Parshat Tetzaveh – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Towards the end of the parsha, the Torah commands the nation to observe "days of inauguration" and to conclude the construction of the Mishkan, and also reminds us the G-dly purpose of the Mishkan: "That I will meet with you (the nation) there and speak with you (Moshe) there. And I will be known there to B'nei Israel and it will be sanctified with My glory…and I will dwell in the midst of B'nei Israel and I will be their Lord." (Shemot 29:42-45)
The Mishkan's "function" as the "meeting place" with G-d and the indwelling of the Divine Presence, is the pinnacle of purpose of Yetziat Mitzraim (coming out of Egypt) and the establishment of the Nation of Israel: "And they will know that I am G-d their Lord, who took them out of the land of Egypt that My Presence will dwell among them, I am G-d their Lord." (ibid) "And they will make me a Mikdash and I will dwell in their midst." (Shemot 25:8)"
The Jewish Nation, which had just made its debut on the stage of history, is now required, in the desert, to fashion its unique spiritual identity and to form its national frameworks.
How is a nation born? A regular nation is established by a collection of individuals who aspire to create a national framework which will fulfill their societal aims as well as their individual and national needs. The process of establishment of every nation requires an overall strategy, appropriate to its goals. Without this, that nation will not reach its goals.
The purpose of the establishment of the Nation of Israel was different from that of other nations, as it was for the fulfillment of a divine, spiritual ideal: "At the genesis of the conception of this nation, which knew to call by name the clear, pure G-dly idea…discovered was the aspiration to establish a large human community which will "keep the way of G-d and do kindness and justice". To take humanity out…and bring it to life of freedom full of glory and refinement, illuminated by the G-dly idea, and to make the entirety of man succeed." (Harav Kook ztz"l, "Orot" p.104)
The inclusive national framework has the purpose of fulfilling the divine ideal in day-to-day life: "To fulfill this objective, it is necessary that this community will have a political and social state and a national government, at the height of human culture…and the absolute G-dly idea reigns there and its light-life gives life to the nation and the land. That it shall be known, that not only brilliant, outstanding individuals, pious, nezirim and holy men live by the light of the G-dly idea, but entire nations, equipped and advanced with all the sophistication of culture and national institutions; entire nations, containing all the different streams of humanity, from the highest intellectuals…to the broad social, political and economic systems, and down to the lowliest and earthiest proletariat…" (ibid)
The divine command to erect the "Mishkan in the heart of the camp" is part of the strategy of the establishment of the nation of Israel: "Each man of B'nei Israel shall camp by his flag with the sign of his paternal family. At a specified distance, around the Tent of Meeting they shall camp." (Bamidbar 2:2) "And the Mishkan of G-d was like the heart in the middle of the body and the tribes like the limbs around it." (Abarbanel on Bamidbar 2:1) "'And I will dwell in their midst' – the Torah did not say (I will dwell) 'in the Mikdash'; this tells us that the place they will sanctify for His Presence will be in the midst of B'nei Israel, that they (Am Israel) will surround the Mishkan with the four flags." (Or haChaim, Shemot 25:8)
The center of the camp is a strategic place. That is the place where a nation erects the structure that reflects what is most important to it. The indwelling of G-d's presence and holiness are the center of this nation's life. 'The Mishkan in the heart of the camp' is like the heart which is the middle of the body, which influences it and shapes its path.
"And I will dwell – this tells how G-d's glory will dwell in the midst of B'nei Israel when they camp by four banners (around the Tent)." (Even Ezra, Shemot 29:45)
So the strategy of "the Mishkan in the heart of the camp" constitutes part of the process of the establishment of the nation: "So we see that the complete and normal structure of our existence is where the Mishkan-Mikdash is in the very center, and the tribes of Israel are positioned around it." (Sichot HaRav Zvi Yehuda Kook, Parshat Naso 5734)
Bilaam recognizes the "Mishkan in the heart of the camp" strategy when he looks at the camp of Israel, searching for a vulnerable spot. "And Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling by its tribes, and the spirit of G-d was upon him." (Bamidbar 24:2) And he ended up blessing (instead of cursing): How good are your tents, Yaakov (referring to the Mishkan and the Mikdash); your habitations, Israel". (Bamidbar 24:5)
The "Mishkan in the heart of the camp" strategy is retained throughout the journeys in the desert: "This order is kept during the travels as well, and this journey doesn't resemble other voyages, (in) that there is no honor and no order above or in front, since the Tent of Meeting travels in the center of the encampments, and the King of Glory is infused within them, therefore the order of their encampments must be determined by it…that the holiness and loftiness of the Tent of Meeting didn't depart during their travelling. (Meshech Chochma, Bamidbar 1)
This same strategy also expresses the spiritual uniqueness of the Torah of Israel. After the crisis of "Sin of the Golden Calf", Moshe locates the Tent of Meeting outside the camp: "And Moshe took the tent and set it up outside of the camp, at a distance from the camp. And he called it the Tent of Meeting, and all who seek G-d went out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside of the camp." (Shemot 33:7) And at the time of the erection of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting is explicitly located in "the heart of the camp". We see in this the special spiritual approach of the Israeli nation, as opposed to the concept of other nations, where spiritual holiness and ascent are dependent on isolation from human society and "leaving the camp". To the contrary, spiritual ascent and the Israeli nation's communion with G-d are specifically attained from within society and real life, and these give strength of spirituality and holiness to the society, as the "heart within the body". Only the "impure" are sent out of the camp.
The source for the "Mishkan in the heart of the camp" strategy is in the higher worlds, around the Seat of Honor, to which we aspire to resemble: "And it is seen that the issue of the camps is not just a proper social structure, but an example for the whole world, because the 'camp of the Shechina (Divine Presence – that is, the Mishkan)' is parallel to the world of the angels, and the camp of the Levites is parallel to the middle world of heaven and the camp of Israel is parallel to the lowest world". (Abarbanel, Bamidbar 2) We learn this from the ancient "Sefer Hayetzira": "And Moshe arranged the community (of Israel) according to the "wheels" of the heavens: four banners parallel to the four quarters of the heavens and twelve tribes parallel to twelve (horoscope) signs, and the Levite camp within the camp, as it says in Sefer Hayetzira: "and the holy tabernacle in the middle, and G-d carries all of them." (Kuzari, ch. 3,17) And this is mentioned in the Midrash as well: "And I also saw in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:9): 'Just as The Holy One created four winds (directions) for the world, so He surrounded the His Seat with four Chayot, and above all of them the Seat of Glory, and G-d arranged the banners for Moshe parallel to them'". (Ramban Bamidbar 2)