After experiencing a tremendous closeness with Hashem by Har Sinai, Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the opportunity to keep that closeness in their lives, albeit in a smaller role. He gave them the mitzvah to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the middle of the Bnei Yisrael’s encampment, where His Shechinah would rest. This structure was built to be mobile, and it came with the nation on their 40-year journey through the desert and into Eretz Yisrael until the Beis Hamikdash was built.
Parshas Terumah describes the structure of the Mishkan and the utensils used in it. The design of each one has special significance behind every detail. We’ve discussed different utensils and different details throughout the years. This year we will discuss the Mizbe’ach HaNechoshes, the Copper Alter.
The Kli Yakar explains that this Mizbe’ach was truly miraculous. The Gemarah in Middos (36) says that the Mizbe’ach was designed to lengthen the life of a person; through bringing korbanos, he can be forgiven for his sins and thank Hashem for all He does for him. The Kli Yakar details exactly how much the Mizbe’ach covers.
The Mizbe’ach is protected, and in turn protects you, from the effects of all four natural elements. Even though the fire on the Mizbe’ach was never put out, even during traveling, its’ copper frame was never damaged nor did it lose its’ luster. So we see the Mizbe’ach was protected from fire. Even when it rained, the fire would not go out, so we see the Mizbe’ach was protected from water. The tremendous pillar of smoke created by the huge fire went straight up and did not sway in the wind; we see the wind had no effect on it. Finally, the inside of the Mizbe’ach was hollow and filled with dirt, so it had power over dirt. This shows how a person using the Mizbe’ach, no matter his worry or his sin, was protected from all four elements that make up the world.
What about protection from a non-physical fear? What about protection from the Yetzer Hara?
The pasuk says that there was a metal, net-like design on the lower portion of the Mizbe’ach. The Kli Yakar explains that this example of symbolism meant that just as the Yetzer Hara stretches out a net in order to catch us, so too the Mizbe’ach puts out a net in order to catch the Yetzer Hara and protect us.
It’s easy to say that the entire design of the Mishkan has no actual meaning; that the point is that we should have something in our lives that represents Hashem and it doesn’t matter exactly how it was done. The instructions Hashem gave Moshe are simply guidelines on how to build some amazing artistic pieces to make the place more aesthetically pleasing. But this isn’t true.
Every little piece of the Mishkan was designed with something bigger in mind. It was designed in a way for us to gain the greatest merit and draw the greatest significance from. Here we see how a unique design and a hollow base are not just artistic creativity, they are ways to remind us of the great potential we have when using the gifts Hashem gives us.
May we be zoche to once again bring korbanos on the Mizbe’ach very soon.
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