In our Torah portion of this week we read about the instructions that G-d gives Moses for building the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is like a portable synagogue where the Jewish people worshipped during their journey through the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. This portable temple was basically a tent, which was enclosed by a courtyard. The tent was divided into two sections — the Holy Section, and the “Holy of Holy” section. Inside the Holy of Holy section was The Ark which contained the Ten Commandments. Inside the Holy Section were a Menorah and a Table, upon which Challahs were placed every week. There was also an altar to burn incense. When G-d wanted to speak to Moses, G-d would invite him into the Holy of Holies. G-d’s voice would come from above the Ark.
There was another altar outside the tent. This altar was in the courtyard. This is where ordinary people would come to offer their prayers. They might pray for forgiveness from G-d, ask G-d for something they needed, or thank G-d for some good fortune they received. There was also a large basin or bowl near this altar, where people could do ceremonial washing.
These then are the furnishings of the Tabernacle – the Ark, the Table, the Altar for incense, the Altar of the courtyard, and the Bowl for washing. Compared to a synagogue today, this biblical temple was pretty spare – there are no pictures, no stained glass windows, no memorial plaques, no flags, not even chairs! Of the five furnishings of the Tabernacle, three have a golden rim around them – the ark, the table and the altar for incense.
The Torah describes in great detail how these furnishings are to be made. The ark is one and one half cubits wide, two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits high. (1 cubit = 18 inches) Specific measurements were given as well for the incense altar and the challah table. The Altar for Incense is one cubit long, one cubit wide, and two cubits high. The Table is two cubits long, one cubit wide and one and one half cubits high. The rabbis developed some interesting notions about these measurements. Does anyone see a pattern in the measurements? Hint: it has nothing to do with addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.
The rabbis noticed that that none of the measurements of the Ark were in whole numbers. They also noticed that all of the measurements of the Incense Altar were whole numbers, and the Table for the Challahs was a mixture of whole numbers and fractions. By studying these measurements the Rabbis uncovered a hidden message for the Jewish people.
None of the dimensions of the Ark are in whole numbers. What does this teach us? The Ark contained the 10 Commandments, representing the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people. This teaches that when it comes to matters of the spirit, we can never feel complete. We are always growing. There is always room for improvement. There is always an opportunity for spiritual growth. We can always be more generous, more loving, more thoughtful, and more appreciative. We can always be more faithful, more forgiving, more accepting, and more humble.
The altar’s measurements are ALL whole numbers. The smoke from the Incense Altar represents our prayers ascending to G-d. We might come before G-d to pray feeling broken-hearted – through our prayers, G-d makes us whole again. We might come before G-d because we have done something wrong. We feel diminished and we pray for forgiveness. Through sincere prayer G-d forgives us and makes us whole again. So, the Altar’s measurements are in whole numbers.
The Table for the Challahs represents the physical world. The dimensions of the surface of the Table ARE whole numbers. The Challah on it represents the physical world. This teaches that G-d made our world beautiful so that we can fully enjoy it. The Talmud states that G-d will be disappointed if we do not partake of the permissible physical pleasures of the world. The story is told of the famous Rabbi who wanted to visit the Alps. His students were surprised that their Rabbi would want to take precious time from study and teaching to travel to Switzerland just to see some mountains. He explained to them, “When I die and come before my Creator, and am asked, ‘Did you see my magnificent Alps’ I want to be able to answer in the affirmative!”
But the height of the Table for the Challah is NOT a whole number. This teaches us that we need to curb our appetites as well. Sure, it’s wonderful to enjoy a hot fudge Sundae or a deep dish pizza. But it is not wise to have five of either one at one sitting! We need to be able to control our pleasure, and not have our pleasure control us. We need to feel blessed with what we have, and learn to limit our pursuit of material gains.
Each of these furnishings – the ark, the table, and the altar – had a gold rim around them. These represent three crowns we must wear – the crown of spirituality, the crown of enjoyment of our world, and the crown of moderation. If we wear these three crowns, we will have built a sanctuary within our hearts, where the spirit of G-d can truly dwell. Like the Children of Israel, we too can carry G-d with us wherever we go.