Parshas Terumah outlines the instructions for building the Mishkan, including all the materials used for each of its holy vessels. When introducing this project, Hashem tells Moshe, “V’Asu Li Mikdash, Vishachanti BiSocham,” and you shall build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them. R’ Chaim Volozhiner writes (Nefesh HaChaim 1:4) that Hashem does not say that He will dwell “bi’socho,” in the Mishkan, but rather that He will dwell “biSocham,” in them, i.e. within the Jewish people themselves. What does this mean? The Nefesh HaChaim explains that every Jew has the capacity to develop a Mikdash Me’at, a receptacle for the Shechina, in our individual homes as well as in our hearts.
The question, though, is how do we accomplish this? How can the Shechina reside within us? Perhaps one answer lies in a deeper exploration of the original Mishkan and its vessels.
As a traveling House of God, the Mishkan’s Keilim were designed for easy transport. The Pesukim describe the notches, bolts, and sockets of every wall, curtain, and Kli and the ways in which they should be both assembled and disassembled, as Bnei Yisrael carried the Mishkan with them throughout their sojourn in the desert. Regarding the Aron Kodesh, the holy Ark containing the Luchos and representative of the Torah itself, the Pesukim (25:10-14) describe, “and you shall make an Ark of acacia wood… overlaid with gold, inside and out…and cast four rings around it, two on one side and two on the other… make poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold and insert the poles into the rings to carry the Ark.”
Following this description of the Aron, the Pasuk continues, “BaTab’os Ha’Aron Yihiyu HaBadim, Lo Yasuru Mimenu,” the poles shall remain inside the rings of the Aron, and you shall not remove them (25:15). As elucidated by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 2:13), this is a Mitzvah all its own, separate from the creation or maintenance of the Aron – the Badim used to carry the Aron are never to be removed from its rings. This Halacha is quite enigmatic; if all the Keilim of the Mishkan are meant to be portable, why is it that the Badim of the Aron alone cannot be removed?
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 96) explains that the Aron represents the Torah, the most central and essential aspect of our national existence. As such, the Badim remain in the rings of the Aron so that Klal Yisrael can easily transport the Aron with them quickly and easily, affording the utmost Kavod to the Aron so that there will be less risk of it falling or being mishandled due to hastily assembling and readying it for swift and smooth transport.
The Kli Yakar, however, adds another layer to this Mitzvah, noting that it extends beyond the practical limitations of moving the Aron. The Aron must be ready to take with us wherever we go, for the Torah must always be with us, as we’re told in Sefer Yehoshua (1:8) and later in Yeshayahu (59:21), “the Torah (and Sefer Torah) must never be removed from [our] mouths or the mouths of [our] children, or children’s children, forever.”
Expounding on this idea, R’ Hirsch differentiates further between the Aron and the other Keilim (e.g. the Menorah and Shulchan), for which there is no Issur of “Lo Yasuru.” He explains that the other Keilim have uses only when we have a Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash. Other than for the Dor HaMidbar who were on their way to Eretz Yisrael, all other instances of Mishkan or Mikdash took place within Eretz Yisrael, and all of those Keilim except the Aron were Shayach only to the Land of Israel. The Aron, however, which represents the Torah, is relevant and integral everywhere the Jewish people travel. Whether we are in the desert, in Eretz Yisrael, or anywhere in the four corners of the earth, the Torah must be with us, and we must be able to carry it with us, physically and spiritually.
How do we do this?
One of the hallmarks of behavioral therapies such as CBT and DBT is the use of between-session practice to generalize skills and apply concepts learned or discussed in the therapy session in real life. Many of my clients, particularly the teenagers I work with, grumble at the idea of “more homework,” for they recognize homework when they see it regardless of the therapeutic euphemisms we use. And yet, research demonstrates that applying the ideas or tools one is learning in therapy to his or her everyday life is an essential, perhaps the essential, mechanism of change in the therapeutic process.
To drive this point home to my patients (and myself), I explain as follows. There are 168 hours in a week. In the 45-60 minute span of a therapy session, patients can have all sorts of epiphanies that inspire them to make changes or recognize patterns; you can learn ways to manage your emotions, identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts, or navigate interpersonal relationships more effectively during that time. And yet, the life in which those patterns, emotions, thoughts, and relationships are present takes place in the other 167 hours, outside the therapy room (or Zoom). As such, no change is likely to happen without ways to take that 45-minute or one hour chunk of the week and somehow channel it into the rest of one’s life. This is the point of “homework” – to help utilize what one learns in a moment of heightened awareness or inspiration to change his or her life in real time.
Becoming a Mikdash Me’at, a vessel for God’s presence, is possible when we carry the Torah within us. The Torah, symbolized by the Aron Kodesh, is meant to be with us throughout our days, weeks, and lives, throughout our travels as a nation and as individuals. The spiritual high of Maamad Har Sinai, the ethereal holiness of being in the presence of the Shechina in the Mishkan or in the Beis HaMikdash, must be able to be channeled in tangible increments into the rest of our lives. The Mitzvah to not remove the Badim of the Aron is a physical practice with spiritual significance. It symbolizes to Klal Yisrael that Torah is meant to be transportable and transferrable to every moment of our lives. The Aron is built ready to be moved at any second, for the Torah and the Divine relationship that it affords us is not meant to remain walled off in a physical sanctuary; rather, we are meant to put the dictates of the Torah into practice in our daily lives, and by so doing, actualize and activate a connection with Hashem at all times.
Throughout our Jewish lives, we experience moments of profound spiritual inspiration. Once a year, we immerse in the Mikvah of Yom Kippur and emerge anew, alight with spiritual growth and a keen sense of what is real and true. Every month, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh and connect with the spiritual essence of the month and any holidays within it. On Shabbos each week, we experience a microcosm of Olam Haba, and are similarly reconnected. On the most mundane level, everything from the Halachos of Netilas Yadayim in the morning to the order in which we tie our shoes, to the Brachos we make over food and drink, to the way we dress and speak are practices that bring the Torah into our daily existence. Like the between-session exercises of a Jew seeking to create and to embody a Mikdash Me’at in this world, each behavioral practice we carry out, each Mitzvah we perform, is a means of carrying the Torah with us outside the bounds of time, or place, into the near-moment of our daily lives.
This week, let’s be extra attentive to how we can carry the Torah with us into the daily journeys of our busy lives. Whether it’s a moment of Shabbos that we try to rekindle during the week, or a lesson from a Shiur that we work to integrate into our day-to-day, it is imperative that an hour of inspiration is not relied upon too heavily to ignite the flames of our souls or to provide a spiritual high that fizzles out before it can translate into tangible growth. Rather, let us concretize those moments of heightened awareness and connection and use the guidelines of Torah and Halacha as means of generalizing spirituality into the other 167 hours of our week. Perhaps, if the Torah can dwell in our daily lives in such a manner, HaKadosh Baruch Hu can truly find a home in the Mikdash Me’At within us.