By Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell and Esther Edelsburg (Congregation Kol Haneshama, Jerusalem)
Last week’s portion, Mishpatim dealt mainly with civil laws regulating human interactions (only four verses at the end of chapter 23 referred to festivals and making pilgrimage), and now we come to the time for instruction concerning service to God, namely the design and building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle or sanctuary, according to the “heavenly model” as described in the Torah, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Ex. 25:9).
The first command is for the gathering of all that is needed, “ADONAI said to Moses, Tell the Israelites to take for Me an offering. You are to receive the offering for Me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give” (Ex. 25:1-2). As the Torah continues we read a detailed description of all the work required and over and over again the verb “to make” is repeated: “make Me a sanctuary…make an ark…and you shall make a table…and you shall make a golden candelabrum…etc.”. It is interesting that in the description of the six days of Creation “God made the heavens and the earth,” and this same verb is repeated seven times in reference to God’s Creation of the world. Here, it is humanity’s task to build the Tabernacle. Perhaps there is an implicit parallel between this act of making by humanity and the Divine act of making in the Creation? This leads us to the question of why the Israelites were commanded to build the Tabernacle in the first place?
The Torah emphasizes the significance of the Tabernacle following the command to collect the offerings needed to construct it, ”Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). The text does not read, “So that I may dwell among it [the nation],” but “among them” – among the people of Israel, as it is stated in other places in the Torah, “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God” (Ex. 29:45), and “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12). Certainly, God does not dwell in the Tabernacle, but among the people of Israel, amongst humanity – those who serve God and do God’s will – as it was said by the prophet Isaiah, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me? Where will My resting place be? Has not My hand made all these things, and so they came into being, declares ADONAI. These are the ones I look on with favor, those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word” (Isa. 66:1-2). So, too, King Solomon when he dedicated the Temple said, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, ADONAI my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day” (1Ki. 8:27-28).
We might also ask why the Torah says, “take for Me an offering” and not “let them give Me and offering…”? If it said, “let them give Me and offering…” it would imply that everything that the Israelites gave belonged to them. However, according the the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Leib Alter of Gur, 1847-1905), “Take for Me an offering – for Me, that is for My name (according to Rashi). That is to say, ‘The silver and the gold are mine says Adonai Tzeva’ot’ (Hag. 2:8). Does that mean that only the silver and gold belonged to God? Doesn’t everything belong to God? What this really means is this: the Holy One of Blessing is saying to the Israelites, ‘It is your obligation to take the gold and the silver that you have and to elevate it ‘for Me,’ that is to follow the mitzvot and do good deeds. You are to dedicate them and use them for a higher purpose. This is what is meant by, ‘this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold and silver and bronze…’ – …’and you shall take for Me an offering…’ for Me, for My sake, that they will offer their silver for a sacred purpose.”
- What is the significance of what the Sfat Emet said today? Is it still relevant?
- In light of the commentary of the Sfat Emet, how might we understand the verse, “Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them”?
- How do you understand the command to build the Tabernacle, especially when you consider the words of Isaiah and King Solomon?
- What can we learn from the parallels between the Creation and building the Tabernacle?