Bilvavi, part II

To summarize part I:

I opened by raising the question why such a significant portion of the book of Shemos is dedicated to the building of the mishkan. The rest of the post didn’t seem to address that question, but instead developed a structural model of the human soul, based on the Maharal’s understanding of Avos 1:2 combined with the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the gemara in Peirush al Kama Agados.

There are three aspects of the soul that comprise a person’s individuality:

Nefesh: This is man’s connection to the physical world. Through it, we share that world with other people, and work together to address our needs. It is thus holds both the drive for physical comfort and pleasure as well as the ability to relate to other people.

Neshamah: A person’s presence in heaven, his connection to a higher calling, sanctity, and the A-lmighty Himself. If that calling is harnessed to serve some baser instinct, one is left with idolatry. On the other hand, as we say upon waking up in the morning, “My G-d, the neshamah which you placed within me is pure” — the neshamah itself is an image of the Divine, never sullied.

Ruach: People carry entire worlds in the space between their ears. In there they have models of what is going on outside of them, they plan and imagine outcomes and concepts. The ru’ach is the will that chooses between the conflicting callings and therefore also the egotism that is driven to see that desire be done.

Three aspects, each living in a different world, and enabling a different kind of relationship.

The Medrash describes the Jews leaving Mount Sinai wearing three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood and the crown of kingship. R. Shimon (Avos 4:17) enumerates the same “crowns” and he adds a fourth, “the crown of a good name rests on all three.” These three crowns are Torah, avodah — as embodied by the kohein serving in the Temple, and gemillus chassadim — shown by the responsibilities of the king to his people.

The three crowns are in turn related to three of the utensils of the Beis Hamikdosh.

Three of the utensils had a crown-like ornament, called a zeir, decorating their tops: the mizbei’ach hazahav, the golden altar used for incense; the aron, the ark; and the shulchan, the table of show-bread.

R. Yochanan said “There were three crowns: that of the altar, that of the ark, and that of the table. The one of the altar Aaron deserved and he received it. The one of the ark, David deserved and received. The one of the ark is still lying and whosoever wants to take it, may come and take it.Perhaps you might think it is a small matter, therefore the text reads: ‘In
me kings will rule’ (Mishlei 8).”

-Yuma 72b

Three crowns: were made on the holy vessels. [The one] of the mizbei’ach was a symbol of the crown of kehunah; of the aron, a symbol of the crown of Torah, and of the shulchan, was the symbol of kingship, for the table represented the wealth of kings.
This is how it should be written…: For the priesthood was given to Aharon and his sons as an eternal covenant (literally: “a covenant of salt”; Bamidbar 18). Similarly, kingship was given to David and his descendants. (Tehillim 18)
In me kings will rule: And greater is the one who is ruled than the ruler is. This verse speaks of the Torah.

– Rashi ad loc

Rashi explains the Gemara as comparing the three crowned vessels of the Beis haMiqdosh with the three crowns. The altar is where Avodah was performed, so it represents kehunah. The shulchan, containing one loaf of bread for each sheivet (tribe), shows fellowship between one Jew and another — gemillus chassadim. By symbolizing prosperity, it shows the king as an exemplar of proper use of the physical world.

But the first two crowns were given as an inheritance. The Torah is available to anyone who will grasp it. The crown of the Aron, which held the luchos (tablets) and the original Seifer Torah, was not given to any one family. Yet, the crown of Torah is greater than the others. As Shlomo writes in Mishlei, the king must rule from within the boundaries set by halachah.

The Beis haMiqdosh was, and will be, a microcosm. The universe stands on pillars of Torah, Avodah, and Gemillus Chassadim. Those same pillars find representation in the mishkan. The three relationships.

The Mishkan and Beis haMiqdosh had three more, uncrowned, vessels.

In addition to the Golden Mizbei’ach inside the heichal, most of the Avodah was performed on the larger Brass Mizbei’ach outside. It represents the domain of the neshamah, lifting the animal up in a straight pillar to heaven.

The kiyor (washing vessel), which was used to wash the dirt of this world off the kohein’s feet, was made out of the mirrors of the women in the desert. They would use these mirrors to look attractive to their husbands and produce the next generation. It corresponds to the worldliness of the nefesh.

The menorah, like the aron, represents wisdom. “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.” Seven branches often compared to the seven wisdoms, so that all secular wisdom are branches from the Torah, and their light points back to the Torah. The domain of the mind.

Finally, all the pieces are there to answer our original question. The ending section of the book of Shemos isn’t “simply” dedicated to the construction of the Mishkan. It is a structural model of the human soul.

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