After an exciting trip or a special event we often like to buy a souvenir, like a T-shirt from Florida or a Mezuzah from Israel, to help remind us of the special experience. Yet, after the grandeur that surrounded Matan Torah, what “souvenir” is left for Bnei Yisrael with which to commemorate this event?
The Ramban establishes a strong link between Har Sinai and the Mishkan, claiming that the purpose of the construction of the Mishkan was to reenact Matan Torah. By building the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael were provided with a permanent physical commemoration of the incredible experience of Matan Torah, the “souvenir” of Maamad Har Sinai. What led the Ramban to draw this conclusion? In what ways is the Mishkan similar to Matan Torah?
After the Torah tells us to collect all of the necessary goods in order to build the Mishkan, the first component of the Mishkan described is the Aron HaKodesh, the most important article of the Mishkan. The Aron’s Kedushah emanated from the Luchot which were placed inside it, as well as from the Shechinah which spoke to Moshe from between the Keruvim molded at the top of the Aron. Similarly, Matan Torah centered on the Torah, along with an incredible revelation of the Divine Presence. The great concentration of the Shechinah both at Har Sinai and in the Mishkan necessitated very strict guidelines as to who could enter the holy area as well as where and when they could enter. Furthermore, there were different levels of holiness at Har Sinai, and different levels in the Mishkan. Such striking similarities inherent in the Mishkan allowed Bnei Yisrael to hold onto the experience of Har Sinai.
Based on this approach of the Ramban, it is understandable that the Mishkan and subsequently the Beit HaMikdash were great reminders of Matan Torah. But what is the present day souvenir so that we, too, can remember Matan Torah and the Mishkan?
The Gemara in Berachot (55a) quotes the following statement of Rabi Yochanan and Rabi Elazar: “When the Temple was standing the altar would atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Now, a person’s table atones for his sins.” Our homes, and more specifically our tables, serve as miniature altars, enabling us to achieve forgiveness for our sins. In what way do our tables atone for our sins?
Eating around our tables provides a great opportunity for our interpersonal relations to shine. This is where we host and show respect to our guests, demonstrate our care and concern for the other members of our family, and sing Shabbat Zemirot together. It is the perfect chance to showcase our Middot Bein Adam LeChaveiro, thereby bringing the Shechinah to our tables.
Hopefully, our tables also include another component of Matan Torah and the Mishkan, the Torah itself. If the Torah was the centerpiece of Maamad Har Sinai and the Mishkan, it must be prominently featured at our mini-Mishkan, our tables. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) quotes a statement of Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi: “When anyone teaches his grandson Torah, it is as if he himself received it from Har Sinai.” The transmission of Torah from generation to generation is a reenactment of the original transmission of the Torah from Hashem to Moshe, and therefore must be an important component of our lives.
By creating a table filled with warm hospitality and Torah learning, we are also fulfilling the imperative for each person to build a personal Mishkan to help us serve Hashem on an even deeper level.