Our parsha (Terumah) contains the commandment to build the tabernacle, and by extension, the holy temple in Jerusalem.  The verse, “Make for me a mishkan (“tabernacle”) and I will dwell within it (you)…” (Ex 25:8) serves as the basis for building a physical edifice that will contain Godliness.  Yet, the question is asked, why does God, Who is infinite and spiritual, need a physical location and what benefit does the physical location provide?

One suggested answer is that even though God is present throughout His creation, both permeating and transcending the creation, nevertheless, He is not present in a revealed fashion. We do not see or feel His presence.  That is the purpose of Torah and mitzvoth, so that we will not only know about His presence but also experience it.  However, this Godly experience may occur anywhere; it does not necessitate a physical location and building.

The same is true of the activities of the Jews in the Temple.  The Jews would come to the Temple both to offer sacrifices and also to pray.  It could be argued that the sacrifices needed a physical location, and that is why God instructed the Jews to bring them to the Temple.  However, we cannot say that about prayers, which could  take place at any location.  Anywhere that a Jew prays or fulfills Torah and mitzvoth, God’s presence becomes revealed, so why was it necessary to specifically build the Temple for that purpose?

The answer emerges from the Chasidic principle that “whatever is highest has the ability to descend to the lowest level.”  The highest spiritual levels are known precisely because they may descend to the lowest levels and become revealed.  And the highest expression of Godliness transcends both the physical and the spiritual realms.  Not only is God not limited to the physical world, He is not limited to the spiritual world as well.  Even if we say about Him that He is “unlimited” or “infinite,” we do not do justice to His essential being.  The only way that His very essence can be expressed is if it becomes revealed in the very lowest levels of creation, that otherwise totally fail to reveal any Godliness.

And that is the secret of the holy Temple.  Even the mishkan – the traveling sanctuary in the desert, was not made of the same lowly materials as the Temple,  The mishkan was composed mostly of animal and vegetable materials, and it was mobile – the Jews carried it through the desert, and assembled it in several different locations in the holy Land before the Temple was built.  But, when it came time for the Temple to be built in Jerusalem, it occupied one specific location, and it was built of the lowest materials – stone.  And specifically because stone is inanimate and does not display even the ability to grow or to move, it became the keli, or “vessel” for the expression of the highest Godliness.  As we saw in the Temple, that “beyond time and space” came to be expressed within time and space.  The aron (“holy ark”) measured two and a half cubits, and yet when it was placed in its location within the Temple, one could still measure two and one half cubits from each side of the ark to the space that was allotted for it.  Thus – even tho the ark took up no space, it still comfortably sat in the space that was allotted for it in the holy Temple.  There is no level of spirituality that can account for such revealed miracles – only the essence of Godliness itself, descending to express itself in the inanimate physical world, can achieve such a revelation.

Now, we can understand the rationale behind building a physical edifice to “house” Godliness.  The point of Torah and mitzvoth is not to merely reach higher spiritual levels and to transcend our physical status.  The point is to bring Godliness down to be expressed within the lowest physical world, and that could only be done in a structure with a specific location built of the lowest materials – stone.

For a longer and more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 3, page 902-910

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