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Whats In a Name?

By: Rav Ari Shames

I would like to dedicate this shiur in gratitude to Hashem for a great miracle that He performed for my family seven years ago. My wife and five of our children were involved in a very severe car accident that included the car they were in flipping over several times and some even being thrown from the car during the flipping. Through the direct intervention of God, all family members in the car walked away with only scratches and one broken arm. Road trips to the north of the country now include making a special bracha when we pass the spot of the accident, and we have adopted the 3rd of Adar as a family holiday from that point forward. All of this is so that we do not take for granted the great gift that Hashem gave us.

This year the shiur will actually be about the parsha.

This Shabbat we begin a series of sections of the Torah that focus on the mishkan. As a matter of fact, the focus on the mishkan will not only be with us until the end of Shemot, with all the details of the construction, but actually it will carry on for most of Vayikra with the details of the korbanot. If we look a bit beyond that, we find that most of Bamidbar revolves around the mishkan as the focal point of the encampment and the center of most of the events recorded in Bamidbar as well. So, all in all, it seems to be a very central element in the Torah. (We will comment on Devarim at the end of the shiur).

This important structure is described by various names throughout the Torah and I think that each and every name highlights a unique and important aspect of the institution.

(Before we proceed I need to point out a methodological issue. It would have been perfect to be able to define each and every name and show how the Torah uses the specific name in each circumstance. Unfortunately I don’t think I can do that. I think that we find the use of names being used interchangeably to a great extent making this shiur one of general direction and food for thought rather than a tight analysis of the wording in the various places in the Torah).

Mishkan -

The term mishkan, the dwelling, is used almost 100 times in the Torah. The connotation of the term refers to the place in which God dwells. God’s presence in referred to as the Shechina and more specifically, in Kabalistic thought, the Shechina is the manifestation of the infinite God in this finite world. In the same seemingly absurd manner that we can see God as having clear presence in this fragile and physical world, we refer to a specific location in the world that He has mandated to be built for his “dwelling” purpose. The obviously challenging theological point here was stated clearly by Shlomo Hamelech in his inaugural speech of the Bet Hamikdash (Melachim I 8/27):

 “But will God in very truth dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have built!”

Whether we can offer a satisfying answer to this question or not, we have a very clear idea of what is meant by Mishkan, the dwelling place of God in this world.

Ohel Moed -

An even more common name is the Ohel Moed, as it appears 135 times in the Torah (I thank the Bar Ilan project for doing the counting for me). This is usually translated as the tent of meeting. While it is clear that Ohel means tent, the meaning of Moed is more difficult. On one hand it indicates a time while on the other hand it may refer to the word VAAD or meeting. Simply put it would seem that these two things go hand in hand. If one wants to meet someone we need to know where and when this is happening in order to make the connection.

This idea behind the “meeting” is a very different concept than we saw above. This is the spot that is chosen by God to communicate with us, as we read in this parsha, that He will speak to Moshe from above the Aron. A meeting, however, infers a dialogue and not simply a monologue. This is a place where we can communicate with God. We can accomplish this lofty goal in two ways. We are given many details in Vayikra describing all the various korbanot. Each korban is the proper type of communication given the circumstances. General inspiration (olah), gratitude (shlamim) or even sin (chatat and asham); each category has its own tone and language to connect with God. Different times of the year, as well, provide varied emotions and the korbanot reflect our dynamic relationship with God.

In addition to korbanot we can also “meet” God through prayer. Today we are accustomed to the availability of prayer in each and every location, but a simple reading of Sefer Melachim reveals to us that the main purpose of the Bet Hamikdash was for prayer (Melachim I 8/28-53). Shlomo Hamelech gives many examples of prayer, all of which are designed to be offered in the Mikdash.

(There is another explanation of Ohel Moed, focusing on the time element of Moed. In this understanding it means temporary - the temporary tent, which is simply meant to contrast it to the ultimate Bet Hamikdash that will be both building [as opposed to a tent] and long lasting.)

 Mikdash -

This seems to be one of the more obvious names and, interestingly, it only appears 11 times in the Torah. Its first appearance is in the opening verses of our parsha “Make for Me a mikdash….”. Most commentaries understand this as a holy place. In most places that this term is used it refers to preserving the special nature of the holy place and being careful not to damage or desecrate it. Those who are impure are warned from approaching it and the Levites are charged with protecting the integrity of the purity of the mikdash.

I think that this name reflects the challenge in the combination of the previous two elements that we described. If this is a place where I can approach God then I should be able to do so in any state that I may find myself. Worthy or not, I should be able to communicate with God. However we need to keep in mind that this also the very dwelling place of God Himself. It would be terribly degrading to treat such a unique and lofty place like our own living room.

The term kedusha – holiness - always connotes an elevated status, one that limits access and has clearly defined rules as to the accepted protocol.

Bet HaBechira -

Interestingly, when the Rambam chose a name to refer to the laws involved with the Bet Hamikdash, he opted for Bet HaBechira, the” chosen home”. This of course is a reference to the code name repeated often in Devarim. We find, over and over again, the description that God will choose a place, the place that God has chosen etc. In sefer Devarim we are in the midst of the final speech of Moshe before the people are to enter the land. The continued presence of God as felt in the mishkan for the previous 40 years was about to come to an end. Each and every individual, and each tribe were about to settle in their new homes. What would the role of the mikdash be? Where would it be? The unifying element in the desert had to be retained. A central location that the entire nation would rally around and to which they would have regular pilgrimages was critical. Whose portion would it be in?

It will be in a location that will be chosen by God Himself. Our allegiance to God and His service are reflected by our fully understanding that He makes all the choices. The: who, what, where, when, and how of serving God are all His choice.

In the Sefer Hamitzvot, the Rambam defines the purposes of the building of the mikdash as “to build the Bet Habechira for service, it is there that we will bring sacrifices, the fire will constantly burn, and it will be the destination for gathering and pilgrimage”. The Rambam seems to touch upon all the issues that we have presented: sacrifices = Ohel Moed, constant fire = mishkan (symbolized by an eternal fire) and pilgrimage = the chosen location.

The Midrash says that every individual is labeled with three distinct names, the one he received from his parents, the one those who surround him use to refer to him and one that he ‘acquires’ for himself. The multiplicity of names represents the different ways in which people are viewed and how others relate to them. Likewise, we see above how the multiple names of the Mishkan, Ohel Moed, Mikdash, Beit Habechira highlight our multifaceted relationship with HKB”H, with the service of God and His chosen place of worship, and how we relate to Him on every level.

Shabbat Shalom

Rav Shames


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