The final five Parshos of Sefer Sh'mos, almost 50% of the entire book, are devoted just about exclusively to the building of the Mishkon. The central Posuk around which all of these Parshos revolve is at the very beginning of our Sidra.
"V'o'su li mik'dosh v'sho'chan'ti b'so'chom" (Perek 25/Posuk 8). They [B'nei Yisroel] should make for Me a Holy Place and I Hashem will dwell among them.
We have always seen the Mishkon, and subsequently the Beis HaMikdosh, as the site where we offer our sacrifices. It is the place where the Kohen Godol performs the annual Service of Yom HaKippurim. It is the place where Kapporah-atonement can be attained.
Thus the question begs to be asked: why are these many Mitzvos not written in Sefer Vayikro? Sefer Vayikro is known as Toras Kohanim. It is the book that is the contains the Mitzvos of sacrifices, the laws of purity and impurity and those rules governing the Kohanim. Notwithstanding the numerous commands that seem not to be inherently part of Toras Kohanim-that is its name.
The Mishkon/Mikdosh was administered by the Kohen Godol and the Kohanim. That was the focus of their activities. Certainly it is more appropriately associated with Vayikro than it is with the Exodus of Sefer Shmos! Why then is this subject in our Sefer?
Ramban writes an introduction to his commentary on Sh'mos. In that introduction he explains the natural progression from B'reishis to Sh'mos as being from the "Y'tzi'roh"-the formation of the world and the onset of its history to the G'u'loh-the Redemption that is an integral part of Sh'mos.
What constitutes that Redemption? He explains that Golus-Exile is far more than a geographic issue. Golus extends beyond borders. One is certainly in Exile if he is not in the country is supposed to be in. However, the converse is not necessarily true. The physical return to one's borders does not end the exile. It is only one of the required steps for that to happen.
"V'hi'nei ha'go'lus ei'ne'nu nish'lom 'ad yom shu'vom el ar'tzom v'el ma'a'las a'vo'som yo'shu'vu". The end of the Exile has two parts: return to their land and return to the high status of their forefathers. The Ramban continues: When our forefathers left Egypt, even though they left servitude, they were still considered exiles because they were still in a foreign land, lost in the desert. When they came to Mt. Sinai and they built the Mishkon, Hashem returned [to them] and put His Shechina among them, then they returned to the high status of their forefathers…V'heim heim ha'mer'kovoh". And it is they [B'nei Yisroel who are at Har Sinai and have the Mishkon] who are the carriage/chariot [of Hashem].
Ramban has dispelled a misconception. That misconception, as written above, thought that the primary purpose of the Miskhon/Mikdosh was to be the location for the offering of sacrifices. That is not so. The primary purpose of the Mishkon/Mikdosh was to be the "home" of Hashem and thus allow our ancestors to reach those heights that were attained in earlier generations, those heights which made them more attached to Hashem.
Mishkon/Mikdosh, therefore are indispensable parts of the process of Redemption and therefore belong to Sefer Sh'mos without question.
What we need to understand further, however, is this meta-physical concept of "Merkava", which we translated above as "carriage/chariot". Of course, these two words refer to a vehicle which transports whatever or whoever sits in it.
In relationship to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Merkava is a concept which is taken from the beginning of Sefer Y'chezkel. This Novi had a vision that challenges our understanding to the limit since it expresses what he was able to perceive of Hashem's revelation to him. Chazal refer to this vision as "Ma'a'seh Ha'Mer'ka'va" (Masseches Chagiga Perek 2/Mishnah 1).
A Merkava is a means of transportation, of conveyance. In the present context, Maaseh HaMerkava presents us a glimpse of how the Shechina is to "transported" down to earth. Even though we cannot have any pretenses of understanding how such things work, we can know that there is such a mechanism. The proper functioning of such a mechanism brings the result that is promised. That is Ramban's intent when he writes "heim heim hamerkava". After all, the result was that the Shechina did reside in the Mishkon. This result proves to us that there was a functioning Merkava.
This functioning Merkava allowed this second Geula-requisite to occur.
Sh'loh HaKodosh, in his commentary on this week's Parsha, discusses the subject of Merkava as well. He cites the Sefer Sha'arei O'rah that teaches us that the Shechina was on the Earth at the time of Creation. However, it did not remain on the Earth due to the sins of mankind. The presence of wrongdoing "banished", as it were, the Shechina from this world.
The appearance of the Ovos made a change. They became a Merkava. With their service to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, they brought the Shechina down to this world. However, the Shaarei Orah explains, the ability of the Ovos to be a Merkava was non-permanent. That is, their Merkava worked only as a transient situation. Evidently, the nature of this world was that there was always spiritual antagonism to the Divine Presence and the Ovos were constantly combating that antagonism. The continued Divine Presence on this earth was far from certain. It only came about as a result of the regular victories achieved by the Ovos in that combat.
Shaare Orah continues that it was only with the establishment of the Mishkon that the permanence of the Shechina on this world was achieved.
Rabbenu Yeruchom Leibovitz, the great Mashgiach Ruchani of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland, discusses the nature of the Shechina's residence on earth at great length. The long essay at the beginning of our Parsha in the work Da'as Torah certainly bears intensive study. [If I understand this complicated subject correctly] the nature of the Shechina being on earth is a function of the true desire of 'Am Yisroel for that residence. That is, the Shechina, as it were, responds positively to the yearning and, implicitly, responds negatively to a lack of such longing.
Thus Rabi Yeruchom cites the Rabbenu Bachye who teaches us that the Mishkon and its appurtenances were concrete renderings of that part of Creation that could be understood in and of itself in the abstract only. By providing a tangible vision, 'Am Yisroel was able to contemplate and approximate in their understanding the true nature of the "upper world" ("Elyonim").
In continuation of this thesis, we find that the Mishkon and its vessels symbolized Man and his various facets and characteristics. Man's picture was on the Merkava (Y'chezkel Perek 1/Posuk 5). The reason for that is that Man can be the Merkava. Man has the ability to be the means of conveyance for the Shechina. If Man truly wants the Shechina to abide in his world, then that can be the result. Man can attempt to fathom what the Shechina means by contemplating the upper worlds. Man can find the key to contemplate the upper worlds by interpolating from the concrete to the abstract via the Mishkon.
This means to say that the Mishkon is not some supernatural means of bringing the Shechina. The Mishkon is the tool by which we are able to bring the Shechina. The Mishkon is our means of developing a sincere and abiding aspiration for G-d's presence.
In this way we can understand the Shaarei Orah. The Ovos were not sufficient to permanently bring the Shechina to us. The longing had to be more pervasive among all for the Shechina to reside permanently on this world. The Ovos though were so powerful that they were able to bring the Shechina, at least temporarily.
Further support of these ideas can be had from the K'ruvim that were formed together with the Kapores (Perek 25/Posuk 18 and Rashi d.h. miksho) and appeared atop the Kapores which was placed as the cover for the Aron Kodesh. Chazal teach us in Masseches Sukka (5b) that the word "k'ruv" is translated with the letter Kaf being used as a prefix meaning "similar to". "Rubi'ah" in Aramaic means child. Thus the word "k'ruv" means "similar to a child". Rashi adopts this explanation for his authoritative commentary.
Hashem promises in connection to the Kruvim, "V'no'ad'ti l'cho shom v'di'bar'ti i't'cho mei'al ha'ka'po'res mi'bein sh'nei ha'k'ru'vim…" (Posuk 22). And I Hashem will encounter you Moshe there and I Hashem will speak with you Moshe there, from above the Kapores, from between the two kruvim. These representation of people, in children's form, become the catalyst which brings the Shechina to speak with Moshe Rabbenu in the Mishkon.
In particular the commentary of Seforno bears special attention in this context. Through the Kruvim the Shechina will reside in the Mishkon.
The Seforno teaches us that the fact that the Shechina will reside in the place of the Kruvim teaches an applicable principle. "V'sish'reh b'chol mo'kom a'sher shom chach'mei ha'dor." The Shechina will reside in the future wherever there will be the wise people of the generation.
Seforno learns the applicability of this residence of the Shechina for future situations from the words "v'chein ta'a'su" (Posuk 9). "V'chein ta'a'su" means "and so you should do [in future generations-see Masseches Sanhedrin 16 b]. The context in which this verse appears is regarding the construction of the Mishkon and its furnishings. This verse teaches us the rules for the repairs and the reconstruction that would be necessary throughout history.
Seforno understands the meaning of these words to extend far beyond their particular context. He understands that the words "vchein taasu" implies to mean: So should you, B'nei Yisroel, do in all generations, even those in which there is no Mishkon, to bring the Shechina to you just like they brought it to them in the Mishkon.
Seforno then cites Maaseh HaMerkva as his proof and the episode recounted in Masseches Chagiga 14 b where the fire of the Shechina surrounded the chachamim who were learning Torah.
That is, though the Mishkon's ability to attract the Shechina is more permanent, as Ramban wrote, nonetheless the Merkava which was made by the Ovos was replicated by chachamim throughout history those replications also had the ability to attract the Shechina, if only temporarily.
[See the commentary of Rav Yehudah Copperman on these verses in order to understand the Divinely directed Presence of Hashem according to the historical needs. This is in consonance with Seforno's opinions as expressed in his essay, Kavonos HaTorah. It does seem though that since the gravitation of the Shechina to the Ovos was only temporary, so the attraction to the chachamim would not be greater. Thus it seems that highest level is the residence of the Shechina in the Mishkon. This may differ from a suggestion in note 58 there.]
The Mishkon motivates all of the people to have a longing that was similar to that of the Ovos. That mass longing brought the Shechina to us in permanence.
Until now we have tried to explain why the Mitzvos of building the Mishkon are found in Sefer Sh'mos.
A greater understanding of this idea can be found through the reexamination of words that are familiar to all of us.
On Yom Tov, the middle Brachoh all of the Tefilos of the 'Amida begins with the words, "A'toh v'char'to'nu mi'kol ho'a'mim". Hashem, You have chosen us [B'nei Yisroel] from among all the nations of the earth.
In the Musaf prayer, this paragraph is followed by, "U'mip'nei cha'to'ei'nu go'li'nu mei'ar'tzei'nu…". Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land [Eretz Yisroel].
Now and examination of these two paragraphs raises a significant issue of content. Since the paragraph of Atoh v'chartonu (and "Va'ti'ten lo'nu) did not mention Eretz Yisroel, why does this counterpoint refer to it? It would seem appropriate to talk about the tragedy of Exile only if we said that being in Eretz Yisroel was redemptive. But that is not said.
It therefore must be that the words "Umipnei chatoeinu" only introduce us to the central point of that paragraph. We continue "v'ein a'anach'nu y'cho'lim la'a'sos cho'vo'sei'nu b'vei b'chi'ro'se'cho…" We express in sorrow (on this joyous day of Yom Tov!) that we are unable to perform the service of the Beis HaMikdosh.
What restoration do we seek? After describing the dismal situation of Golus, we turn to Hashem and say, "O'vi'nu Mal'kei'nu ga'lei k'vod mal'chu'scho 'o'lei'nu…" Our Father our King, reveal the glory of your reign upon us.
What is the meaning of that last sentence? It means that the Shechina has departed from among us. That is the cure for which we pray.
Analysis of this idea reveals that the implication of "A'toh v'char'to'nu" is that we are the Merkava. We can bring the Shechina among us. When sins banish the Shechina, we pray that Hashem reveals Himself. We express our strongest desire to have the Shechina among us. As we learned above, if the collective of 'Am Yisroel is truly sincere about such a request, Hashem will respond and grant us that request.
Shulchan 'Oruch (Siman 685/S'if 6) teaches us that during these weeks of Shevat and Adar when we read the special Parshos of Shekolim, Zochor, Porah and HaChodesh, at least one week is a "haf'so'koh". There are at least 5 Shabbosim during this time and one, per force, must be without a special reading. There is a hafsokoh-interruption. In this context, hafsokoh is a technical term, reflecting a logistic necessity.
At the very beginning of Sefer Vayikro, however, Rashi tells us of another use for the word "hafsokoh". Those interruptions took place in Hashem's teaching Moshe Rabbenu Torah. Those hafsokos allowed Moshe Rabbenu to contemplate and understand the Torah he was being taught. The teachings had to be absorbed and the hafsokoh was a means that allowed that internalization.
These weeks anticipate the Geulah. Were this to be a leap year, the Megillah would be read during the second Adar. The reason for that is "som'chin g'u'lah lig'u'ah. It is appropriate to make the redemption of Purim as close as possible to that of Pesach.
This is a time when we need to thing about the true meaning of Redemption. This is the time when we need to review the Ramban brought above and contemplate its meaning. This is the time we when we must internalize our role in bringing the Shechina to our world and thereby ending our Exile from the Divine Presence and becoming redeemed once again by the closeness to HaKodosh Boruch Hu that we so desperately need.