Beit Midrash

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Build a Mishkan – Build Communal Accountability

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Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Adar 5773
Were the building of the Mishkan and the commandments to bring korbanot a response to the Sin of the Golden Calf, as a way to deal with the nation’s diminished spiritual level? Or, does the Mishkan embody the fundamentally ideal form of service of Hashem? This topic has been the subject of extensive debate by the greatest Jewish thinkers. This week, we want to address this question from a slightly different angle than usual.
During a long period of time, Bnei Yisrael were enslaved by the Egyptians in a cruel manner. As these slaves emerged from the crucible, they had to undergo a change of mentality. The need to make decisions having to do with priorities and goals, planning and execution, are not part of a slave’s spiritual or intellectual life. He never will have to contemplate the impact his decisions will have on society. Slave’s lives are focused on carrying out the technical instructions of their owners and task masters. Where there are slaves, society will also not usually concern itself with questions as to how their decisions will impact the lives of the slaves. Slaves are viewed as no more than machines to create desired results for their masters.
The project to collect materials for the building of the Mishkan and the planning of its erection created a revolution in the spiritual and societal mindset of the nation of ex-slaves. The call to donate, which included an obligation of everyone to donate something, showed that everyone has to have a societal/national value system. They learned that for the nation to succeed in its calling, everyone would have to give at least something.
The bringing of sacrifices is not, Heaven forbid, a matter of satisfying some type of divine appetite. Hashem certainly does not need the animals placed on the altar for Himself. The significance of the laws of set sacrifices is that Bnei Yisrael has a spiritual center with an orderly mode of operation. There is a nation, and there is a way in which the nation acts, demonstrating that we are not just an accumulation of individuals.
There is another element to korbanot that is focused more on the individual, and that is the element of accountability for one’s action. When a nation has rules of accountability for sins and mistakes, it is a sign of an organized nation, rather than a random group of wild ex-slaves. Being a free person allows one the freedom and the right to choose. Along with that right comes the responsibility to pay for mistakes, even unintentional ones.
Let us stress again that part of the national element of the Mishkan finds expression in that it was not a project that could fall on an individual or a group. It was always the responsibility of the king or the representatives of the people. This communal element is an aspect of the Mishkan and its operation that was an ideal even according to the opinions that it was erected as part of the struggle against idol worship.
Let us pray for the rebuilding of the Mikdash on the holy mountain, which shall serve as the base for the Divine Presence to rest on the holy nation, living a spiritual and idealistic life in the Holy Land, Eretz Yisrael.
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