Photo Credit: Jewish Press

As we proceed into the parshiot preceding the holidays of springtime, dealing with the design and construction of the Mishkan, we will take a few weeks to examine the insights of the Malbim into the symbolism of the Mishkan as set forth in his essay entitled “Rimzei HaMishkan” (Hints of the Tabernacle).

Malbim begins by elucidating the principle that the universe is a giant human being, or organism, and the human being is a small universe. If any part of the whole is missing, then the entire organism is untenable and also ineligible to serve in the Mishkan (as a kohen). Ultimately, the entire organism is animated by the infusion of Divine bounty that gives and sustains life. In the human who is a small universe and in the universe that is a large human, the essence is this life force is the soul – the infusion of divinity that makes it what it is. Malbim makes a beautiful comparison to the large and small harps that were played by the levi’im in the Beit HaMikdash, the nevel and kinor; the two instruments, the human and the universe, together play a harmony in praise of Hashem.


After this extended discussion, only very briefly summarized here, the Malbim states in the name of the Sages that Hashem “desired” since the dawn of Creation to have an abode to dwell in among His creations. In order for this to happen, human beings must sanctify and purify themselves to such an extent that they can become like gods here in the lower realms and welcome their Creator to reside among them. Beginning with the forefathers, select individuals from among humanity began to achieve this elevated level and to spread the knowledge and praise of G-d through the world, bringing the Divine presence, or Shechina, further and further down into the world such that we might be aware of it.

But there are only ever very few individuals who rise to this level, and even when all of Israel are serving Hashem faithfully and achieving our individual tasks, most people at best are just sparks of light and not enough to maintain an ongoing presence of Divine imbuement. It is therefore necessary for a critical mass of righteous people to unite in common purpose, as many candles together can constitute a great flame. In such a congregation, Hashem can find His dwelling place at last. This, then, was the purpose of building the Mishkan and ultimately of the Beit HaMikdash itself in the place Hashem designated as a permanent site since the dawn of Creation. The Torah says they should “build a Mikdash and I will dwell in their midst” (Shemot 25:8), meaning literally in them – among them, these righteous individuals.

Malbim relates that Moshe wondered how it would be possible to produce such a wonder, and according to the Sages, Hashem said not only you, Moshe, but any one of you will know how to do it. This means that any righteous person can find in the example of his or her own elevated soul the blueprint for the dwelling place of the Shechina. Critically, the Mishkan is divided into sections and each one builds on the foundation of that which precedes it. Just as Israel becomes set apart from the nations as a “nation of priests,” the Mishkan is set apart from the camp of Israel as an adornment, a crown of glory over the whole camp.

The Mishkan has a body, which is its physical form; it is filled with the vessels that channel the divine power in both directions; and it has an inner sanctum, the Kodesh kedoshim, which is the seat for the “soul” atop the faculties of reason. Just as a human being has three parts, the Mishkan has the same three parts: the head and skull which are the dwelling place for the intellect, the upper body where the animating force resides and the heart beats, and the lower body where the organs do the work of nature, especially to digest and process food for sustenance. This structure can be superimposed on the layout of the Mishkan as we will see in more detail, G-d willing, next week when we read Parshat Tetzaveh where the design of the Mishkan is concluded.


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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].