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Parashat Pekudei

February 24, 2014

This week’s parashah continues the detailed description of the different components of the tabernacle, its vessels, and the priestly vestaments. An interesting theme within Jewish interpretation is the parallel drawn between the Tabernacle, the Holy Temple, and the universe. The following sources trace this idea over a period of a thousand years. They begin with Philo, who was born in the first century before the common era, and end with a Kabbalistic text from the Middle Ages. They all understand the Tabernacle or the Temple to correspond to something greater than their component parts, whether it is the celestial beings of the heavens or humanity itself.

Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE-50 CE):

The highest, and in the truest sense the holy, temple of God is, as we must believe, the whole universe, having for its sanctuary the most sacred part of all existence, (namely) heaven; for its offerings, the stars; for its priests, the angels who administer His powers as unbodied souls, not compounds of rational and irrational nature, as ours are, but with the irrational eliminated, all mind through and through, pure intelligences, in the likeness of the One. (Special Laws, I:66)

Josephus (1st century CE):

For the fine linen was proper to signify the Earth, because the flax grows out of the Earth; the purple signifies the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shell-fish; the blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire. The vestment of the High Priest being made of linen also signifies the Earth; the blue color of his robe denotes the Heavens. The pomegranates on the High Priest’s robe signifiy lightning and the bells affixed to the bottom edge of his robe (chiming when he moved) recalled thunder. This outer garment represents nature in its entirety, created by God out of the four elements. (Antiquities, 3, 7, 7)

Elazar Birabi Qiliri (7th century):

In this the world was renewed / And in that the world was established
For against the creation of the world / A tent was prepared in the world
In it are reflected the elements of the world…
Seven clouds corresponding to seven skies / The bright lampstand corresponding to the sun (and moon)
The seven candles corresponding to seven stars / Clasps and loops corresponding to the stars…
(Piyut for Hanukkah, trans. Ophir Münz-Manor, http://thetalmudblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/24/hanukkah-and-piyyut-part-2/)

Midrash Tadshe, 2:

The Tabernacle was constructed corresponding to the creation of the world. The two cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant were constructed corresponding to the two holy names. The heavens, the earth and sea are homes for the world’s creatures. The holy of holies was constructed corresponding to the upper heavens, and the outer holy house was constructed corresponding to the earth. The courtyard was constructed corresponding to sea, and the twelve curtains of the tabernacle were made corresponding to the upper heavens…

Medieval Kabbalistic text from manuscript:

The Tabernacle, its utensils, the Ark, and the cherubim all are symbolized in the form of man, and just as the Tabernacle and its utensils are a throne to the Presence, so the body of the holy man is a throne for the Presence. The great secret is [alluded to in the verse] “in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you” (Exodus 20:21), that is, if I find a chariot upon which I can mount in the limbs of a person, in the likeness of the throne that receives the one who rides upon it, then I will rest upon one…Know that by the fulfillment of the commandments one sanctifies his body…The one who reads the Torah and studies Mishnah and Talmud, the tablets in his body are like the pattern of the tablets of the ark. [The masculine] Tif’eret and [the feminine] Malkhut are united within his heart, since he unifies Tif’eret and Malkhut by means of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Hence, the body of many is verily called a temple, and in him are tablets wherein all the sefirot are united through the secret of Tif’eret and the Malkhut.

(trans. Elliot Wolfson found in idem, Through a Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism, p. 293, n. 87)