny parallels to certain miracles. Understanding the Temple’s purpose will fuel our readings with greater interest, and even excitement. 

Take for example a previous lesson. We cited Ramban’s parallel of the golden Ark, to the golden flames at Sinai’s summit, from where God gave the Ten Commands. Ramban stated that the golden Ark resembles the golden flames. We deduce that the Ark is to act as a constant replica of that event. Certainly, as the Ark houses the two sapphire Tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments, the parallel is more clearly drawn. It is obvious that the singular event of Revelation at Sinai was to act as a perpetual lesson, as God tells Moses, "Behold, I come to you in thick cloud in order that the people hear when I speak with you, and also in you they will believe forever". (Exod. 19:9) But Ramban hints to other parallels, which also must also have fundamental lessons as they are also permanently fixed in Temple worship. We took our own steps, and drew these parallels: 

1. The external, copper animal altar parallels Egypt’s animal deification: through slaughter we reject animal deification, in service of the one, true God.

2. The washing laver parallels Miriam’s well.

3. The Incense Altar used to create cloud, parallels God's pillar of cloud.

4. The pillar of fire is paralleled by the Menora

5. The Manna is paralleled by the Table's Showbread.

6. The barrier roping of Sinai to would-be ascenders is paralleled by the Paroches curtain.

7. And Sinai ablaze is paralleled as we said, by the golden Ark.

The Jews encountered many miracles in Egypt, and en route to Sinai. Temple appears to possess parallels to those miracles. Those ancient miracles must therefore be understood, in order that we might 1) fully appreciate why they required perpetuity in Temple, and 2) understand for what Temple stands. 

As part of our study of these miracles, we must consider why certain miracles required Moses’ involvement, such as raising his staff in connection with the 10 Plagues and the Red Sea, while others God performed without Moses’ involvement, such as the Manna, and the pillars of cloud and fire. What might we learn from God’s determination that Moses be involved, and be excluded?  And it is quite intriguing that those very events where Moses was excluded, exactly parallel the vessels found in the Holies! (Numbers 3,4, and 5 above.) Let us first understand the significance of the miracles, and their counterparts in Temple.

Incense / Pillar of Cloud

Entry to the Tabernacle is met first with the Incense Altar and its fumes: the Incense Altar being closest to the Temple's opening. And we suggested the altar replicated God's pillar of cloud. But when do we first see the Divine pillar of cloud? Exod. 13:21 reads: “And God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them, and at night in a pillar of fire to illuminate for them…” We understand that a cloud can travel before the Jews to lead them, but we don’t understand the commencing words, “And God went before them”. Clearly, God does not travel, and He is not “in” the cloud: being metaphysical, He cannot occupy space. We are forced to derive another idea from these words. 

My understanding is that God intended the two pillars to display His “relationship” with us. Ramban on this verse says so clearly, as he quotes Moses’ later plea that God not destroy the Jews after the spies rejected entrance to Israel. Moses pleaded that if God would kill the Jews for this sin, a catastrophe would follow: the ruin of God’s reputation. Moses anticipated the response of the nations at God's destruction of the Jews: “God was incapable of bringing the Jews to the Promised Land, and He slaughtered them in the desert”. (Num. 14:16) And earlier, Moses said why the nations would conclude this: “For your clouds stand by them, and in a pillar of cloud You go before them by day, and in a pillar of fire by night”. (ibid 14:14) Moses means to say that God’s intimate relationship with the Jews is undeniably seen in the miracles of these pillars. This proves the Jews’ fate is due to God. “And when You kill them”, Moses says to God, “it will ruin your reputation.” This substantiates the earlier verse “And God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud..."

We learn that with the two miraculous pillars, God demonstrated His constant providence over the Jews. But as we said in a previous article, cloud represents the veil that separates us from God: "...for man cannot know Me [God] while alive" as this week's parsha Ki Sisa teaches.  (Exod. 33:20)

Manna / Table & Showbread

For what reason did God include a Sabbath law in the Manna? For example, laws governing ritual slaughter or affixing mezuza contain no integral Sabbath prohibitions: we know not to perform these commands on the Sabbath, based on "Sabbath" prohibitions. But the Manna’s very laws contained a prohibition not to collect it on the Sabbath. This could have been easily understood once laws prohibiting carrying on Sabbath were given, and need not be an additional “Manna” law. Why this superfluous law? 

Furthermore, Manna miraculously doubled on Friday. All other days, whatever amount was collected of the Manna, naturally remained that amount unless diminished by household consumption. But when the Jews collected Manna on Friday, they found that it doubled its volume when they measured it at home. This was to cover their needs for both Friday and the Sabbath so they need not gather it on Saturday when it did not rain Manna. We must say that Sabbath is integral to Manna. The question is how? I believe the answer is as follows. 

Knowledge of God as “Creator” gives us the conviction that since God created everything, He is in control of everything. And with Manna, God intended to raise the Jews to the level where they were reliant upon God for their very sustenance; “They shall need Me every day”. (Ibn Ezra, Exod. 16:4) The lesson that God created everything – the Sabbath's message – plays a primary role in Manna. The Jews were forced each week to ponder why they could not collect the Manna, and why it miraculously doubled. They contemplated God as Creator, and also, as Provider. This is an essential lesson, one that even today’s orthodox communities have yet to learn. People feel they risk their income if they give the proper 20% tzedaka, or if they work less and learn more as stated in Pirkei Avos. But both, tzedaka’s optimum amount, and Pirkei Avos are rejected, lest Jews have less money...an error. 

The realization that God “has many messengers” to sustain us, is not accepted. The forfeiture of time at the office is so difficult, and the need for security so strong, that the lesson of Manna was institutionalized in Temple, in the form of the Table displaying the twelve loaves of Showbread. Manna was even commanded to be placed in a jar for future viewing as evidence of God’s abilities to provide. It would teach doubting Jews that just as God provided Manna, He can provide you with your necessary income. And in relation to tzedaka, again the Torah says, "And test Me with this". God promises to "open the storehouses of heaven (providence) and empty out a blessing more than enough". (Malachi 3:10) 

Just as the Manna was presented daily encased in upper and lower layers of protective dew, so too the Table presented the Manna in a well-laid out presentation. This is to drive home the point of just how easy it was/is for God to provide the millions of Jews with their daily sustenance. We have no grounds for abandoning Torah study, just to earn more. Again, Pirkei Avos teaches that we are to minimize our work, and maximize our study. And God does not say to do so, if this will cause starvation. God's blessing in Malachi is secured for all those who dedicate themselves to true study. (See also Maimonides' last law in Shmitta and Yovale)

A further embellishment of the Sabbath in the Manna/Showbread, is seen in the law that the Menora was placed directly against the Table…a spatial parallel. Thereby, the idea of the Mesora – 7 branches indicating creation – imbued the onlooker with the idea of the Creator, as Menora literally shone upon the Table. In other words, our security in God's provided sustenance (Table/Showbread) is derived from the fact that God created all (Menora).

Why is this lesson of "God the Provider" so fundamental that God taught it through Manna, and in Temple through the Table and Showbread? It is because the perfection of man is based on his convictions, not only his theories. One who gives charity far surpasses one who praises it, but doesn't give. A human's convictions are only true when man acts upon them. And as it is God's wish that every person reach perfection, God deemed it essential that the one area of life most difficult – parting with our wealth – be institutionalized in the "Museum of God's Providence", the Temple. It is when man can part with his wealth and truly is convinced God will care for him, that man has reached the level God desires. 

Menora / Pillar of Fire

Its seven branches clearly allude to the seven days of Genesis. Menora is integrally tied to the Incense Altar. As we said, man must accept that he has no knowledge of what God is. So both Menora activities of lighting and cleaning the ashes are joined with the services of fumigating an incense cloud: demonstrating conviction in our blindness. But although blind to "what" God is, we do know He is the Creator, and the source of our lives and sustenance. 

We might summarize these lessons as follows: Menora defines our God as the God of Creation, the 7 branches parallel 7 days of Creation. The Table and Showbread teach us of God's omnipotence; that He is powerful enough to sustain us. And the Incense Altar conveys the idea as the verse said, that God "goes before us by day and night". God is cognizant of us, or omniscient. 

We see these ideas are so vital, they form our High Holiday prayers of Malchyos and Zichronos: God is king (omnipotent) and knows man's actions (omniscient). If you ponder for a moment, don't all God's action fall under one of these two headings? Yes, these two truths are the defining categories of all that man can know about God. Menora is essential, as is Baruch Sh'Amar, our daily blessing's commencing prayer. We must always be reminded of the defining idea of God – Creator. But once we recognize this truth, we must also recognize the attributes of God, and they are that He is all powerful, and all knowing. Everything else will be subsumed under one of these two categories. Knowledge of God is essential...not just for the Jews who exited Egypt, but for all generations. Therefore, we have Temple for all time. Now we come to a final amazing idea...


God vs. Moses

Earlier, we noted a highly fundamental distinction. God performed many miracles: some with, and some without Moses' involvement. And we said it is quite intriguing that those very miracles where Moses was excluded, exactly parallel those vessels found in the Holies. God alone created the pillars of fire, cloud, and the Manna. And these parallel Menora, the Incense Altar, and the Table respectively. Why is this?

Perhaps, as Temple is to teach us of truths regarding God, there must not be any involvement of man in those miracles. So God did not instruct Moses to do any act to bring the pillars, or the Manna. These miracles relate fundamental ideas of God. Knowing truths about God requires no action: we must simply study until the idea resonates with complete clarity in our souls. But perhaps with regard to the 10 Plagues, the bitter waters of Marah, and the splitting of the sea when the Jews cried for their lives seeing Egypt race towards them, an example of the correct "human" reaction was required. Therefore, Moses was instructed by God to partake in all those miracles. The onlooker must recognize that a Moses is unaffected by these calamities, thereby teaching that those who are affected, should aspire to be as Moses. 

A "model" (Moses) was required when it comes to teaching Egyptians that their "acts" of idolatry are false; that the Jews "cries" at the red sea were not warranted; and that the bitter waters were not intended to parch the Jews...but to instruct them that "God is their healer". The rule is that when man's "actions" are flawed, God sets up an example of the proper human response, using Moses. But when God wishes to imbue the Jews with correct "ideas about God", Moses must be absent. the focus is God alone, as the lesson is concerning God, not man.

Therefore, only those miracles aiming to teach us about God, are the miracles referred to in Temple...the "Museum of God's Providence". In such a place, reference to man is antithetical.