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Beis Ha'Mikdash: The Mouth of the World (Parshas Tzav)

parsha sefer vayikra Apr 02, 2020
 

 

20-Minute Version

 

 

Picture the scene: a man is sitting in the kitchen, eating dinner, when his wife walks into the room, her face blank and emotionless. Her husband looks up, observes the situation, and kindly asks, "How was your day". In a flat monotone, she replies, "Great". "Amazing, so glad to hear!" he says enthusiastically, and happily goes back to enjoying his dinner.

 

While this exact scenario might not have played out in your life, we can all think of numerous situations where people misunderstand us, where there was a complete miscommunication, or where we wished someone could see past the words, past the surface, and feel what we were truly feeling inside. True connection is rare, beautiful, and delicate. This connects to a fundamental theme in this week's parsha, Tzav.

 

Parshas Tzav, and Sefer Vayikra as a whole, focus on the Miskan (Tabernacle) and korbanos (sacrifices). The Mishkan accompanied the Jewish People throughout their travels in the midbar (desert) and was replaced by the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) once they entered Eretz Yisrael (The land of Israel). Korbanos were central to the avodah (divine service), both in the Mishkan and the Beis Ha’Mikdash. They were brought on a daily basis and also accompanied every Jewish holiday and event. The Second Beis Ha’Mikdash was destroyed over 2,000 years ago, leaving us hoping and waiting for the building of the Third Temple with the coming of Mashiach. Interestingly though, the midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 9:7) explains that in the times of mashiach, we will no longer offer korbanos, because there will no longer be a need for the sacrifices. This leaves us to wonder: Why were korbanos originally so fundamental, and what will have changed that will make them no longer necessary?

 

Many of us living in the modern world struggle to relate to these archaic concepts of the mikdash and korbanos, deeming them ancient and irrelevant. It can be easy to dismiss this segment of the Torah as the esoteric intermission placed between the more exciting parts of the Torah, but perhaps there is more beneath the surface that can be uncovered. Let us delve into the topics of the Beis Hamikdash and Korbanos in order to better understand the depth and beauty of these concepts.

 

The Mouth and its Three Functions

 

According to Chazal, the Beis Ha'Mikdash functions as the “mouth” of the world. In order to understand this we must analyze the nature of the mouth. On the most basic level, the mouth has three functions: First, the mouth is the organ we use to eat and drink, in order to nourish our bodies. Second, the mouth is the organ we use in order to speak and communicate with others. The third function, however, is the most strange of all. Across all continents, ethnicities, and cultures, the universal expression of love is kissing. We are all used to this concept, but if you were an alien from outer space coming to visit planet earth, and you were asked what the ideal form of affection would be, you might suggest rubbing cheeks or something of the sort. Kissing is simply strange, unsanitary, and illogical!

 

Fundamentally, though, we need to ask a more significant question. While the three functions of the mouth seem to be three completely separate practices, the Maharal explains in several places that whenever an organ performs multiple functions, all of those functions are all deeply related. If this is true, then how are the three functions of the mouth- eating, speaking, and kissing- connected?

 

The answer is that all three of these functions are central to the theme of connection. Eating, speaking, and kissing are all essentially means of connection.

 

Eating: Connecting Body and Soul

 

What happens when you don't eat? You will get faint. What happens if you continue to starve? You'll pass out. If you still don't manage to eat, you will eventually die, meaning that your soul will leave your body. Eating keeps your soul connected to your body, it is what keeps you alive.

 

There is a paradoxical relationship between the body and soul. Your soul, which is your "self", your consciousness, your inner being, is transcendent, spiritual, and infinite. You can't see, touch, or smell your mind or consciousness. You will never see someone else's inner world. Your body, however, is finite, limited, and physical. Your soul will never die, but your body will eventually age, wither, and fall apart. Therefore, if the soul and body are complete opposites, how do they manage to stay together? Should they not be like two opposite sides of a magnet, completely repelling each other?

 

This is the deep secret of food. Your body needs something to keep it attached to your soul, some kind of "glue". Eating food creates the energy which keeps your neshama connected to your body. No organism can have its soul remain in its body unless it eats.

 

This deep meaning behind food is the reason why we say the phrase "u'mafli la'asos - Who performs wonders" in the blessing we recite after using the bathroom. What is the “wonder” that we refer to in this bracha? Many commentaries suggest that the wonder is the fact that our soul can paradoxically remain connected to our physical bodies. Why do we mention this specifically after using to the bathroom? We have just filtered out the unneeded part of what we ate or drank, which is the exact mechanism for creating the connection between body and soul. We therefore thank Hashem specifically at this juncture in time.

 

We can now understand an aspect of kashrus, Jewish dietary laws. Eating is an incredibly holy act- it connects your neshama to your body, the spiritual to the physical. It follows that we must eat foods which are spiritually pure!

 

This sheds light on the concept of fasting as well, especially on the day of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) we attempt to be malachim (angels) which transcend the physical world. Therefore we fast, allowing our soul to somewhat transcend our body, enabling us to experience one day of living in an angelic state.

 

Speaking: Act of Connection

 

In order to understand speech, we must first understand the nature of words themselves. Before we speak or even formulate concrete thoughts and words in our head, we begin with abstract thought that transcends words completely. In the process of speaking, you take this abstract thought and concretize it, bringing it down into the world of reality. Speech is the process of encasing your infinite thoughts within limited shells, finite words, which carry the meaning of your inner world- and projecting them outwards for others to experience.

 

This understanding is fascinatingly expressed in the Hebrew words that are used for the word "word" itself. Davar means a word, but it also means a thing, because a word is nothing other than limiting your abstract thought into one particular thing. Milah means a word, but it also means to cut, to incise, because a word is cutting down your abstract and limitless thought into something finite and real. Teivah means a word, but it also means a box, because a word is our attempt to squeeze our infinite and transcendent thoughts into a finite box and casing.

 

We can now understand the nature of speaking. We are separate beings, each living in our own subjective world, our own inner universe. We will never be able to experience life through anyone else's perspective, only through our own inner consciousness. This results in several difficulties. If I am trapped in my own inner world, how can I connect with other people? How can I know what's going on in their heads? How can I share my inner life with them? How can I overcome this infinite barrier between myself and everyone else?

 

This is the gift of speech. Speech allows us to connect with other people, to overcome the barrier between us. You start with your inner thoughts and experience. You then take a deep breath and use your throat to project your words outwards. You then use your tongue, teeth, and lips to form the specific words which will encase your thoughts as you give them concrete form. In essence, you then throw your words out into the world around you in the form of vibrations. If another person is nearby, their ears can pick up these vibrations and translate them into sound. Those sounds form words, and those words sentences. If they speak your language, those words will take on meaning as well. They must then keep track of all the different words and sentences, holding on to them, and bringing them back from memory, while they try to recreate a complete picture of everything you said. Amazingly, this person can now experience your inner world inside their own mind. They now contain a piece of you within themselves. The barrier between your worlds has been eroded.

 

Of course, the most difficult task for the listener is to get past the words, to understand what was truly meant. Words are only casings, the true content is what was originally in the speaker’s mind, before they began speaking. The difficult job of the listener is to use the words that were spoken to get as close as possible to their intended meaning. For example, you yourself may use the word "wonderful" to refer to something very different from the person speaking. You mustn't project yourself onto the words you hear; you must attempt to negate your ego, empathize, put yourself in their head, and attempt to understand what they actually meant to say.

 

Kissing: Connecting Two People Together

 

We can now understand why kissing as well is done specifically with the mouth. The mouth is the organ of connection. Kissing reflects the way two people connect when they wish to show each other affection and love. It is therefore self-evident that kissing, the expression of connection, should be performed by the mouth, the organ of connection.

 

To summarize: Eating connects the physical body to the angelic soul. Speaking connects people's inner worlds together. Kissing connects two physical bodies together, reflecting a deeper internal form of connection and oneness. 

 

Mishkan and Beis Ha'Mikdash: The Mouth of the World

 

We can now understand, in the most profound way, why the Mishkan and Beis Ha'Mikdash serve as the "mouth" of the world. It is through this focal point that Hashem most potently connects to this physical world. It is therefore no surprise that the Mikdash serves the exact same three functions as the mouth, the organ of connection. Let us study the manifestations of this principle.

 

Eating

 

Just as our physical body needs to eat in order to maintain its connection to our spiritual soul, the physical world needs to eat in order to maintain its connection to the spiritual soul of the world, Hashem. The Gemara in Brachos (10a) compares the relationship between body and soul to the relationship between Hashem and the physical world. Just as the neshama is connected to our physical body, Hashem is connected to the physical world. Just as we have a mouth to maintain the connection between body and soul, the Beis Ha'Mikdash is the "mouth", the unique location through which Hashem’s maintains His connection to the physical world.

 

We can now understand korbanos- sacrifices- as well. Korban comes from the word, “karov”- to draw close. The Nefesh Ha'Chaim (2:9) and R’ Yehuda Ha’Levi in the Kuzari (2:26) explain that korbanos are the "food" which fuel the connection between Hashem and the physical world. Just as we eat to connect our soul to our body, korbanos do the same for our world. This explains why many of the details of the avodah, the sacrificial service, have food-like connotations. The mizbeach- the alter where sacrifices were brought- is referred to as the "shulchan gavo'hah- the high table", as if this is the table of eating. The pasuk consistently refers to the korbanos as "korbani lachmi- my bread sacrifice", as if the sacrifice is a meal. This also explains why we place salt on the korbanos, something which halachically we do at meals, especially on shabbos.

 

Nowadays, we no longer have korbanos, as the world is in a lower spiritual state. How then do we maintain the connection between Hashem and this world? What replaced the korbanos? As the Nefesh Ha'Chaim explains (2:9), tefilah (prayer) replaced korbanos. When the means of eating could no longer be used, we now turn to the mode of speaking to create this connection. Prayer itself reflects a longing for closeness with Hashem, it is even referred to as an avodah she’bilev- a service of the heart. This is also why we face the Beis Ha'Mikdash when we daven, as the connection we are building between Hashem and this world- through tefillah- stems from this place.

 

Speaking

 

Hashem spoke directly to the Jewish people from the Beis Ha'Mikdash. The passuk (Terumah 25:22) explicitly says that Hashem will speak to Moshe from between the two keruvim (chrerubs). The angels were locked in an embrace of love, reflecting the relationship and connection between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. [The Gemara in Yoma 54b also shows how the keruvim's physical display reflected our relationship with Hashem. When they faced each other, it meant we were close with Hashem; when they turned away from each other, it indicated that we had turned away from Hashem.]

 

Kissing

 

The Beis Ha'Mikdash is also where Hashem "kisses" the world. The Gemara in Bava Basra (74a) states that the Beis Ha'Mikdash is where the heaven and earth kiss. In other words, this is where the infinite and spiritual meets and connects with the finite and physical. This is where Hashem most strongly connects to the physical world. It is the most potent concentration of connective energy between us and Hashem, where Hashem and Klal Yisrael embrace in the ultimate closeness.

 

Yitzchak: Eating, Kissing, Speaking

 

 This understanding of the Beis Ha’Mikdash sheds light onto an interesting episode in Breishis. When Yitzchak wanted to give Esav the bracha- the blessing- of the firstborn, he utilized all three forms of connection. He asked Esav to bring him food to eat, he kissed him, and he then wished to deliver the bracha through the medium of speech. This is because the prerequisite to giving Esav a bracha, which would create a deep closeness between Esav and Hashem, is a deep connection and closeness between the giver of the bracha, Yitzchak, and the recipient, Esav. In order to build that closeness, Yitzchak wished to first utilize all three forms of connection.

 

No Korbanos During Mashiach

 

Returning to our original question, we can now explain why there will no longer be korbanos in the days of mashiach. We explained that korbanos are needed in order to bring us and the world closer to Hashem, ensuring there is no separation between them. According to many opinions, the coming of mashiach will usher in a reality in which both we and the physical world will be uplifted to an angelic state. Although there will still be aspects of the physical, we will no longer require korbanos in order to achieve that elecation, in order to connect to Hashem.

 

Creating Connection In Our Own Lives

 

We all yearn for connection: To ourselves, to other people, and of course, to Hashem. But connection is difficult; it requires time, patience, and constant effort. Genuine communication takes a lifetime to achieve. As displayed in the opening story, more often than not, it can be difficult to know what is going on in another person’s inner world, to understand what they are experiencing on a deep, consciousness level. Breaking through the infinite barriers between our inner worlds is truly a challenge. The same is true when it comes to ourselves, as we struggle to achieve genuine self-awareness, to get in touch with our true selves. This all-encompassing mission takes a lifetime. The goal, though, is not to be connected, it's to constantly become more and more connected. This is the journey of life, a journey of becoming, a never-ending process. May we be inspired use these three forms of connection to experience genuine connection with ourselves, with others, and with Hashem.

 

 

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