When Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe to tell Betzalel to make a Mishkan, an Aron, and the other vessels, Moshe reversed the order and said to him, “Make and Aron and the vessels and the Mishkan.” Betzalel then said to him, “Moshe Rabbeinu, the practice of the world is that a person first builds a house and then bring the vessels into it. But you say, “Make me an Aron, vessels and then the Mishkan. Into what will I put the vessels that I make? Perhaps Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to you as follows, “Make a Mishkan, [and then the] Aron and vessels?”
Moshe responded to him, “Perhaps you were Betzel Kel — in the shadow of Hashem — and that [is how] you knew this?” (Berachos 55a).
The meforshim wonder about this Chazal. If Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe Rabbeinu to first create a Mishkan, why did Moshe Rabbeinu reverse the order?
In his sefer Gur Aryeh, the Maharal explains that, in reality, the Aron and the vessels were more important than the structure of the Mishkan. Moshe Rabbeinu, whose mission was to teach the Torah to Klal Yisrael, went in the order of importance. Betzalel, on the other hand, was entrusted with the practical application — the physical building of the Mishkan and, in this regard, the building of the Mishkan had priority. Therefore, when Moshe Rabbeinu forgot the actual order of the building of the Mishkan and the forming of the vessels, it was Betzalel who would remind him.
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The Arugas Habosem poses several additional questions about this Chazal, for Betzalel’s query, “Into what will I put the vessels that I make?” calls for an explanation. Was it not possible to place the keilim in an ordinary, existing structure until the Mishkan would be ready? Furthermore, as the Tzlach asks, in reality, while the materials for the Mishkan and all the keilim were finished by the 25th day of Kislev, the Mishkan wasn’t actually erected for another three months. Wherever the keilim were housed during that period, they could have also been placed during the time that the parts for the Mishkan were being made.
He then proceeds to explain the Chazal homiletically. The various keilim represent different aspects of avodas Hashem. The Shulchan for instance, symbolizes gemilus chassadim, while the Aron, containing the Luchos, represents the study of Torah.
Chazal describe someone who learns Torah and does not have yiras Shamayim as the equivalent of someone who builds an entrance to a courtyard without a courtyard. Yiras Shamayim is the treasure house for all things spiritual, and one cannot learn Torah without being a yerei Shamayim.
There are however two types of yiras Shamayim. One is the basic fear of receiving punishment — or not receiving a reward. The other, loftier, level is based on recognition of the greatness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
While the former is prerequisite for the learning of Torah, the loftier level can only be achieved through learning Torah.
The Torah tells us in Parashas Eikev, “And now Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d ask of you, but to fear Hashem? …”
The Gemara (Brachos 33b) wonders about the word “but to fear Hashem,” which seems to imply that somehow this is a small request. Is fear of Heaven then a small matter?
“Yes,” the Gemara replies, “For Moshe it was a small matter.”
Moshe Rabbeinu was on such a lofty level that he couldn’t imagine that Hashem would instruct the erection of a Mishkan — symbolizing yiras Shamayim — before the making of the Aron, which symbolized Torah. For he was sure that the basic attribute of yiras Shamayim was so elementary, that every member of the bnei Yisrael already possessed it. Moshe Rabbeinu concluded that the Mishkan must be symbolizing the loftier level of yiras Shamayim, which, in turn, can only occur after one has devoted himself to learning Torah. Therefore, he instructed Betzalel to first make the keilim, and then the Mishkan.
Betzalel, whose greatness we cannot fathom, wasn’t on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, and understood that, relative to the average members of the bnei Yisrael, the basic level of yiras Shamayim was also something that they must be instructed about. Therefore, he asked, “Into what will I put the vessels that I make?” — i.e., without the structure of basic yiras Shamayim, where will the components of avodas Hashem, including Torah study, “be put”?
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On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael are expected to gather in Yerushalayim to protest against the governmental decrees targeting Torah study. As the Gedolim have stated, this is a time to “strengthen ourselves staunchly in Torah learning and keeping the mitzvos in purity, along with all the nuances of halachah.”
As part of this directive, this is a time to fortify our yiras Shamayim, as a prerequisite to Torah learning.