G-d commands Moshe to build a Mishkan (Sanctuary) and supplies him with detailed instructions. The Children of Israel are asked to contribute precious metals and stones, fabrics, skins, oil and spices. In the Mishkan's outer courtyard are an altar for the burnt offerings and a laver for washing. The Tent of Meeting is divided by a curtain into two chambers. The outer chamber is accessible only to the kohanim, the descendants of Aharon. This contains the table of showbreads, the menorah, and the golden altar for incense. The innermost chamber, the Holy of Holies, may be entered only by the kohen gadol, and only once a year, on Yom Kippur. Here is the Ark that held the Ten Commandments inscribed on the two tablets of stone that G-d gave to the Jewish nation on Mount Sinai. All of the utensils and vessels, as well as the construction of the Mishkan, are described in great detail.
Escape From The Black Hole
“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so I may dwell among them…” (25:8)
Despair — or if you prefer its more contemporary name depression — affects approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older. According to Australian Government statistics, everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression, whether their own or someone else's.
At least four percent of preschoolers in the United States — over a million — are clinically depressed, and the rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23% per year.
By 2020, depression is expected to be the second largest killer after heart disease, and studies show that depression is already a significant contributory factor to fatal coronary disease. And now for the good news…
The Torah is called light. “A mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.” The whole essence of light is to reveal; that’s its job in the world. The whole job of the Torah is to reveal existence as it really is; to sweep away the cobwebs of uncertainty and gloom from our minds, to reveal things as they really are. And when that happens, a person cannot help but be happy. As the saintly Chazon Ish is reported to have said some sixty years ago, “there is no sadness in the world for someone who knows the truth.”
The Torah is there for us wherever we are. It speaks to us in our greatest flights of joy and it comforts us in the depths of mourning. G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. There is no situation therefore that is outside the Torah’s grasp; no misery, no uncertainty, no despair. The Torah is always with us, a friend faithful to the end.
This understanding solves a paradox.
With the giving of the Torah, the Jewish People returned to the level of the first man before he sinned; meaning that G-d’s presence in the world was revealed and obvious. After the disaster of the Golden Calf G-d gave us the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and we were prohibited to eat certain foods; both were to re-connect us to the spirituality we had lost.
Similarly, after the debacle of the spies’ negative report about the Land of Israel, G-d supplemented our mitzvot by commanding us to bring flour and libation offerings together with our korbanot (sacrifices). Because we had distanced ourselves through transgression, we were given an additional conduit to feel G-d’s closeness once again.
There’s an anomaly here. When the Jewish People sin, G-d gives us more mitzvot. Instinctively we would assume the reverse to be true; and to be sure, our neglect of G-d invokes a reciprocal reaction on His part. However, when we reject Him, G-d never just “goes off in a huff”; He always leaves us a way back. On whatever level we are, however low we sink, the Torah is there for us. The Torah goes with us into that withdrawal from reality.
When Yaakov was about to go down to Egypt, into the bleakness of exile, and the threat of assimilation and impurity — everything that Egypt represented — G-d promised He would go down with him; and so it has been in all the long dark night of exile. G-d is with us; the Torah is with us.
And so too in that exile of the soul, the black hole of depression, the Torah steps down to us, re-energizing our lives and bringing us home again.
- Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Shiurei Chumash; Sforno, Vayikra 11:2, Bamidbar 15:3,20;
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “The Numbers Count: Mental Illness in America,” Science on Our Minds Fact Sheet Series.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998. “National Health Priority Areas Mental Health: A Report Focusing on Depression.” Depression statistics in Australia are comparable to those of the US and UK.
- Study published in Psychiatric Services, April 2004. Reported in our health news archive: Pill-Popping Pre-Schoolers, Even Toddlers Get the Blues
- Harvard University study reported in Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, February 2002.
- National Mental Health Association (NMHA) study reported in MSNBC Health Today, March 10, 2004.
- NMHA Survey, 1996. NMHA fact sheet on women and depression.
- WHO report on mental illness released October 4, 2001. Health news stories: Depression Link to Heart Disease, Hostility, Depression May Boost Heart Disease