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Mathematics of the Mishkan



Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul

The Torah often withholds pertinent information from us so that we glean the law from the Oral Torah. However, there are times when the Torah is verbose about “irrelevant” details like the descendants of Esav, or the repetition of Pharaoh’s dream, or the slave, Eliezer’s, recounting of events. We do not understand why the Torah does this.

This week’s Parsha is one such an example. The Torah describes in great detail the construction and creation of the Mishkan. The Kli Yakar, with his great brilliance and insight, reveals some very relevant explanation for this.

He looks at the three vessels that had crowns: the ark, the table, and the small golden altar. He explains that these crowns represent none other than the three crowns enumerated by Pirkei Avot. The ark which housed the Torah and tablets represents the crown of Torah. The table represents the crown of kingship, and the altar, the crown of priesthood.

But his genius comes to the fore when he analyses the measurements delineated by the Torah. He points out that the ark’s measurements are all in fractions, while the altar’s are whole numbers. The table has a mixture of fractions and whole numbers.

The Kli Yakar explains that when it comes to the Torah (represented by the ark), one can never attain completion in one’s understanding or mastery of it. This is why the measurements are all in fractions.

When it comes to the table, one should, on the one hand, view one’s wealth as complete and be totally satisfied with one’s portion. On the other hand, however, one should never strive to fill oneself up, but rather be lacking in some respects.

Finally, the altar, which represents service to Hashem, cannot be fractured at all. One’s devotion and commitment has to be total. Therefore the measurements are in whole numbers.

This vort (Torah thought) truly shows us the greatness of our Torah and the deep insight of our sages.

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