MISHKAN ARIEL
March 2, 2016
Beis Moshiach in #1011, Beis HaMikdash, Feature, VaYakhel

In the center of the Gan HaTanach in Ariel, near the Eshel HaShomron Hotel, on a mountain which overlooks the grave of Yehoshua Bin Nun in Timnath Cheres, is a huge model of the Mishkan.* The only model of its kind in the world was constructed over a period of four years by craftsmen and experts, guided by Rabbi Menachem Makover. * In honor of the Shabbasos in which we read about the construction of the Mishkan, we spoke with Tuvia Gelbard, the man behind the project, and with R’ Makover, about what made them undertake this ambitious project, about the difficulties in executing it, and about the feedback.

By Zalman Tzorfati

On a huge piece of land near the western entrance to Ariel is a huge, almost life-size model of the Mishkan.  The surrounding hills and the pastoral landscape lend an authentic feel to it.  The model Mishkan, constructed on a 1:3 ratio of the Mishkan, is located at the end of the Gan HaTanach (Biblical Garden) adjacent to the Eshel HaShomron Hotel.

“It is the only true model of its kind in Eretz Yisroel, and to the best of my knowledge, in the world,” says Tuvia Gelbard, the man behind the project.  “There is a model of the Mishkan in Timna near Eilat but it was constructed based on the Christian interpretation of the Bible.  Our model, of course, is built only according to our sources.  We were guided by Rabbi Menachem Makover, an expert on the subject.”

The Mishkan model is a tourist attraction and is also highly educational.  Unlike other models in which the visitors examine them from the outside, the size of this model enables visitors to go inside and see the vessels and feel a part of the experience.

As part of the educational experience, there are programs and sound-light productions for children and young people.  “We use all kinds of effects.  It is important to us that all visitors experience the Mishkan.  We also have a night tour with an impressive program.  When a child learns the parshiyos of Truma through P’kudei in school, after viewing our Mishkan, the learning is altogether different and he understands it a whole lot better.”

The Mishkan model is the flagship project of the Gan HaTanach where visitors see the stories of the Torah, “starting from the burning bush, the Exodus, the building of the Mishkan, and then continuing with Moshe who goes with the Jewish people until Har Nevo, where he hears that he himself will not enter Eretz Yisroel, and he sees the promised land.  We proceed from there to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River.  It’s all done with large models in which you can see how the miracle of the Jordan River occurred when the feet of the Kohanim touched the river bank.

“We reproduce the miracle through technological means.  In Gilgal we see the twelve tribes and learn that Efraim, Menashe, and Binyamin lived in this area.  In general, just looking around at the scenery is enough to understand the beginning of the history of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel.”

THE TORAH IS OUR DEED

The history of the Jewish people as recounted in Tanach, starting with Hashem’s promise to Avrohom Avinu, then the conquering by Yehoshua, the era of the Judges and the Prophets, is something that Gelbard lives with in a deep way. Over the past thirty years, he has devoted his life to this.  He does not fit the stereotype of the average settler.  Gelbard, who serves as the manager of the Eshel HaShomron Hotel, does not wear a kippa. He loves Eretz Yisroel fiercely and he tries to convey that to others.  He says the best way of doing this is by knowing Tanach.  “The Torah is our ownership deed on this land.  Without the Torah, we have no moral right to live here.  In order to connect to the land and to feel ownership over it, we must know our history as it is written in the Torah and Prophets.”

Gelbard, a man of action and education, began his public works decades ago.  After years in the security services, he felt he wanted to contribute more to the settling of the land and so he moved his family from the center of the country to the south.  He and his wife started working in education and he was soon appointed as the director of the entire educational system in Dimona.  In 5745 he won an educational prize for his unique contribution and involvement in the advancement of education in the area.

WITHOUT A PAST, THERE IS NO FUTURE

He moved to Shomron when his friend, Menachem Gilboa and his wife opened the Eshel HaShomron hotel.

“The Gilboas, who built the hotel, are possessed of a rare love of the land and are people of self-sacrifice,” says R’ Makover.

The Gilboas were severely injured in two different attacks that took place in the area of the hotel, a few months apart, but that did not stop them from continuing operating the hotel together with Gelbard.  They plowed on, even when terrorism nearly forced them to close.  The hotel, which overlooks fabulous panoramas, Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eival in the north and the mountains of Shilo and Binyamin in the south, is the only hotel in Yehuda-Shomron.  It opened in 5751 and has lately experienced a rejuvenation.

The idea of opening a Gan HaTanach and a model of the Mishkan is something Tuvia Gelbard thought up a decade ago after being the Nachshon who pioneered tourism in the Shomron.

“It began about fifteen years ago, at the end of the 90’s and the beginning of the 00’s.  Those years were very hard for us, Jewish settlers in Yehuda-Shomron.  The enormous public support that we had during the Oslo Accords had dissipated and we felt a lethargy in the nation.  Even the religious public had grown tired of us. The Barak government’s agreement to forego 95% of Yehuda-Shomron including Yerushalayim had hardly any opposition.  It was only Arafat’s refusal that prevented a tragedy.

“This situation made us want to do something.  We tried to understand this disconnect on the part of so many people.  We realized that there is a direct connection between Jewish identity and a connection to Eretz Yisroel.  We know that if there is no past, there is no future.  Like a plant that cannot grow without roots, a nation cannot survive without a real connection to its roots.  We knew that the best, most effective way to strengthen the settlement movement is to connect the Jewish people to our roots.  Our roots are in the Tanach, planted deeply in the mountains of Yehuda, the Jordan Valley, and the hills of Shomron.  We wanted to enable people to connect to their roots, to touch them, to feel them.  To accomplish this we knew that explanations are not enough; you cannot bring Shomron to the people; you have to bring people to the Shomron.  There is nothing like walking through and getting to know the places where Avrohom, Yitzchok and the prophet Yirmiyahu walked, to connect to your roots.”

HIKES AND HANDS-ON EXPERIENCES

With these insights, Tuvia began organizing groups and tours in the mountains of the Shomron.  It wasn’t easy, but with a lot of patience, consistency and creativity, he broke the fear barrier.

“We started with tours in the cradle of our creation as a people.  We formed the route according to key spots that appear in the Tanach.  We started with Shilo, which was the capital of the Jewish nation for 360 years, before Yerushalayim, and from there we continued to Alon Moreh, climbed Mt. Kabir, which today is called Mt. Abraham, and is surmised to be the mountain on which Avrohom Avinu was promised the land. It was on this mountain peak that Avrohom stood when he spoke to G-d.  This is the mountain from where one looks out over Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eival.  This is the place where the Jewish people received what I call, ‘Mattan Torah Sheini.’”

Gelbard’s tours took off and became the basis for the tourism industry which flourishes today in Shomron.  Tens of thousands of visitors flock there each year, Jews and non-Jews, from all over the world.  Today, the Shomron offers an array of tourist attractions, boutique vineyards, organic farms, unique dairies and industries.  It all began with Tuvia Gelbard’s tours.

Tuvia then decided to set up a giant center that would provide a complementary experience to walking the pathways of the land of the Tanach.  He envisioned a place where visitors could feel and touch Tanach figures and experience in the most tangible way the stories of the Torah.  He got the owners of the hotel on board and that is how the Gan HaTanach was opened on the land adjacent to the hotel.

“The Gan is not constructed chronologically,” says Tuvia.  “but it gives a taste of the stories of the Tanach that happened in different eras, with an emphasis on stories that happened here in the area of Yehuda, Shomron, and Binyamin.  There’s the story of the ladder in Yaakov’s dream, the sale of Yosef and the pit which he was cast into is not far from here, the burning bush, the Exodus, Moshe’s arrival at Har Nevo with the nation, the second splitting of the sea at the Jordan.  Imagine what it does to a child and even an adult when he becomes wet from the waters of the Jordan, he sees the Jordan stop flowing, and he crosses the Jordan.  And then there are the stories of the conquering of the land, including the Gilgal camp where there are authentic archaeological finds that were discovered recently in the digs in Shomron, and an accurate copy of the altar of Yehoshua Bin Nun on Mt. Eival, which is built out of hewn stones, along with archaeological finds that are attributed by the researchers to that altar of Yehoshua on Mt. Eival – the first Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel.”

The Gan’s outstanding project is the Mishkan.  The size of the area that houses the Mishkan is about fifty meters by twenty-five for the yard, while the Mishkan itself is fifteen meters long and about five meters wide and about five meters high.

BEYOND LOGIC

“The building of the Mishkan is seemingly not a logical process.  It is not for naught that the Torah devotes five parshiyos to it, five times the space allotted to the description of Creation.  The idea of making a physical dwelling for the Creator of the world is incomprehensible.  The Mishkan had to be constructed precisely as G-d wanted it, which is why the instructions here are important and precise and the Torah spends so many verses on it.”

Gelbard and his staff approached the project with a feeling of awe.  They contacted Rabbi Menachem Makover, one of the biggest experts on the Mishkan and Mikdash, who consulted on every detail and together with him they got to work.

“We had no government or municipal grants.  Whatever we did came from donations from Jews who found this work important.  Just like the original Mishkan which was built by donations from individuals.  Progress was slow, in tandem with the work and research of R’ Makover and as per the amount of money we had to work with.”

MAXIMUM PRECISION

“We tried to be as accurate as possible as we worked with the materials that we had available,” says R’ Makover.  “After all, the goal is a simulation and not a creation of a new Mishkan.  We had no gold and silver, for example, because then the costs would have been astronomical, but to the best of our ability we tried to stick to the original and be as accurate as possible.”

What difficulties did you encounter?

“There were many challenges,” says R’ Makover.  “Take colors for example.  We reviewed all the research and did our own research, in order to figure out what t’cheiles, argaman, and tolaas shani are.  Then we spent a long time searching until we found a woman capable of embroidering the paroches.  Just the embroidery alone took over a year.  Or take the atzei shittim; what are they? According to tradition it is cedar, but you cannot get cedars of such dimensions nowadays, so we compromised and built them out of other wood.”

Building a Mishkan is not as popular as building a Mikdash.  Perhaps this is because the laws of the Mikdash have practical ramifications for the Geula.  What practical relevance is there to us in viewing and experiencing a model Mishkan?

“It’s very important!” exclaimed R’ Makover.  “First of all, not everything needs a practical application. There is importance to learning Torah and understanding Torah.  If the Torah spent that many verses on the Mishkan, then we need to make the effort to understand it.  Many schools bring their students here to see the Mishkan, which helps the students understand the verses much better afterward.

“Aside from that, there is a Midrash Pli’ah which says that with the Geula the Mishkan and the Mikdash will be rebuilt.  The verse says, ‘Upright atzei shittim,’ and the Midrash says, ‘upright – forever.’  The Mishkan has its spiritual qualities, the clouds of glory.  It’s an entity onto itself and should not be disparaged.”

(In Likkutei Sichos, volume 21, in a sicha on Parshas Truma, the Rebbe asks why the Torah writes in such detail about the Mishkan.  The Rebbe explains that learning about the Mishkan has practical ramifications for the era of Geula, for some of the details of the third Beis HaMikdash are based on the structure of the Mishkan.)

“When I left Machon HaMikdash, the first thing I published was a beautiful album on the Mishkan.  It was very successful, because thanks to it many people are now learning these parshiyos and understanding them better.

“There are curtains for the Mishkan that we got from animal skins and others where we sufficed with substitutes,” says Tuvia.  “For example, the tachash skins; what’s a tachash?  We used plastic until we discover what tachash is.”

TEEMING WITH VISITORS

“The feedback is heartwarming,” says Gelbard.  “Groups of people come here from all over the world, even from Tel Aviv,” he says with a grin.  “It’s amazing to see people getting excited by what they see here.  Whoever comes gets a different perspective on the Tanach, the Mishkan and in general.  You can’t know what it does to connect a person with his Judaism and Eretz Yisroel.  It’s all connected.”

The place is open all week.  On Shabbos and holidays, guests of the hotel can enjoy it while all the displays that entail forbidden melacha do not operate.  Bible loving non-Jews are also visitors.

“There are huge numbers of people out in the world who call themselves Bible lovers.  Most of them support the Jewish people and believe in their right to return to their homeland.  As part of their belief, they consider it a privilege to tour the places mentioned in Tanach.  We try to host them nicely, as we would anybody, and to enable them to experience the Tanach from a Jewish perspective,” says Gelbard.



Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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