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Life Lessons from the Mishkan

By: Kim Kugelman

In Parshat Terumah, we are flooded with many intricate details describing the building of the Mishkan. Why does the Torah do this? Why must it spend more than 10 chapters explaining the elaborate details of the architecture of a building? Every word of the Torah was carefully chosen and surely these chapters are no exception. There are many lessons to be learned from each detail of the Mishkan’s construction, and here I will present two:

There were two altars in the Mishkan, one of copper and one of gold. The copper altar was placed in the outer courtyard, where they would sacrifice animals, and was visible for everyone to see. The gold altar was much more valuable and expensive, and it rested in the inner sanctum, hidden from the nation; the incense and spice offerings were brought on it.
According to Rabbi Label Lam, the copper altar is comparable to the body of man, while the gold one represents man’s neshama. Just as gold is more valuable than copper, so is the soul more valuable than the body. Your soul is the essence of who you are - it is the core of your being, where all your dreams, desires, and passions live. It is the part of you that connects you with God and with other people. It is the key to life and that’s why it is so sacred and must be guarded. The more internal a thing, the more valuable it is. A central lesson that we can learn from the Mishkan’s two altars is that more than all the physical possessions that a person watches, secures, and safeguards, he needs to do so for his soul.

Another lesson we learn from the details of the Mishkan is from the Aron, the Ark. Shemot 25:11 tells us regarding the Aron: “And you shall cover it with pure gold on the inside and on the outside you shall cover it.” The Gemara (Yoma 72b) clarifies that Betzalel (the architect of the Mishkan) made three layers for the Aron: a golden layer for the outside, another golden one for the inside, and a wooden layer in the middle. Since there was gold on the inside and gold on the outside, what was the point in putting wood in the middle? Why couldn’t the Aron have been made of one solid big piece of gold? The Daat Zekeinim answers that if it had been made entirely of gold, it would have been very heavy and difficult to carry.

Rabbi Moishe Kormornick points out that we learn from this Hashem’s compassion for Bnei Yisrael. If the ark were made purely of gold, it would have been more valuable but also more difficult to carry. God instructed us to place a layer of wood in the inner layer to avoid causing difficulty to those that would have to carry it throughout Bnei Yisrael’s travels through the Midbar. If God is so sensitive and compassionate that He insisted we make His Aron less valuable in order to lighten the load on those who would have to carry it, surely we should learn to be a little more sensitive and compassionate toward those around us as well. We must always consider how our actions affect others, and be sensitive and giving toward them.

We learn from these two ideas how important it is to pay attention to every word in the Torah. God puts so much detail into the construction of the Mishkan because there’s so much to learn from every single complex feature. The Torah is not a story book - it is a guide for us to live our lives by.