The parshiyos dealing with the construction of the Mishkan are designed pretty simply. The structure and utensils of the Mishkan are discussed in Parshas Terumah, and the clothing of the Kohanim is discussed in this week’s parsha, Parshas Tetzaveh. However, there is one utensil which is only discussed this week, the Mizbe’ach HaZahav, the Golden Alter. In previous years we have discussed why the Torah only mentions it here. But as we discussed last week, this year I would like to focus on the significance of the extreme detail the Torah gives about the construction of the Mishkan. After all, we have no real need to know the exact specifications of everything; so if the Torah mentions it, it must be important.
The Kli Yakar examines the specifications of the Mizbe’ach and finds a deeper meaning behind them. The function of the Copper Mizbe’ach, which was discussed in last week’s parsha, was for Bnei Yisrael to bring their sacrifices upon it. One of the basic purposes of korbanos was to serve as a kapparah, as an opportunity to gain Hashem’s forgiveness for any sins. The Golden Mizbe’ach in this week’s parsha had a different purpose. It was used only for the Ketores, the Incense Offering brought twice daily. However, the Kli Yakar explains that they were actually more similar than you originally thought.
The korbanos brought on the Copper Mizbe’ach were almost always animals. (There was a Korban Mincha made of flour, but for the most part korbanos were animals.) Therefore, the atonement received for those sacrifices was only for your physical self. Any part your physical attributes played in the sin is atoned for by a korban on this Mizbe’ach. The dimensions of the Mizbe’ach reflect this as well. It was three amos tall, the tallest of any utensil in the Mishkan. This corresponded to man, the only upright-walking, and as such the tallest, being on Earth.
But what about the soul? It wasn’t just the physical-self that needed atonement, the spiritual-self needed forgiveness as well. That’s where the Golden Mizbe’ach came in. As it is not physical, the soul needs a non-physical representative to gain atonement. The Ketores was exactly that. The intoxicating smell of the incense, along with the strong smoke that wafted towards the heavens, brought about the forgiveness for the souls of those Jews who had sinned.
The Ketores was brought in the morning to represent the return of the soul from God to the body, and in the evening as we return our soul to God for safekeeping. The dimensions of this Mizbe’ach were significant as well. The length and width were one amah each, recognizing the comparison of Hashem, unique in His existence, to the soul, unique in its existence. However, the height of the Mizbe’ach was two amos, corresponding to the soul’s ability to reach above its earthly confines, and make its way to the heavenly abode of Hashem Himself.
Once again, we see the tremendous depth that went into the construction of the Mishkan. Recognizing this depth allows us to know that nothing is for nothing; that all things from Hashem have significance. And that it is possible for us to learn a great amount from even the smallest details.
Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Tetzaveh
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