Last week, we briefly touched on the subject of the Mizbe’ach HaZahav (Golden Alter) and how it atones for the spiritual effect of sins on us. I would like to expound on this idea further this week.
As we explained last week, the Mizbe’ach HaZahav atones for the spiritual effect of sins while the Mizbe’ach HaNechoshes (Copper Alter) atones for the physical effect. This is why we bring animal sacrifices on the Copper Mizbe’ach; the animal’s body takes the place of our own and takes away our sins. Since the average height of a person is three amos tall, the Copper Mizbe’ach was built to this height. Basically, every element of the mizbe’ach was meant to represent a physical aspect of a human, which is whom the mizbe’ach atones for.
However, it is not only the physical body which needs atonement, the soul requires it as well. The human soul, to put it simply, is more complex than an animal’s soul and therefore requires something different from an animal sacrifice. So Hashem commanded Moshe to bring the Ketores (incense) offering on the Golden Mizbe’ach, whose smoke and smell would rise up in front of Hashem, just as a person’s soul does, to atone for their sins.
Similar to the Copper Mizbe’ach, the dimensions of the Mizbe’ach HaZahav are also significant to its purpose. The length and width are both a single amah, representing the soul, which is called singular. (This is because the soul is called “a part” of Hashem, who is also singular.) It is two amos high, representing how the soul rises above this world to its place beyond.
The Ketores is brought twice a day, in the morning and at night, similar to the soul, which is returned to us in the morning when we wake, and taken back at night when we go to sleep. It is brought at the same time that the Menorah is lit at night and cleaned in the morning. Just as the Menorah is cleaned in the morning, we hope the Ketores will help bring our souls back “clean” to us at the start of the day, and just as the flames of the Menorah rise up at night, we hope our souls will be able to rise up high without any sins from the past day.
The ideas we have discussed about the different utensils in the Mishkan seem esoteric. In fact, the exhaustive detail written both in this week’s and last week’s parshah seems unnecessary. Why is it important for us to know every single little detail? Why did Hashem deem it necessary to tell Moshe every little detail about the Mishkan’s construction, why not allow us a little creative freedom to determine how things should look? The answer lies in Divrei Torah like these. Really, every single detail of the Mishkan was extremely important, referencing important ideas on many different levels, ranging from simple to mystical. Whether we understand them or not, it is imperative of us to realize that none of these designs are only because of how nice they look. They all in some way affect us, the Jewish People, for our good.
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