The Mishkan, Prayer, And Creative Expression

Vayavei es ha’Aron el ha’Mishkan vayasem es Paroches hamasach vayasech al Aron ha’Eidus ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe (Shemos 40:21)

In his commentary on our verse, the Baal HaTurim points out that the Torah emphasizes that every aspect of the construction and assembly of the Mishkan was done precisely as Hashem commanded Moshe. In fact, the phrase “as Hashem commanded Moshe” is used 18 times in Parashas Pekudei. As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the Baal HaTurim explains that this number alludes to the 18 blessings recited thrice-daily in the prayers known as Shemoneh Esrei.

I once heard a beautiful and profound insight into the comment of the Baal HaTurim. Hashem told Moshe that Betzalel should be in charge of building the Mishkan and its vessels, for He had imbued him with Divine wisdom and with expert craftsmanship skills. We are accustomed to viewing artists as free-thinking and creative spirits, valuing self-expression over adherence to strict guidelines.

As many of the specifications for the Mishkan weren’t absolute and even numerous deviations wouldn’t invalidate it, one might have expected Betzalel, with his “artistic spirit,” to improvise and attempt to “improve” upon Hashem’s blueprint. Therefore, the Torah stresses that he followed each and every instruction down to the smallest detail.

Similarly, many people today complain that they feel constrained by the standard text of our daily prayers, which was established almost 2,000 years ago. They feel that as our daily needs change, so too should our expression of them. However, based on the Baal HaTurim’s comparison of the daily prayers to the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, we may suggest that on a deeper level, he is hinting to us that we need not feel stifled by the repeated expression of our needs and entreaties using identical phrases, as illustrated by the following story.

A close disciple of Harav Yechezkel Abramsky once mentioned that an acquaintance of his had recently undergone a difficult kidney transplant. Rav Abramsky sighed, feeling the other Jew’s pain, and then remarked, “I pray every day that I shouldn’t be forced to undergo such a procedure.” The surprised student questioned why he made a special point of reciting this unique prayer daily. Rav Abramsky responded that this request is included in the standard wording of Birkas Hamazon, in which we request that we not come to need “matnas basar v’dam” — gifts of flesh and blood (e.g., transplants).

The student challenged this explanation, as the simple understanding of the words is that we shouldn’t need monetary gifts from other humans (“flesh and blood”). Rav Abramsky smiled and explained that the Sages incorporated every need we may have into the text of the standard prayers. Any place we find in which we are able to “read in” a special request we have into the words is also included in the original intention of that prayer.

Just as Betzalel followed Hashem’s precise guidelines for the creation of the Mishkan and still found room for creative expression by doing so with his own unique intentions and insights, so too our Sages established the standard wording of the prayers with Divine Inspiration, articulating within them every feeling we may wish to express. Many times, in the midst of a difficult situation, we begin the standard prayers with a heavy heart, only to find a new interpretation of the words which we have recited thousands of times jump out at us. This newfound understanding, which has been there all along waiting for us to discover it in our time of need, is perfectly fitted to the sentiments we wish to convey, if we will only open our eyes to see it and use our Sages’ foresight to express ourselves.

Q: Rashi writes (35:27) that the Nesi’im — tribal leaders — were punished by the removal of the letter “yud” from their titles. Why did they specifically lose the letter “yud”?

 A: The Kli Yakar explains that the tribal leaders displayed arrogance in declaring themselves capable of supplying whatever the rest of the nation was unable to donate. As Hashem declares (Tehillim 101:5) that He cannot bear conceit, He specifically removed the letter “yud,” which is the only letter of His name that appears in their title. Similarly, the Targum Yonason writes (Bamidbar 13:16) that prior to sending the spies, Moshe added the letter “yud” to Yehoshua’s name because he saw his humility. The Chiddushei Harim posits that the tribal leaders’ primary error was in separating themselves from the community, agreeing to donate on their own only after everybody else had contributed. Because they removed themselves from the Jewish people, the letter “yud,” symbolizing Yisrael (the Jewish nation), was removed from their titles. Harav Zev Leff answers that the tribal leaders misunderstood the purpose of donating to the Mishkan. They erroneously thought that Hashem needed the contributions, and they offered to fill any remaining deficit. In reality, Hashem didn’t need any of the items, which were instead an opportunity for the giver to purify himself. When written with the letter “yud” — Nesi’im — the title — connotes those who carry. Without the “yud,” the vowels can be arranged so that the word refers to those who are carried. The “yud” was removed to hint to them that although they thought that they were carrying the Mishkan by making up the shortfall, in reality they were the ones being carried through the merit of the mitzvah.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email