Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Previously we learned in Rimzei HaMishkan of the Malbim that the Mishkan is divided into three parts, corresponding to the parts of the human being. But as we also saw, the Mishkan is meant to represent both the little human that walks the earth and the great human that is the entire universe, and everything was created in the image of the Creator.

The universe is often divided, in Jewish tradition, into four components, as the Name of Hashem also has four letters. This structure can also be found in the human body if it is divided according to its physical functions (rather than, as we did last week, by breaking it apart according to stages of evolution). The Mishkan, accordingly, can also be divided into four parts. The highest world, that closest to the original emanation of the Creative Will, is the seat of Divine Glory. In the human body it corresponds to the skull and central nervous system, while in the Mishkan it is the Holy of Holies where the aron and the luchot are situated.


The next world, sometimes referred to as the world of “Creation,” the Malbim identifies as the domain of celestial beings – the malachim. This corresponds in the human body to the heart and lungs, and in the Mishkan to the central tent and all its vessels. The third world, that which is above the material world we occupy in our physicality, the Malbim identifies with the ofanim from the vision of Yechezkel – they are without a will of their own and only go wherever the chayot wish for them to travel in order to move the Divine chariot. This world corresponds to the digestive system in the human being, and in the Mishkan it corresponds to the outer courtyard where the korbanot are consumed upon the mizbe’ach, and the kohanim wash their hands and feet in water.

The material world is everything outside of the Mishkan, as the Mishkan is a means for us to pursue transcendence, and for those who have been properly designated to traverse all of these worlds. Because of this, the distinctions between these sections of the Mishkan are very significant. They correspond to boundaries in the human body and they allude to spiritual boundaries that separate the different states of being we have been referring to as “worlds.”

The inner veil or curtain, the parochet, separated the enclosed chamber of the structure – the heichal – from the Kodesh Kedoshim. When the Mishkan was disassembled and the aron traveled, the parochet was taken down and draped over the aron so it was always thus separated from the material world. This curtain represents the pargod, the dividing membrane that separates the wisdom that is granted by Divine inspiration from what can be understood by human reason. It cannot be crossed except by the benevolence of Hashem, and in the Mishkan it is only ever crossed by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. In the human body, this is represented by the throat that joins but also separates the skull from the heart and lungs.

The next division separates the courtyard from the sanctuary, and here too there is a screen dividing the physical space. In the universe this separates the entirety of the higher and lower realms which are perceptible to us from the purely spiritual worlds that are beyond our comprehension. In the human body, this is the diaphragm separating the heart and lungs from the organs of digestion and excretion. In the Mishkan, this boundary is only crossed by properly designated kohanim in performance of the rituals associated with the sanctuary, such as lighting the menorah and burning the ketoret. Also, the lechem hapanim is brought inside and then back out but it is not consumed inside. All rituals involving actual foods – flesh and blood – take place in the outer courtyard (except on Yom Kippur).

The outer courtyard is also separated from the physical world by a barrier, but in the Mishkan this is offset somewhat from the framing walls. In the Beit HaMikdash this area was represented by the outer courtyards and accessed from the Temple Mount by way of gates, guarded by levi’im. The Malbim emphasizes in a reading of the Midrash that upon the dedication of the Mishkan, the order was imposed and the Mishkan situated in its proper place in a hierarchy spanning all the worlds Hashem created.

When Bnei Yisrael below are doing His will, and serving as commanded in the Mikdash, then all of the celestial bodies and beings and all the servants of His will on every level are unified in praising Hashem and in transmitting blessings and goodness all the way down to the lower world in which the Mishkan was built and in which the Beit HaMikdash speedily will be rebuilt, by the Will of Hashem.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].