This week’s Alumni Dvar Torah is by Yedidya Naveh
Parashat Teruma marks our yearly passage from the “interesting” narrative parshiyot, which recount the miraculous events of the redemption from Egypt, to the “boring” clerical readings that describe the planning and construction of the Tabernacle. At this point, it is easy to let our brains turn off during leining. But we shouldn’t. Within the architecture of the Tabernacle hide messages no less profound than the stories that precede and frame them.
R. Hayyim of Volozhin (1749–1821), writes in his philosophical-mystical treatise Nefesh Hahayyim (1:4) that the human body and soul are a miniature version of the Temple. At the same time, he claims that both are together blueprints of the divine structure that gives order to the entire universe.
For this too, let the heart of a member of the holy people tremble. For he contains within his architecture all powers and worlds, … which are the sanctum and the heavenly temple. And the heart of man, the core of his body, is the greatest totality, analogous to the Holy of Holies, the epicenter of the City, the Foundation Stone. It too comprises all the essences of the source of sanctity. The Sages of blessed memory hinted at this when they stated (Berakhot 20a): “One must orient his heart toward the Holy of Holies.”
The sketching of infinite iterations of microcosm and macrocosm is typical of the kabbalah. The basic idea is clear: The world, though it appears base, transient, and broken, is in fact sublime, eternal, and unified. But thinking of the Sanctum as an embodiment of ourselves and of the divine presence simultaneously goes beyond this generality. The materials of the Tabernacle, the scale and the structure, should all be thought of, in classical architectural fashion, as the embodiment of human and divine ideas. The logic of the sanctuary is not random.
Take for example, the case of the windows of the first Temple. The book of Kings (I 6:4) recounts that King Solomon built the Temple with windows that were “clear-opaque” (שקופים אטומים). The Sages (Menahot 86b) interpret this as referring to one-way mirrors that counterintuitively allowed light out but not in. This miraculously demonstrated that God in His abode needs no light from outside; He is Himself the light of the whole world. On the human scale, we are reminded of a person’s eyes. We normally think of one’s eyes as tools that allow light from outside into the body. But in truth, a person’s eyes are also windows into his or her soul, allowing one’s inner light out into the world.
If architecture were a form of poetry, then the Tabernacle and the Temple would be the Jewish people’s Iliad and Odyssey. But architecture is more than poetry. It is the creation of the spaces and places in which we live our whole lives. It therefore crucial for us to study the architecture of the Tabernacle as a paramount expression of who we are as a divinely chosen people. According to Frank Lloyd Wright, “all fine architectural values are human values.” The Torah commands us to look farther. We should say: “All fine architectural and human values are divine values.”
Yedidya Naveh (SBM 2010, 2011) lives with his family in Maale Gilboa. He is collaborating with Yeshivat Maale Gilboa on a “Guide to Jewish Law on Campus” for American college students.