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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Terumah: The Mishkan in the Synagogue; Hidden in Plain Sight

I've been told that this post (and my writing in general) would be easier to follow if I avoided tangents, used footnotes, and wrote in standard English.  I'm not here to entertain you, and I'm not changing my style of writing.  If you want to learn something worth knowing, sit down, clear your mind, and focus. 


In the forthcoming sections of the Torah, the architecture and layout of the Tabernacle/Mishkan and various types of sacrifices are described at great length. This information seems, to many of us, to be arcane and completely irrelevant to modern life. The fact is, though, that the laws of the Sacrificial Service that was done in the Tabernacle and the Temple pervade the everyday life of the Orthodox Jew. The Torah explicitly links the mortal prohibitions against consuming tallow and blood to the sacrificial service; our daily prayers derive from and correspond to the daily communal sacrificial services in the Mishkan (Berachos 26b); the requirement that we have salt on the table when we eat bread (table is like the altar and salt accompanied all offerings); the prohibition of shatnez/clothing that mixes wool and linen (Chizkuni in Ki Seitzei- specific and exclusive to bigdei kehuna); the double meal on Shavu'os/Pentecost (OC 494:3 Rama); Birkas Hagomel/the thanksgiving blessing (equivalent of Korban Todah/the Thanksgiving Offering); Kisui Hadam/covering the shechita blood of non-korban species (Ramban and Kli Yakar Vayikra 17:3), we read the section of the Torah that describes the Red Heifer before Passover, just as we used to use it in olden times to prepare for eating the Pesach offering; and-- the architecture of the synagogue, the layout of the Beis HaKnesses.

The Noda B'yehuda (II OC 18) says that there is no 'blueprint' for Synagogues, and one may build an eight-cornered or silo-shaped synagogue. Still, he encourages us to follow our traditions in building Shuls, unless some exigency or compelling logic dictates innovation. Indeed, we find very little direction; the Shulchan Aruch (OC 90) says that a synagogue should, if possible, have twelve windows, for various symbolic reasons, and (OC 150) that the shul should be higher than any residences in the city. (In a slightly different universe, we would be the ones with the steeples.) The Rambam (2 Tefilla 3) says that the Bimah, from which the Torah is read, should be placed in middle so that everyone should be able to hear the Torah reading; the Kesef Mishna (there) says that on that basis, if it is a small Shul, one may place the Bimah anywhere one wants. As we will see, however, it is a mistake to think that traditional synagogue architecture is merely utilitarian with a vague gloss of accreted traditions. It is crystal clear that traditional synagogue architecture reflects, in minute detail, the layout of the Mishkan. The correspondence is specific, exclusive, and indisputable. The entrance, the Bimah upon which the Torah is read, the Amud where the leader of the prayers stands, the Rabbi's seat, the President's seat, the Ner Tamid/eternal light, the Aron Kodesh which contains the Torah, the Paroches/curtain that hangs in front of the Aron Kodesh, and the Ezras Nashim/ladies' section, all are placed precisely to replicate the environment of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash. Our racial memory of the Mikdash Me'aht, the Mishkan in miniature, manipulates our unsuspecting hands.


(Please note: some elements and variations of the description below have been said by others, notably the Chasam Sofer (OC 28) and the Netziv (Meishiv Davar OC 15, where he argues with the Kesef Mishna in 3 Tefilla 11.). The global description, however, is unique to this website, both in scope and in specificity. After reading this, you might feel that what I am saying is self evident. That may be true. Great truths, once uncovered, often seem obvious. The fact remains, though, that to the best of my knowledge, nobody has said this before.
There is a Medrash Rabba (Breishis 53:14) that says Amar Rebbi Binyamin, Hakol bechezkas Sumin ahd sheHakadosh Baruch Hu mei'ir es eineihem," All men are in a state of blindness until Hashem enlightens their eyes. This is an excellent example. Just as Hagar didn't see the well that was right in front of her until Hashem let her see it, once you see it, you wonder why it wasn't obvious before. The answer is that you need siyata dishmaya for ha'aras einaiyim.
The Author, Eliezer Eisenberg, requires proper attribution. At least in the month of Adar, let's try to fulfill the rule we learn {Megilla 15a} from Megillas Esther-- Ha'omer davar be'shem omro meivi ge'ula le'olam- Proper attribution brings redemption to the world.   A word to the wise: our sage's words are intended to be understood Michlal Hein Atta Shomei'a Lahv, negation of the rule does not merely result in no effect, but instead generates the opposite effect.  The failure to properly attribute brings the opposite of redemption.)

Let us visualize what is in front of us when we walk into the Mishkan. Here are simple line drawings of the Mishkan.  I have three here, because readers might prefer one over the other.  The first, which can be enlarged, has two errors:  It places the Golden Altar west of the Menora and Shulchan, when in fact the Menora and Shulchan were west of the Altar, and it is lacking the ramp to the top of the Altar.  The first image is "oriented" in the modern style, with North on top.  The second image is correct, and is drawn in the Traditional style of placing the more relevant direction on top, here being the West, which would be the perspective of a person entering on the East side and proceeding Westward toward the Kodesh Kadashim.  The third image is the best of all, (despite leaving out an entrance) in that it is labeled and correct and enlarge-able.  Note, however, that there are various opinions as to the placement of the copper/brazen/outer altar.  Some place it in middle, some toward the north.
 








The length of the Mishkan lies on a East-West axis, and the entrance, whose equivalent in the Temple in Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash, was called the Gate of Nikanor, is on the east side. So we walk in facing west.

We enter the Chatzer, the courtyard.  Directly in front of us, in middle of the Chatzeir, is the Mizbach Hanechoshes, the Copper/Brazen Altar, also called the Mizbach Ha'olah, the Altar used for the burning of most sacrifices, Korbanos. (There are three opinions as to exactly where the Mizbei'ach was; it began on the left and ended at the midline, or it straddled the midline, as in the illustration, or it began at the midline and was itself all on the right/north.) This Mizbei'ach was quite tall; in the Mikdash, it was nine amos high to the walking and working surface; in the Mishkan, there is a difference of opinions among the Tanaim how high it was, but in any case, it was high enough that a ramp was necessary to provide access to the working surface. To the left/south of the Mizbei'ach you see the ramp.


Proceeding westward, we come to the Mishkan itself, the smaller rectangle within the drawing.

Entering the Mishkan, we see directly in front of us, centered on a north/south line, the Golden Altar/Mizbei'ach Hazahav, also referred to as the Altar of Incense/Mizbach Haketores, used (almost exclusively) for burning the Incense/Ketores.

Farther in, closer to the Paroches, there are two more utensils/keilim. On the right side is the Table, the Shulchan, used for the Show Bread/Lechem Hapanim, and on the left is the Candelabrum/Menorah.

On the opposite side of the room, farthest west, is the Curtain/Paroches, covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies/Kodesh Kadashim. Behind the Paroches, in the Kodesh Hakadashim, is the Ark/Aron, which contained, most importantly, the Tablets/Luchos. In the drawing, the Aron is centered between two horizontal lines.  These lines are the Badim, the "carrying poles" on its sides, which never were removed from the Aron, even when it was at rest.

Every single one of these elements is present in our shuls. From the simplest architectural perspective, one can see that the objects in the shul are laid out exactly as are the objects in the Mishkan. But the correspondence is more than merely superficial. Not only is the layout the same, but the function of the objects is the same- the rear entryway, the elevated Mizbach Ha'olah, the Mizbach Haketores, the Shulchan, the Menorah, the Paroches, and the Aron Hakodesh. Let's look at them one by one.

The entryway is the simplest. The Tur in OC 90 says that the entrance of a shul should be opposite the Aron Kodesh, just as it was in the Mikdash.

The Bimah is the Mizbach Ha'olah. This has been pointed out by the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos OC 28) and the Netziv (Meishiv Davar OC 15). (The Chasam Sofer calls it the Mizbei'ach Hapnimi, which sounds like the Mizbach Haketores, but he can't possibly mean that, as Reb Moshe points out in Igros OC II 41.) The reason for the correspondence is the Gemara in Menachos 110a; אמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב זאת התורה לעולה למנחה ולחטאת ולאשם כל העוסק בתורה כאילו הקריב עולה מנחה חטאת ואשם-- It is at the Bimah that we read the Torah; Reading the Torah is our equivalent of sacrificial service, our Avodas Hakorbanos. (In OC 660, the Gaon and the Pri Megadim in Mishbetzos Zahav sk1 bring that on Sukkos we are makif the Bimah that has a Sefer Torah on it as a zecher le'mikdash based on Megilla 31b, that reading the Parshios of Korbanos is mechaper like physically bringing korbanos. Why, you may ask, don't they bring the Reish Lakish memra from Menachos which seems to be on eisek Torah in general and not just parshos hakorbanos? I suppose that they are mechalek between 'kor'in' in Megilla and "oseik' in Menachos. Now, the Gaon/PM are mashma that the ikkar thing to be makif around is the sefer Torah, that the Sefer Torah, not the Bimah, is like the Mizbei'ach. But the Taz in sk 1 says that the Bimah is like the Mizbei'ach "when it has a sefer Torah on it," and there is no reason to say that the Gaon or the PM are saying different than him.)

Just as the Mizbeiach was elevated, our Bimah, too, is elevated. The elevation is not just for better acoustics or line of sight, it is minhag Yisrael, to the extent that one is prohibited from taking a shortcut from one side of the shul to the other by way of the Bimah platform, because the platform is considered a different, and more holy, reshus (Mekor Chaim OC 151:5).

The next element is the Amud of the Chazan. The Amud is the Mizbei'ach Hazahav, the Altar of Incense/Mizbach Haketores. Tehillim 141:2, "תיכון תפילתי קטורת לפניך...." My prayer shall be established like incense before You.  The Amud, where the Chazan/leader of the prayers stands, is the Golden Altar of Incense.

The Rabbi and the President of the shul are the Menora/Candelabrum and the Shulchan/Showbread Table. The Rav, obviously, is the source of the light of Torah and Kedusha. The president of the shul is the Parnas Hatzibur, the man of means and influence, the political voice and financial mainstay of the community. The Rav and the Parnas are to the left and the right of the amud, closer to the Paroches.

There happens to be a difference of opinion whether the Rav should be on the left or the right (see Mishbetzos Zahav 94:2); most shuls and yeshivos have the Rav/Rosh Yeshiva on the right side, which is the south side, not the left. This is actually a very old question, and there are minhagim both ways. But please realize: both minhagim are attempting to replicate the layout of the Mishkan.  The only question is whether the directions should be subjective or geographic, that is, determined by their relation to the Kodesh Kodashim or cardinal directions. In other words: in the Mishkan, the Menora was on the left. But that left side was the south, since the Paroches was west. In our shuls, the Aron Hakodesh is East. So, the issue is, do we put the Rav on the south side, like the Menora was on the south, and, in our shuls, that would be on the right, or do we put him to the left of the Aron Kodesh, as the Menora was on the left side from the perspective of one who walks into the Kodesh and vis a vis the Kodesh Kodashim. But both minhagim are centered on creating a correspondence with the Mishkan/Mikdash.

Many shuls have a Ner Tamid/Eternal Light, which also refers to the lamp on the Menora that miraculously continued burning (until the end of the tenure of the Kohen Gadol Shimon Hatzadik-- Yoma 39a) after the other lamps had burned out (Shabbas 22b). This was the Ner Ma'aravis, which was closest to the Kodesh Kadashim. (There are, of course, many opinions as to what, exactly, 'ma'aravis' means. The Menora may have been lined up north/south, in which case ma'aravis wouldn't mean what it means if the Menora was lined up east/west. This doesn't matter. Pashut pshat remains that the Ner Ma'aravis was the Ner Tamid, and so we put it next to the Aron Kodesh.)

And, of course, the Aron Hakodesh. The Paroches/Curtain in shul and the niche containing the Sifrei Torah is the Paroches of the Mishkan, behind which reposed the Aron Hakodesh, which contained the Luchos and the Sefer Torah written by Moshe Rabbeinu.  Sometimes people are confused by the fact that in a synagogue, the closet is called the Aron Kodesh, whereas in the Mikdash/Mishkan, the Aron Kodesh refers to the box that contains the tablets/Torah, and the area is called the Kodesh Kadashim.  So in the synagogue, we are conflating the Kodesh Kadashim and the Aron container of the Torah and calling it the Aron Kodesh.

The Ezras Nashim/Women's Section, too, recreates the balconies that were constructed in the Mikdash, as Reb Moshe explains in OC 39. These, however, were present only in the Mikdash, because they were only necessary when groups of men and women were present for particular events, as Reb Moshe explains there; there were no such gatherings in the Mishkan, so no provisions for an Ezras Nashim were made. Indeed, if a woman needed to enter a shul for some personal reason, such as to say kaddish for Yahrtzeit during the week when the men daven in a side room which has no mechitza, Reb Moshe proves from the fact that women often entered the Mikdash to do semicha or mattan behonos for ziva or tzara'as, that now, too, a woman may occasionally enter the men's shul to say kaddish. (Igros OC 1 end of 39 and more clearly in OC 5 20:2. I didn't believe it was true, but I asked Reb David Feinstein, and he said it was legitimate.  Note on February 17, 2013:  Last night I dreamed about this Teshuva.  I dreamt I was at a local modern-ish shul, and the women's section was overcrowded, so the women took over the rear two rows of the shul.  When I realized what had happened, I had to decide whether to walk out in protest, or to stay and do nothing, out of respect for Reb Moshe's teshuva.  I woke up before I made the decision.)

The only one of the major Klei Shareis that is not represented in the Beis Knesses is the Kiyor/Laver, and it should be obvious why it's not in the room. It's a machshir and only Kohanim need it in order to do the avodah.  I say this because the Gevuras Yitztchak (107) suggests that according to the Rambam the Kiyor is not considered a Kli of the Beis ha'Mikdash. The Torah does not list the Kiyor in the Parshah of the Kelim of the Beis ha'Mikdash (but rather in Parshas Ki Sisa). When the Rambam lists the Kelim in the Beis ha'Mikdash, he does not include the Kiyor, which implies that he holds that the Kiyor is not considered a Kli.  Similarly, the Seforno (Shemos 30:18) says that the purpose of the other Kelim was to make the Shechina rest on the Jewish people, while the purpose of the Kiyor was to ready the Kohanim for their Avodah. 

And this is how it looks, superimposed:


and here's one I did freehand.  It's not to scale, and it's not beautiful.  But it's more clear.  The regular type is the Mishkan.  The bold is the Synagogue.  (I want to point out that one important difference between Jewish and Gentile drawings of the Mishkan is that we leave the carrying-staves only in the Aron.  The staves that were used to carry the table and the altars are not drawn.  This is because the Torah states, regarding the Aron, that the carrying staves shall never be removed, even when it is at rest.  For the other items, the staves were only there when they were necessary for transportation.)


Two more points.
The halacha is that the door of the sanctuary should be opposite the Aron Kodesh (OC 150:5, based on Tosefta Megilla 3:14).  This is because in the Beis Hamikdash, which had the holiest place in the west, we entered on the east side, facing west.

Additionally, the Bach (OC 90) states that one should provide an anteroom for the synagogue, and not construct it so that one walks directly into the sanctuary.  One should have two doors to open before entering the sanctuary.  This opinion is cited in the Magen Avraham (sk 35) and the Mishnah Berurah (sk 61).  The Chasam Sofer (Tshuvos, OC 27) adds that the entrance to the anteroom or hallway should not be directly opposite the entrance to the sanctuary; Since the door to the shul should be on the west side, the door to the anteroom should be on the north or south.  He bases this, again, on the layout of the Beis Hamikdash: "שהרי כן מצינו בבית המקדש, אע"ג שהיה שער ניקנור במזרחה של עזרה, מ"מ עיקר הכניסה והיציאה היה לצפון ולדרום… והכי נמי יש לבנות פתחי האכסדרה שלפני בית הכנסת לדרום או לצפון".  There, too, the main entrances used to the area prior to the Beis Hamikdash proper was on the north and south.

(Several more technical matters on this topic are discussed here.)

So what do we learn from the fact that the shul recreates, as much as possible, the environment of the Beis Hamikdash?
1. Our minhagim, even those that we consider relatively unimportant, have profound meaning and deep and ancient foundations. As I write elsewhere, even the Minhag to wear masks on Purim re-enacts our people's foundation story of Yakov and Eisav, and kal vachomer the layout of our shuls. Kapparos and Gebrokts, less so.
2. If you talk in shul, you are not just transgressing kevod beis haknesses. You are deconsecrating the Beis Hamikdash that others are trying to create. There comes a point when the talking is as loud as or louder than the shliach tzibur. At that point, the sin is not zilzul Beis Haknesses. The sin is making a Mikdash Me'aht into a tavern. Sometimes, the bar imagery is reinforced by the people who go out for a lechaim. These people should get the Hell out of shul and go to a real bar or a country club where that kind of behavior is appropriate.
3. What if your friends don't respond to verbal requests to either be quiet or to go outside to talk? It is likely that according to the Nesivos at the end of Siman 4, and even the Ketzos in the Meshoveiv there, you're allowed to physically dissuade them. One might argue that they are not doing an "issur de'oraysa." To that I say that the Chayei Adam brings the Yerei'im that Kvod Beis Hakneses is De'orayasa. And even though we most likely go with the Ran and the Ramban that it is Derabanan, whether because of tashmishei mitzva or tashmishei kedusha, some things are not "de'oraysa" but have the same severity.
4. Rabbis who claim adherence to "Tradition" but approve of the absence of a mechitza in their shuls may be venal and they may be stupid and they may be both, but they are not neither. The congregants know nothing. The Rabbi has no such excuse.
5. For those of you that still think that the similarities between shul and Mikdash are coincidental, and that the traditional shul floor plan is just the most efficient way to accommodate the service and the worshipers,  I suggest you do some image searches for layout or "floor plan" for church, mosque, and hindu temple. You will find that they have nothing in common with our shuls.
6.  This analysis applies only to European shuls, and not to the Eidot Hamizrach.  Not my problem.  Either they follow some other idea that remains to be discovered, or they hold there's a Lo Sa'asun Itti issue.

Speaking of Bimahs being elevated-- in Europe, especially in Lithuania, the Bimos were really high. This is a picture, taken in the nineteen twenties, of the Bima in the Summer Shul in Shavlan (Shiaulenai), where my grandfather, Harav Akiva Berlin, HY'D, was the Rov. My mother shetichyeh says it was a shul of great antiquity, and I have read that it dated from the sixteen hundreds..  The shul is not there anymore: my grandparents and the other Jews of the town were burned alive on that Altar in Tof Shin Alef/1941.


Photograph by Balys Buracas

Update:  I found a sefer by Harav Shimon Sofer, the Chasam Sofer's grandson, that mirrors many of the points I discuss: link

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As long as you mentioned Purim...
The tradition in some Yeshivas is that the Rosh Yeshiva sits at the right side of the Aron Kodesh (facing the front), so that when he dovens turning slightly towards the Aron, he is matzpin - which is a segulah for money, sorely lacking for Roshei Yeshiva. On the other hand, the Masgiach dovens on the left, so that he is madrim during tefillah. This of course is a segulah for chochma, sorely ...

LkwdGuy said...

Heard last night on Radio Kol Bramah:
Rabbi Frand giving a shiur on the halachos of Beis Haknesses that are derived from Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash. In the brief time that I was in the car with the radio on, the halachos of esnan zonah as related to beis hknesses were discussed. IIRC, he mentioned a REMA that applies the din to klaf of a sefer torah and maybe a MB that applies it to a paroches in a shul.

Barzilai said...

That is a good extension for this, and thank you for a good lead. Together, his topic and mine would make a real coherent and broad limud for a shiur or two for baalei batim. I wonder where I can get a transcript- I see no need to duplicate the research he does so well.

Anonymous said...

Kol Halashon For the Actual Shiur And Torah.org

Barzilai said...

Did you see the topic there, or were you just sending me to a place that has shiurim from Rabbi Frand? Those sites have plenty of shiurim from Rabbi Frand, but not, as far as I can see, the one I am looking for.

Anonymous said...

They have all ofthem

Chaim B. said...

There is IIRC a piece in R' Hershel Shcachter's sefer Eretz Tzvi on comparisons between the tzurah of Beis Knesses and Beis haMikdash. Sorry, i don't have the sefer with me for the mareh mekomos.

B said...

Chaim, I was shown Rabbi Shachter's sefer, and he only brings the Chasam Sofer and the Netziv on the Bimah being like the Mizbei'ach. He did, though, direct me to the Gaon in Orach Chaim on hakafos of the Bimah.

B said...

But, if I'm not mistaken, he mixes up the Taz with the Gaon.

prestigeleasing said...

I might say, that the paroches as it is used today, with a small overhang, resembles the paroches hamosoch at the entrance to the mishkon.

Barzilai said...

Prestige, you really known your Tzuras haMishkan. I'll have to pull out the book and see exactly what you mean.

To me, the most fascinating thing is that we've been doing this for so long, and we never realized what subconscious awareness was moving us to do things in a particular way. Any slight differences pale in the face of the obvious and undeniable similarities.

As I'm going to emphasize in the body of the post soon, hakol bechezkas sumin until Hashem uncovers our eyes.

Anonymous said...

The yerios izzim had 2 amos overhanging in the front - ke'kalloh tzenuah etc. (not sure of the exact terminology in rashi), and then 2 amos in the back - the serach ha'odef

Barzilai said...

Although the Paroches did not have, to the best of my knowledge, a valance, I can see that the idea of making a valance for the Paroches of our Aron Kodesh echoes the Yerios Izim, and certainly is a good chinuch illustration. Yasher Koach.