Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Imagine you are preparing to host royalty in your home. Think of the pressure. What food will you serve? How will you address the king? All the tiny details of your behavior take on a whole new world of significance.
The construction of the Mishkan put the Jewish people in this exact scenario. G-d instructs them, “Make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst you.” In so doing, G-d challenges us to invite Him in and make Him at home in our lives. The task sounds extremely daunting. Thankfully, G-d gave us a detailed description of how we should go about it.
One important thing G-d asked for was that His sanctuary be a private place. Large screens of woven linen formed a fence around the Mishkan, and beams fashioned a wall around the innermost sanctuary. The screens were protective; for example, they kept out the birds. But they also marked the border between what was holy and what was not.
All the various fences and walls served the same purpose, to protect the sanctity of what was inside. However, the various vessels inside the Mishkan, such as the Menorah or the Altar, each played a unique role.
Do No Evil
The process of inviting G-d into our lives requires the same delicate dichotomy between “turning away from evil” and “doing good.” By having clear boundaries that mark unholy behaviors as “absolutely not an option,” we protect the precious and G-dly things in our lives. Each negative behavior is damaging in its own way, but we avoid them all for the same purpose — to foster a private space for holy things.
Avoiding evil doesn’t require much effort when the King is in your house. Our Sages even say that you’d have to be crazy to sin. “No person does a sin unless a spirit of insanity enters him,” they tell us in the Talmud. That’s because when you know a king wants to be comfortable in your home, basic decency makes it natural to avoid insulting him.
Of course, hosting isn’t just about giving the king a space he’s comfortable in; you also have to serve him various foods, honor him, and speak to him appropriately. Each way of serving him has a unique meaning and effect. Similarly, the varied vessels of the Mishkan each symbolize a particular aspect of our positive relationship with G-d.
The Mishkan provides the blueprint for inviting G-d into our world. On the one hand, we nurture positive, G-dly behaviors, and on the other, we set ourselves clear boundaries that protect the closeness they bring.