Symbolic Meanings of the Divisions and Utensils of the Tabernacle
Since this week’s Torah portion deals to a large extent with the structure of the Tabernacle and its utensils, which was detailed previously in Parshat Terumah, it is important to relate Abarbanel’s outline of the symbolic meanings that he described in Parshat Terumah.
The symbolism of the portable Tabernacle (Mishkan) and its utensils is not based on understandings that can be derived by human rational intellect, for
The Holy of Holies, within which were the Ark and Tablets, the special covering, and the cherubim, symbolizes that our purpose is to be involved in
The next section, the Inner Courtyard is separated from the Holy of Holies by a curtain, as it represents a different idea — the rewards that
Besides the body, the soul is also rewarded with wisdom and knowledge as symbolized by the Menorah. The seven flames represent the seven types of wisdom. The center flame points toward the Holy of Holies and the other six flames point toward the center flame to indicate that all true wisdom emanates from the contents of the Ark. The Menorah is made from solid gold to indicate that this true wisdom is enduring, eternal and unadulterated by false ideas. The cups, knobs, and flowers represent the different branches of knowledge, their distinctions and their interdependence, as one leads to the next. Yet because the Menorah was fashioned from one solid piece of gold indicates that all knowledge is unified through Torah.
The third object in the Inner Courtyard, the golden incense Altar represents the soul’s reward of an eternal existence after the death of the body. This is symbolized by the smoke which rises upward. This Altar is situated against the Holy of Holies and is not connected to the Table or the Menorah. This is an indication that the eternity of the soul is not acquired through an accumulation of wealth and honor as symbolized by the Table, or by the intellect as symbolized by the Menorah, but rather through adherence to Torah and mitzvot. The Altar is covered with gold to indicate the importance and eternity of the World-to-Come. Yet underneath the gold is wood to teach us that it is through our physical actions, which are as ephemeral as wood, that we can merit the eternal life symbolized by the gold.
These three types of reward are also contained in the three verses of the Priestly Blessing. The first line speaks of blessing and guarding, a reference to our material blessings, represented by the Table and show-bread. The second line speaks of
The third division of the Mishkan, the Outer Courtyard, contains the sacrificial copper Altar and its ramp, as well as the washing basin. The Altar symbolizes the inevitable physical death of our body. Without the awareness of death we cannot attain fear of
Finally, the washing basin is an indication that all the rewards previously described can only be attained when an individual is able to purify himself from his negative traits. The water of the washing basin represents the Torah, which is ultimately the only way to purify oneself and develop the sterling character that will result in