Building Ourselves an Altar – Mishpatim 5777

בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו, ובמשכן מזבח אשים לקרני הודו, ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה, ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי, את נפשי היחידה

In my heart I will build a Mishkan to glorify God’s honor, and in the Mishkan I will place an altar to His rays of splendor.  And as the eternal flame I will take the fire from the binding of Isaac, and for the sacrifice I will offer my soul, my unique soul (sefer charedim)

After relating the many laws outlined in this week’s parsha, “Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning these commands’” (Shemot 24:8).  The only other place where the Torah relates the sprinkling of blood occurs in regards to the altar.  In this way, the imagery of our narrative paints the people themselves as the altar of God.

This concept is further strengthened by next week’s famous pasuk, “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” “And let them build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8).  God commands the people to build a sanctuary – singular.  However, God finishes His directive by saying She will dwell among them – plural.  Picking up on this subtle contradiction, many offer the drash that God is commanding us all to build temples in our hearts.  As if to say, if we construct a dwelling place within ourselves, God will surely reside there.

For instructions on how to build within ourselves a sanctuary for God, we can look to the very end of last week’s parsha.  God says, “And if you build for me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones; for by wielding your tool against them you have profaned them” (Shemot 20:22).  Reb Shlomo, speaking on this pasuk says, “You know friends, the first thing when you build the holy temple – you don’t cut.  You don’t cut stones, you don’t cut anything.  Sometimes I wish I could teach parents how not to cut their children.  Children are so holy, they’re little holy temples.”  His message is that if we want to make ourselves into an altar, we must have compassion to not cut – to not try and alter God’s holy creations.  

And so, when Moses sprinkles blood on the people, he is consecrating their promise, “נעשה ונשמע” “We will do and we will understand” (Shemot 24:7).  

In the times when we feel insignificant and unworthy, we must remember our promise that first we would do – that we would make ourselves into an altar and not cut.  For only after we have radically accepted ourselves as we are can we come to understand God’s beauty emanating from the temples within each and every one of us.

Shabbat Shalom

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