The instruction Ray receives is strangely reminiscent of the one in this week’s Torah portion when God tells Moses: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם (
veasu li mikdash veshochanti betocham
) – Make for me a Mikdash (a Tabernacle) and I will dwell amongst you (Exodus 25:8). The instructions are relatively clear, especially as the Torah portion proceeds to go through the details of what exactly should be made for this Mishkan.
Perhaps if screenwriters were writing this portion, they might have even said it like this: ‘If you build it, God will come.’
It is hard to believe that God actually requires a physical space in the world in which to dwell. We tend to conceive of God as being everywhere in the world, accessible to us wherever we are, and not just in a travelling Tabernacle. Perhaps then, the task is not the building itself, but rather the project which accompanies it.
The Mikdash is not going to be paid for by a specific tax upon all the people, or the introduction of a new duty. There is no half-shekel census to raise the necessary funds (as occurs in Ki Tissa – Exodus 30:11-16). In fact, giving to this project is an entirely voluntary matter. God makes it clear:כָּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת־תְּרֽוּמָתִֽי (
kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et terumati
) – You shall take my contribution from all people whose heart moves them (Exodus 25:2).
This is a fundraising strategy which is rarely employed in today’s society. There are no pledge cards, e-mail campaigns or donation letters – the people are simply told that if their heart so moves them to give, their gift will be accepted. It is a risky approach, and one which I doubt many of our congregations or institutions would be willing to try. And yet when this request is ultimately made to the people a few chapters later, they respond generously. Moses and the artisans are inundated with contributions, so much so that he eventually has to tell the Israelites: אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אַל־יַֽעֲשׂוּ־עוֹד מְלָאכָה לִתְרוּמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ (
ish veisha al yaasu od melacha litrumat hakodesh
) – Let no man or woman endeavour to bring any more holy contributions (Exodus 36:6).
Giving the people a community wide project, asking them to contribute whatever they can and having a tangible goal at the end (a Mikdash in which God may dwell), encourages them to give very generously. Can any of us imagine a capital campaign or building project in which we stop people giving because too much had been received?
God never specifies that the Mikdash itself is specifically required for God’s presence to be with the people: ‘Make for me a Mikdash (a Tabernacle) and I will dwell amongst you.’ Instead, God requires the building project, not the building itself, to be undertaken, embraced and fulfilled. It is the faith of the people, their cooperation and collaboration which God requires to bring the Shechinah down to be amongst the people.
All too often, we focus on the what rather than the who, on the product rather than the process, on the building rather than the community within, and more than anything, we focus painstakingly on the end, with little regard for the means. This Torah portion, which details the building project of God’s very dwelling place, teaches us that perhaps our focus would be best served elsewhere. If we could learn to focus more on the people with whom we work, rather than the project on which we’re working, on cooperation before corporation, and on having faith before harbouring doubts, perhaps we too could invite the Shechina into our midst and create a world worthy of God’s presence.
Danny Burkeman is a Rabbi at West London Synagogue in Britain and a former leader within Netzer. He is married to Micol Zimmerman Burkeman, a Jewish Educator. To read more of his writings you can visit
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