These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] The Lesson of the Tabernacle

Posted on February 6, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

Last week was quite a whirlwind: getting back on track with classes at Pardes, exploring plans for next year and hosting my dad who is visiting from Toronto for the next 10 days or so…not to mention the snowy blizzards and political storms going on around the world! I can honestly say that I was ready for Shabbat Menucha – the rest which comes as part of the beautiful ‘Shabbat package’.

Now, to the parsha

One of the most well-known verses (and concepts) of this past week’s parsha, Parshat Terumah, is the building of the Tabernacle/Sanctuary (Mishkan) as a temporary miniature Temple for the Jewish People to use as they wander in the desert. There have been many explanations as to the rationale behind the construction of the Mishkan: some claim that this sanctuary was built in response to the Sin of the Golden Calf because the Jewish People’s sin amplified their need for a concrete place and method to commune with God and therefore this structure would serve as a sustainable and tangible extension of the Revelation at Mount Sinai; others, however, believe that God intended for the Mishkan to be built from the get-go, regardless of how the Jewish People observe or disobey God’s will. 

I think this tension–of whether or not the Mishkan was willed by God a priori, or as a reaction to the nation’s struggle to keep in tune with an abstract and distant God–is played out in these verses (Ex. 25:8, 22):

ח)  וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

8 ) And let them make for Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.


כב)  וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ, שָׁם, וְדִבַּרְתִּי אִתְּךָ מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים, אֲשֶׁר עַל-אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת–אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּה אוֹתְךָ, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

22) And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the ark-cover, from between the two cherubim which are on top of the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment unto the children of Israel.

Initially the Torah seems to indicate that the purpose of the Mishkan is to make an appropriate place for God to dwell among the Jewish People. This verse implies, to my mind, the interpretation that the Mishkan was also ‘part of the plan’: God had intended all along for the Jewish People to create a structure in which God’s Presence could be especially felt. Period.

Nevertheless, later in the chapter (amidst the detailed blueprints of the Mishkan), God reminds the reader that although the Mishkan is a place for the nation to “speak” to God and “meet” with God more directly, God is still beyond the nation. God is “above the ark-cover” and “on top of the ark of the testimony”. Most importantly, God is commanding the physical parameters and function of the Mishkan. In short, this verse suggests that as far as the Mishkan is concerned, God is awe-inspiring. More than that, if one wants to connect with God, it’s God’s way or the highway!

To complicate matters, there is a verse that I learned last week in my Talmud class taught by Rav Aryeh Strikovsky, within the famous prophecy of ‘The Dry Bones’ in Ezekiel. This verse offers another framing of the Mishkan and its role in Jewish life. Ezekiel prophesies that there will come a time when Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel will be restored and:

כו)  וְכָרַתִּי לָהֶם בְּרִית שָׁלוֹם, בְּרִית עוֹלָם יִהְיֶה אוֹתָם; וּנְתַתִּים וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אוֹתָם, וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-מִקְדָּשִׁי בְּתוֹכָם לְעוֹלָם

26) Moreover I will make a covenant of shalom with them–it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will establish them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for ever.
(Ezekiel 37:26)

In this context, God wants to uplift the spirits of the Jews in exile and remind them that despite their sufferings, God will make a “covenant of shalom (wholeness)” with them and one that is “everlasting”. How will the Jewish People know that God will keep God’s word on this promise? God says: Don’t worry! I will bring my Sanctuary to YOU and be among you FOREVER!

So what are we to make of all of these verses and the significance of the Mishkan?

I think that the lesson of the Mishkan for us today, living in a world without a central place of worship, is twofold: we must seek out God in communal spiritual centers and strengthen our relationship with the divine and recommit ourselves to our Jewish mission statement–to be defined in a variety of ways. At the same time, we must remind ourselves that God is not always “above” us, rather spiritual growth and bettering the world are within our reach and we must bring in God into our domain by improving ourselves and our surroundings.

If we dedicate ourselves to achieving these goals, of seeking out God AND bringing in God to our lives, then we will surely come to see the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s words: our relationship with God (and by extension with the world) will be “everlasting” and one of true wholeness and reciprocity, one of “shalom”.

Shavua tov,