In a famous passage in Tehillim 27, Dovid Hamelech asks “one sole request,” shivti b’veis Hashem, to remain in the house of Hashem all my days. But Dovid was the king of Yisrael, with multiple duties and engagements. He didn’t have the luxury of sitting in the Beis Hamikdash his whole life! No matter where he found himself, Dovid strived to maintain the constant awareness that he was in the presence of Hashem.

The person who thinks about Hashem lives in an entirely different world. He conducts his life, performs mitzvos, engages in mundane affairs, converses with people, and all the while his mind centers on Hashem. And when one remembers that he is in the house of Hashem, his very person becomes the house of Hashem, a place for the Heavenly Presence to lodge, just as it did in the Mishkan and the Mikdash.

But there is still more to bilvavi mishkan evneh than mindfulness and centering. There are actions and activities as well. “V’asu Li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham — Fashion a Mikdash for Me, and I will dwell among them” (Shemos 25:8) is the Torah directive that’s perhaps man’s greatest challenge — as well as his most magnificent opportunity. Rav Hirsch translates: If they create a sanctuary, if they consecrate their lives to Me, then I will dwell among them.

How does one consecrate his life to Hashem? 

 

Transforming the Physical into Spiritual

The Midrash tells us that Adam Harishon named himself Adam, “because I have been created from the adamah, the earth.” Thus, “Adam” translates as “Earthman.” We might wonder why he didn’t choose a different name, one that would highlight his spiritual center, rather than his physical externality.

Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that Adam was defining his life’s mandate. A craftsman is named after the medium he works with. A silversmith fashions items from silver, a woodworker builds with wood, a painter uses paint colors — and Adam employs the earth. He engages the physicality and materialism of our world to fulfill the purpose of his creation.

One of the great inspirations of the Mishkan is that it’s possible to transform physical life into ruchniyus. Externally, the Mishkan presented as a construction of physical materials. One example of the daily activities was the slaughtering of animals for korbanos. Chazal tell us that the Kohanim were sometimes ankle-deep in blood! Where’s the beauty and glory here? It lies in performing Hashem’s Will. This is the great message of “you with your palette, and I with my glory.”

In the words of the Mesillas Yesharim (chapter 26): “Even when one is engaged in a physical activity, his soul should not deviate from his devotion [to Hashem]. If one sanctifies himself with the holiness of his Creator, even his physical actions are holy. Such a person is himself considered a Mishkan, a Mikdash, a Mizbeiach.”

The effect of devoting our thoughts and even our physical activities to service of Hashem is not only personal. The Malbim explains that it is cosmic. When man allows his neshamah to rule over his own olam katan, it’s as if he’s accepting Hashem’s dominion over the world at large and “inviting” the Shechinah to return to our world.

Similarly, the Nefesh HaChaim states that each limb or organ that man uses in service of, or in rebellion against, Hashem, causes a parallel effect in the corresponding part of the universe. Thus, when Titus entered the Beis Hamikdash and defiled the Kodesh Kodoshim, a Heavenly voice told him, “Bayis charuv charavta — You have destroyed a House that has already been destroyed.” Since the Kodesh Kodoshim is parallel to the head, Klal Yisrael’s sinful thoughts had already initiated the devastation.

The Mishkan traveling with us through the Midbar symbolizes our capacity to have Hashem’s Presence among us at all times and under all conditions during our life journey. The Beis Hamikdash, by contrast, was stationary; one ascended to it three times a year. And, while the Beis Hamikdash was razed by our enemies, the Mishkan was nignaz, hidden away, indicating that on some level, it remains extant. In fact, the word mishkan is similar to mashkon, a deposit that secures an agreement in the absence of one of the parties.

As we mourn the Beis Hamikdash’s absence, loss, and destruction during these three weeks in Tammuz and Av, let us center ourselves upon our inner mishkan, and in this merit, may the curtain finally rise to reveal the ultimate center stage of all reality.

And then, my son, you will hear the new song you’ve been waiting for.

Sources include writings of Rav Chaim Friedlander, the Slonimer Rebbe, and Rav Moshe Shapira.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 551. Mrs. Shani Mendlowitz is a teacher at Bais Yaakov Seminary in Montreal, and is a popular lecturer for adults.)