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One of the most miraculous parts of the Tabernacle was the altar. For when God bade Moses make an altar of shittim wood and overlay it with brass, Moses said to God: "O Lord of the world! Thou badest me make the altar of wood and overlay it with brass, but Thou didst also bid me have 'a fire kept burning upon the altar continually.' Will not the fire destroy the overlay of brass, and then consume the wood of the altar?" God replied: "Moses, thou judgest by the laws that apply to men, but will these also apply to Me? Behold, the angels that are of burning flame. Beside them are My store-houses of snow and My store-houses of hail. Doth the water quench their fire, or doth their fire consume the water? Behold, also, the Hayyot that are of fire. Above their heads extends a terrible sea of ice that no mortal can traverse in less than five hundred years. Yet doth the water quench their fire, or doth their fire consume the water? For, 'I am the Lord who maketh peace between these elements in My high places.' But thou, because I have bidden thee to have 'a fire kept burning upon the altar continually,' art afraid that the wood might be consumed by the fire. Dead things come before Me, and leave Me imbued with life, and thou are afraid the wood of the altar might be consumed! Thine own experience should by now have taught thee better; thou didst pierce the fiery chambers of heaven, thou didst enter among the fiery hosts on high, yea, thou didst even approach Me, that 'am a consuming fire.' Surely thou shouldst then have been consumed by fire, but thou wert unscathed because thou didst go into the fire at My command; no more shall the brass overlay of the altar be injured by fire, even though it be no thicker than a denarium."

In the words, "Dead things come before Me and leave Me imbued with life," God alluded to the three following incidents. The rod of Aaron, after it had lain for a night in the sanctuary, "brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and even yielded almonds." The cedars that Hiram, king of Tyre, sent to Solomon for the building of the Temple, as soon as the incense of the sanctuary reached them, thrilled green anew, and throughout centuries bore fruits, by means of which the young priests sustained themselves. Not until Manasseh brought the idol into the Holy of Holies, did these cedars wither and cease to bear fruit. The third incident to which God alludes was the stretching of the staves of the Ark when Solomon set them in the Holy of Holies, and the staves, after having been apart of the Ark for four hundred and eighty years, suddenly extended until they touched the curtain.

Solomon erected a new altar for offerings, but knowing how dear to God was the altar erected by Moses, the brazen altar, he at least retained the same name for his altar. But in the following words it is evident how much God prized the altar erected by Moses, for He said: "To reward Israel for having had 'a fire kept burning upon the altar continually,' I shall punish 'the kingdom laden with crime' by fire 'that shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever.'" [342]

Beside the brazen altar there was also one of gold, which corresponded to the human soul, while the former corresponded to the body; and as gold is more valuable than brass, so also is the soul greater than the body. But both altars were used daily, as man must also serve his Maker with both body and soul. On the brazen altar sacrifices were offered, as the body of man, likewise, is nourished by food; but on the golden altar, spices and sweet incense, for the soul takes delight in perfumes only. [343]

The materials employed for the constructions of the Tabernacle, the skins and the wood, were not of the common order. God created the animal Tahash exclusively for the needs of the Tabernacle, for it was so enormous that out of one skin could be made a curtain, thirty cubits long. This species of animal disappeared as soon as the demands of the Tabernacle for skins were satisfied. The cedars for the Tabernacle, also, were obtained in no common way, for whence should they have gotten cedars in the desert? They owed these to their ancestor Jacob. When he reached Egypt, he planted a cedar-grove and admonished his sons to do the same, saying: "You will in the future be released from bondage in Egypt, and God will then demand that you erect Him a sanctuary to thank Him for having delivered you. Plant cedar trees, then, that when God will bid you build Him a sanctuary, you may have in your possession the cedars required for its construction." His sons acted in accordance with the bidding of their father, and upon leaving Egypt took along the cedars for the anticipated erection of the sanctuary. Among these cedars was also that wonderful cedar out of which was wrought "the middle bar in the midst of the boards, that reached from end to end," and which Jacob took with him from Palestine when he emigrated to Egypt, and then left to remain among his descendants. When the cedars were selected for the construction of the Tabernacle, they intoned a song of praise to God for this distinction.

But not all the twenty-four species of cedar might be used for the Tabernacle, nay, not even the seven most excellent among them were found worthy, but only the species shittim might be used. For God, who foresees all, knew that Israel would in the future commit a great sin at Shittim, and therefore ordained that shittim wood be used for the Tabernacle to serve as atonement for the sin committed at Shittim. Shittim furthermore signifies "follies," hence Israel were to construct the place of penance for their folly in adoring the Golden Calf, out of shittim wood, to atone for this "folly." And finally, the letters of which the wood "Shittim" is composed, stand for Shalom, "peace," Tobah, "good," Yesh'uah. "salvation," and Mehillah, "forgiveness." [344] The boards that were made for the Tabernacle out of shittim wood never decayed, but endure in all eternity. [345]

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