Make for Me a Sanctuary 

The Torah is, first and foremost, a Book that directs our lives. The Torah contains a total of 613 commandments. One of the commands in this week’s parsha is particularly relevant as we approach the final days of Galus: “Make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them.”

These commandments are Divine dictates.  They tell us how we should live our lives; they are not just suggestions or great ideas. Yet, when we explore these 613 commandments, as enumerated by Maimonides and others, we discover that a few hundred of them are impossible to observe because we are missing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In these last days of exile there remain impediments for us to build the Temple.

The question thus becomes, how could it be that G‑d would deny us the opportunity to perform so many of His commandants, particularly the one to build the Sanctuary?


The Synagogue Substitute

Our Sages anticipated this question and answered that, while we must pray for the imminent coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash, there are things we must do today as Divinely ordained substitutes for the Temple.

Among those “substitutes” are building and supporting synagogues, which the prophet Yechezkal (11:16) characterized as miniature Sanctuaries where G‑d’s presence dwells. Indeed, the Talmud declares that when the Temple was destroyed, the Divine presence went with the Jewish people and “took up residence” in the synagogues of the Diaspora, particularly the main synagogue, headed by the leading Sage of his generation. Indeed, many of the laws that govern the respect we must accord the Bais Hamikdash extend to synagogues too.

Moreover, according to the Talmud all the synagogues we build in the Diaspora will become attached to the future Bais Hamikdash. They are virtual extensions of the Bais Hamikdash now and will soon become actual extensions with the revelation of Moshiach.

The Rebbe extended this mandate to build synagogues as replacements for the Bais Hamikdash to the next level to include our own homes. Whenever we make our homes places whose residents pray, study Torah and engage in acts of loving-kindness, each home becomes a veritable miniature Bais Hamikdash and will be transported to Israel in the Messianic Age. 


Study the Laws

Another way we can replicate the spiritual effects of the Bais Hamikdash, even as we wait for the literal return of that edifice, is the study of the laws concerning the Holy Temple.

The Midrash Tanchuma recounts that G‑d instructed the prophet Yechezkal to study the details of the construction of the Bais Hamikdash. Yechezkal protested,

“We are now in exile, in the land of our enemy, and You tell me to notify the Jewish people about the dimensions of the Sanctuary… do they have the ability to do anything. Take them out of exile and then I shall inform them!”

G‑d’s response to Yechezkal was:

“If My children are in exile shall the construction of My house cease?... Reading about its construction is as significant as actually building it. Go tell them to read the dimensions of the Sanctuary, and as a reward for reading about it I will consider it as if they were actually engaged in its construction.”

This Midrashic approach is based on the premise that Torah study transcends the constraints of time and space.  The same spiritual energies that we generate during Passover, for example, can be elicited when we study the laws of Passover. Learning about a Mitzvah is the equivalent of doing the Mitzvah.

Based on the above, the Rebbe asserts that the way we fulfill our obligation to build the Bais Hamikdash now is by learning about it.


Tefillin: our Personal Holy Temple

There is yet another Mitzvah which our Sages associate with the Bais Hamikdash: the Mitzvah of Tefillin.

The Zohar, the principle work of Kabbalah, states (1:129) that when we wear Tefillin we recreate the Sanctuary on our own bodies, and the Tefillin are analogous to the Ark, the holiest object in the Sanctuary. When G‑d spoke to Moses the Torah states He spoke from “between the two Cherubim” situated on top of the Ark.  Similarly, the Zohar states, the head and hand Tefillin are analogous to the two Cherubim, and become the vessel for G‑d’s dwelling on us.

The great Rabbi Chaim Vital, the principal expositor of the teachings of Kabbalah that he received from the Arizal, writes in his work Etz Hada’as Tov that the relationship between Tefillin and the Sanctuary is hinted in the very command G‑d used for the building of the Sanctuary:

          Make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them.

 The word in Hebrew for “in them” is bi’tocham. This word is a composite of two words, bitoch mem, and means: “within the [final] mem.” In Hebrew, the letter mem (the equivalent of the English letter “m”) is shaped like a square when placed at the end of a word. This alludes to the square boxes of the Tefillin. When we don these square boxes we draw down the Divine presence to dwell upon us.

This, the Shaloh explains, is why the Torah says: “I will dwell in them,” using the plural form although it begins the sentence with the words “Make for Me a Sanctuary” in the singular. It should have ended with the words, “And I will dwell in it.”

The answer is that the word “them” refers to the Jewish people. It is, the Shaloh states, specifically through the Mitzvah of Tefillin that we create a Sanctuary within each and every one of us.


Mind and Heart Coordination

To better appreciate the connection of Tefillin to the Sanctuary we ought to consider the words of the Shulchan Aruch, the principal work of Jewish law, which explain the underlying idea behind the head and arm Tefillin:

When a person puts on Tefillin he should concentrate on the idea that G‑d commanded us to wear these four sections of the Torah [contained in the Tefillin] that contain G‑d’s unity and the Exodus from Egypt. We place them on our arms near our hearts and on our heads near our brains so that we remember the miracles and wonders He wrought for us. These reflect His unity and that He has the exclusive power in the upper and lower realms to do as He desires. One will then surrender [to Him] im]Him] the soul which is seated in the brain and also the heart, the primary seat of desires and thoughts. This will remind him of his Creator and curb those [unbridled] desires.”

The two controlling influences in our lives are our minds and hearts. The world either becomes receptive to G‑d’s presence or resists it depending on the degree to which both our minds and hearts are in the right place.

When Tefillin are worn they empower us to keep our mind focused on G‑d’s unity. They also enable us to control our heart’s desires. When our mind and heart are coordinated and go in the same direction our bodies become receptive to the Divine presence.

As we alluded to earlier, the Zohar compares the two boxes (head and arm) of Tefillin to the two cherubic figures on the top of the Ark. The implication is that when we wear both boxes, on the head and on the arm, we replicate the power of the two Cherubim, which our Sages write were male and female and served as metaphors for the love of G‑d for His people Israel.

When we wear the Tefillin, which coordinate our minds and our hearts, we reinforce the love affair between G‑d and ourselves. G‑d does not have to hide His countenance from us because we have eliminated any and all resistance to His presence. We become Sanctuaries to His presence.


Women’s Participation

One can raise a simple question. If the Tefillin are a substitute for the building of the Bais Hamikdash, why are women exempted from this Mitzvah? In this week’s parsha we read about the central role women played in the construction of the portable Temple, the Mishkan. Rambam codifies the law that women are obligated to participate in the construction of the Bais Hamikdash. Why then are they exempted from the “substitute” Mitzvah of Tefillin?

There are several answers to this question. According to the Arizal, women enjoy the spiritual benefits of Tefillin vicariously from the observance of the Mitzvah by their husbands; their other halves.

In addition, women are naturally endowed with the proper mind-heart coordination. What men need in order to attain that coordination, through the wearing of Tefillin, women can draw upon internally. Women are naturally more in touch with their inner faith and spiritual attachment to G‑d. Evidence of this is the resistance of the women to the construction of the Golden Calf, the rebellion of the Spies and other debacles in the desert.

Prior to these events, when the women were still slaves in Egypt, they did not lose their faith and trust that G‑d would redeem them. It was in the merit of their faith that the Jews were liberated from Egypt. When it came to the contributions for construction of the Mishkan, the women were first to donate, freely giving up the gold jewelry they refused to give to the Golden Calf effort.

When women focus on their G‑d given spiritual sensitivity, inspire the men with faith in the imminence of the Final Redemption, perform the Mitzvos most relevant to women such as lighting Shabbos candles, maintaining the highest standards of Kashrut, following the laws of Mikveh and modesty, they  possess the inherent power of Tefillin and become Sanctuaries for G‑d.

In conclusion, when we achieve all the above and construct our substitute Sanctuaries by supporting our synagogues, studying the laws of the Bais Hamikdash and wearing Tefillin, we materially hasten the time when we will see the literal fulfillment of our most fervent wish: the building of the Third and Final Bais Hamikdash!


Moshiach Matters!


On the verse concerning the birth of Peretz, the progenitor of Moshiach, our Sages comment, "This refers to the Moshiach, as it is written, "The one who breaks through—haporetz—shall ascend before them." This is the task of Moshiach—to break through the barriers of exile and spread holiness throughout the world, as it is written, "And you shall spread out vigorously (UFARATZTA) west, east, north, and south."