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A Different Mini Temple

November 14, 2020

When constructing a shul, the guiding principle is that a shul is modeled after the Beit Hamikdash. From the location of the aron kodesh to the custom of having a ner tamid (eternal light) to the separation between men and women- many aspects of our shuls are based on the setup and functioning of the original Temple in Yerushalayim. There are many things that make our shul- and every shul- so special, but perhaps most importantly of all it is this: our shul is the closest thing that we have to the Beit Hamikdash. Chazal refer to a shul as a מקדש מעט, a mini Temple. The prophet Yechezkel stated, “ואהי להם מקדש מעט, and I (G-d) have been for them as a mini Temple, (Yechezkel 11:16)” and the Gemara explains, “אמר רבי יצחק אלו בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות שבבבל, R. Yitzchak said, these are the synagogues and study halls of Babylonia (the diaspora). (Megilla 29a)”

However, while there is no place like shul, and I am certainly an advocate for coming to and davening in shul as often as possible, there may be a hint in our parsha that teaches that a shul is not the only place that has the potential to become a model of the Beit Hamikdash. At the beginning of the parsha, Sarah passes away, and at the end of the parsha, Yitzchak, her only son, marries. When Yitzchak brings his new wife to his home, the Torah states, “ויבאה יצחק האהלה שרה אמו, and Yitzchak brought her (Rivka) to the tent of Sarah his mother. (Bereishit 24:67)” The commentaries wonder why the tent is still called by the name of Sarah if she has already passed away! Rashi explains:

האהלה שרה אמו- וַיְבִיאֶהָ הָאֹהֱלָה וְנַעֲשֵׂית דֻּגְמַת שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, כְּלוֹמַר וַהֲרֵי הִיא שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשָּׂרָה קַיֶּמֶת הָיָה נֵר דָּלוּק מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וּבְרָכָה מְצוּיָה בָּעִסָּה וְעָנָן קָשׁוּר עַל הָאֹהֶל, וּמִשֶּׁמֵּתָה פָּסְקוּ, וּכְשֶׁבָּאת רִבְקָה חָזְרוּ.

To the tent of Sarah his mother- He brought her into the tent, and it became just like it had been with Sarah his mother. Meaning, she (Rivka) was like Sarah his mother, as so long as Sarah was alive, there was a candle lit from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos, and blessing was found in the dough, and a cloud hanging over the tent. When she (Sarah) died, these all stopped. And when Rivka came, they all returned.

Rashi is highlighting the holiness of both Sarah and Rivka, and explaining why Rivka was the perfect successor to her mother in law Sarah, our first matriarch.

But Rashi gives three example of the miraculous nature of Sarah, and subsequently, Rivka’s, tent, and these are not arbitrary. Rashi is showing us that a home too has the potential to function as a Beit Hamidash. The candles that remained lit from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos are symbolic of the menorah that remained constantly lit. The blessing in the dough, which is understood to mean that the bread stayed miraculously fresh throughout the week, reminds us of the לחם הפנים, the twelve loaves of bread that rested on the שלחן, the table in the Beit Hamikdash, and miraculously stayed fresh from week to week. And the cloud reflects Hashem’s שכינה, His presence that was so poignant in the Beit Hamikdash, and was just as tangible in the special home of our matriarchs. It’s not just a shul- but even a home, with the proper work and intention, can be a mini Temple.

When Hashem instructs Moshe regarding building the Tabernacle, He says, “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, and you shall make for me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst you. (Shemot 25:8)” Rashi there comments, “ועשו לשמי בית קדשה, and you shall make for Me a home of holiness.” Perhaps Rashi is reminding us that there is an intrinsic connection between the Tabernacle and a home. While on the surface they may seem very different, perhaps they can be more similar than they seem.

Here is an example from halacha. The Rama writes:

מצוה להביא על כל שלחן מלח קודם שיבצוע כי השלחן דומה למזבח והאכיל' לקרבן ונא' על כל קרבנך תקריב מלח.

There is a mitzvah to bring salt to the table before cutting bread, because a table is similar to the mizbech (altar), and eating (at the table) is like a sacrifice, as it says (in Vayikra 2:13), “On all your sacrifice you shall sacrifice with salt.” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 167:5)

One of the reasons that we bring salt to the table and dip the challah into it is that Chazal view our tables like the mizbeach and in the Beit Hamikdash, and therefore it should have some similar features.

Ideally, our lives include both: the mini Beit Hamikdash of the shul and the holiness of a Jewish home, which is also akin to the sanctity of the Temple. Each serves its own purpose and plays an integral role in a whole and balanced life. But sometimes, especially during the cold winter days of a pandemic, accessing the sanctity of our shul is not easy, or even possible, for many people. And while we continue to daven that very soon everyone should be able to return to shul in good health, for those who are currently davening at home it’s important to remember that your home can also be a Beit Hamikdash. Our forefathers and foremothers taught us by example that with the proper values and intention, we have the power to transform our tents, our places of seemingly mundane activities of cooking, eating, and sleeping, into a place of true holiness. Even at home, you can feel the divine warmth and closeness of the Beit Hamikdash.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

Sat, April 10 2021 28 Nisan 5781