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Home » Vayakhel

Vayakhel : Inside Outside

Submitted by on February 1, 2005 – 6:57 pmNo Comment | 3,094 views

The Air Outside

Shortly after the Tzadik Reb Mendel of Horodok arrived in Israel a man climbed the Mount of Olives and sounded a Shofar. A rumor quickly spread that the Shofar’s call heralded the arrival of Moshiach. When word of this reached Reb Mendel, he threw the windows wide open and sniffed the air. He then sadly closed the windows and remarked, “I don’t smell Moshiach.” (1)

In retelling this story Chassidim have often asked why Reb Mendel opened the window to sniff the air outside? They explained about the inside outside dynamic. Reb Mendel was sniffing the air outside  to determine if the hallmark of the messianic era, the revealed manifestation of the divine, was present. He sniffed the outside air, for inside his room the divine was already present.

Order Reversed

This story sheds light on a Midrashic tale associated with our Parsha that distinguishes Moses, man of G-d, from the people he shepherded. Moses summoned his chief architect, Betzalel, and relayed G-d’s instruction for building the tabernacle. First he laid out the measurements of the sacred vessels that would inhabit the tabernacle, and then the dimensions of the tabernacle itself.

Betzalel, the prototype architect, objected to the order. “As a rule,” he argued, “man first builds a residence and then its furniture. Moses conceded the point and exclaimed, “Indeed, you stood in G-d’s shadow [when he spoke to me] and understood his intention.” (2)

G-d and People

The purpose of the tabernacle, and the temple that followed it, was to establish a domain for G-d within the physical space of our world. (3)

When G-d descended upon Mount Sinai, his presence was overwhelming and the people could not withstand the sheer intensity of the experience. They were physically thrown back from the mountain and G-d dispatched angels to lead them back. (4) Their souls expired from the spiritual intensity and G-d nursed them back to life. (5)

After the Sinai experience, it was clear that the people could not be exposed to a direct revelation of G-d’s presence. He instructed them to build a special chamber instead, where his unrestricted presence would be manifest. Only the worthy, such as the high priest, would access this sacred chamber but its aura would affect those outside.

Gradual Transformation

The environment outside the chamber was yet incapable of supporting a direct revelation of divinity. However, with effort and commitment revelation could, over time, be made possible. According to our prophets, this will be accomplished in the messianic era when there will be a direct revelation of G-dliness throughout the world. (6)

The work that makes this possible is diligent study of Torah and the practice of its commandments. (7) Every time Torah is studied, a mini revelation, similar to that of mount Sinai, is effected. (8) Every object utilized in the performance of a Mitzvah is enveloped by a surge of divinity, similar to that of the tabernacle. (9)

This regular diet of divinity gradually purifies our worldly environment and lifts the universal veil. Though indiscernible, the Jewish soul has, through centuries of effort, continually been strengthened. We are closing in on the utopia of direct revelation that will be manifest in the messianic era.

When G-d first instructed that the tabernacle be constructed, he envisioned This utopia. He anticipated a day when the divinity within the sacred chamber would expand to envelop the entire nation and when the human eye would see G-d and not be overwhelmed by the experience. (10)

Vision and Reality

Moses, a G-dly man, envisioned this utopia as well. Gazing out upon his “outside” world, inside outside house - innerstreamhe ignored its imperfections and saw only its divine potential. His mandate was to expose the “outside” gradually to the divine presence on the “inside,” and he wished to accelerate the process. By building the Holy Ark before the walls that would enclose it, he hoped to offer to the “outside” a glimpse of its own capacity and thereby activate its potential. (11)

Betzalel, the architect, was a realist with the patience of a man accustomed to long-term goals. The environment on the “outside” was not prepared to host the Divine presence just yet. He recognized that it was not appropriate to expose the Holy Ark to a yet unconditioned “outside.” It would require centuries of gentle coaxing, committed coaching and tireless training.

Moses was the visionary; Betzalel the realist. Moses’ vision inspired confidence in the project; Betzalel’s realism made it possible. We pray for the day that Moses’ vision becomes Betzalel’s reality.


  1. The term odor was used allegorically to imply an indiscernible presence.
    It’s worthwhile noting the Talmudic text from Sanhedrin 93b. “Bar Koziba
    (Kochba) reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, ‘I
    am the Messiah.’ They answered, ‘Of Messiah it is written that he smells
    and judges (Isaiah 11,3) let us see whether he [Bar Koziba] can do so.’
    When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him.)
  2. The name Betzalel is etymologically composed of two Hebrew words, B’tzel
    E’l, which mean in the shadow of G-d. Babylonian Talmud Berachos 55a
  3. Exodus 28, 8
  4. Mechiltah Exodus 20, 15. Babylonian. Talmud Shabbos 87b
  5. Midrash Rabbah Exodus 29,4. Zohar p. 85 Babylonian Talmud Shabbos 87b
  6. Isaiah 30, 20
  7. Tanya ch. 37 (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidus dynasty1745-1813)
  8. Torah Ohr 67a (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidus dynasty1745-1813)
  9. Tanya ch. 22. Isaiah 12, 8. Isaiah 40, 5
  10. Moses
    was not being unrealistic. In his presence all were uplifted under his
    guidance this was indeed possible. The trouble with this approach was
    that Moses would not live forever. G-d did not want Moses to blaze his
    own trail, carrying the people along on his back. G-d wanted the people
    to create the “inside” environment on their own. He wanted a system that
    would survive Moses and be effective in the long term. See Likutei
    Sichos vol. 16 p. 205 (R. Menachem M. Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch
    1902 – 1994)

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