Parshat Terumah states (25:8), “Ve’asu Li Mikdash Veshachanti Betocham,” “Let [the Jews] make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Why did Hashem command Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan in the first place? Does He really need a physical home?
The first clue is the Pasuk’s specifying, “That I may dwell among them.” It does not say, “that I might dwell in it.” The Mishkan was to be a symbolic dwelling for the Shechinah, the Divine presence of Hashem, but the true dwelling place was meant to be in the heart of each person. What Hashem really wanted was the love and commitment of Klal Yisrael; the material goods were secondary.
It was not even the entire Mishkan, however, in which the Shechinah was intended to dwell in this limited way, but in a very small space, one Amah in width, between the rods of the Aron. Why was it specifically in this place that Hashem decided to place His Shechinah?
The Midrash compares the Mishkan as a whole to the human body, and each of its implements and components to various human organs and body parts. The beams supporting the Mishkan symbolize the ribs, the curtains of goats’ hide correspond to a person’s skin, and the Shulchan represents the stomach. The Kiyor suggests the liquid element of the human body. The Menorah, provider of light in the Mishkan, represents the human mind, which provides us with the light of comprehension and understanding. The Keruvim, which spread their wings over the Aron, correspond to the lungs, which are positioned over the heart, and the Aron corresponds to the human heart.
The Aron’s relationship to the heart is most relevant to our question. The human heart is a very small part of the body, smaller and less complex than many other organs, yet human life depends completely upon it. Many other organs come in pairs, and a human can live quite well with only one of the two, or sometimes only a part of one. Without a functional heart, however, all other parts of the body will cease to function. Just as a person’s life depends on the strength of his heart, the Aron, which contained the Luchot, was the heart of the entire Mishkan.
Thus, it is clear why Hashem’s Shechinah was to dwell specifically in the Aron. Within the Mishkan, which symbolized the dwelling of Hashem’s Shechinah within the individual, the center of Hashem’s presence is the Aron, which symbolizes the heart of the individual. Through the medium of the Mishkan, Hashem’s Presence dwells within the heart of each member of Klal Yisrael.