week we begin reading the series of Parshiot dealing with
the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Torah
explains in great detail the measurements, materials and
design of the various items used in the Mishkan while the
commentaries go to great lengths in explaining the specific
symbolism of each
central item of the mishkan was the Aron (ark) which housed
the Ten Commandments. The Torah tells us that the ark was
to have dimensions of two and a half cubits (a cubit is
approximately 18 inches) in length, a cubit and a half in
width and a cubit and a half in height. Why the emphasis
on halves? Would it not have been simpler to have the measurements
in full cubits? The Kli Yakar (Rav Ephraim Luntshitz of
Lemberg 1550-1619) contrasts the measurements of the Aron
with those of the Shulchan (table) which were two cubits
long by one cubit wide by one and a half cubits high. Here,
only the height has a half cubit. The Kli Yakar explains
that the Aron, which held the Torah, represents the spiritual
aspect of life while the Shulchan represents the material
side. With regards to spiritual matters a person should
always be striving for higher and higher goals. Instead
of being satisfied with our level of achievement, we must
hold up as models people who have reached greater heights
than us. We must strive for greater piety, increased learning,
and a more refined character. Our Sages teach us that a
person should ask of himself: "When will my actions reach the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"? We must never delude ourselves into thinking that we are spiritually complete and hence all the measurements of the Aron are "broken".
With regard to our material needs, our maxim should be that of Pirkei Avot: "Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot." If we are truly satisifed with our lot then what we have is complete.
Hence the measurements of the Shulchan are full cubits. If, however, our plate is full why is the height of the Shulchan one and a half cubits? The Kli Yakar explains that height represents striving, yearning for something, often for things which are just beyond our reach. While having a satisfactory standard of living is important, instead of looking upwards at those who have more - as we must in spiritual matters - we should look to help those who have less than us. We must not satisfy all of our material cravings but rather learn to say no even if it is within our financial reach. We have to look no further than many of today's professional athletes to see the results when little or no limitations are put on people. It is only when we have limits that we can appreciate that which we do have.
The dimensions of the Mizbeachot (the 2 alters) however, were complete measuring five cubits by five cubits by five cubits and one by one by two. The mizbeach afforded one an opportunity to renew and strengthen his relationship with G-d. When a person sins, a barrier is erected between him and G-d. This barrier can only be removed by sincere repentance. Once a person has committed himself to positive change, a sacrifice was brought on the mizbeach to signify this change. The Mizbeach then represents our returning to G-d in a pure state and hence all of its measurements are "complete".
Growing spiritually can not be done in a vacuum. Judaism places great emphasis on being part of a community. In addition to legal technical reasons, it is the sense of community which makes davening in shul with a minyan so important. A simcha is not a simcha if it is celebrated in private. The mishkan was build with the half shekel that each Jew had to give and one was not allowed to give a whole shekel. A Jew acting alone can do no more than half the job. It takes two Jews to make a shekel complete. Shabbat Shalom!