Torah from Around the World #263

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By Rabbi Benjie Gruber, Rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel and the Arava Region

As we find ourselves after Purim, and Pesach is coming close, we read two Torah portions dealing almost only with the creation of the Temple in the desert, the Mishkan, the tabernacle. What is this all about? But more importantly: What can, or should this teach us, or mean to us as Progressive Jews in the 21st century?

Both Parashot – Vayakhel and Pekudei – deal with many details of the construction of the Mishkan. I agree it is important to understand that the Mishkan was constructed but the amount of detail of how this was done is overwhelming.

Why is it so important to have all these details? I assume architects could find interest in this process but what about an average reader of the Torah? It is clear that the authors of the Torah chose what to include and what to leave to our imagination. Why so much detail here?

If, as a Progressive Jew, I have no intention of building a temple in the desert or anywhere else what might I learn from these two parashot? The question which I wish to explore, after thinking about all these details, is: What should I focus on in life? Is life about what we accomplish or the journey we take to achieve our goals?

My second question is why did Moses insist on Assembling [Vayakhel, the name of the first of the two portions – meaning, “and he assembled”] all of the People of Israel for this project? Why was the project not left to the experts?

I feel and believe both these questions are connected. How so?

One of the most beautiful verses in these portions is the one describing what happened after Moses asks for the People of Israel to bring donations for the construction of the Mishkan [Exodus 36.5-6]:

“And they spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.’ And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying: ‘Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing.”

Can you imagine such a situation? The people of Israel were so deeply motivated that Moses had to ask them to stop helping!

I wish to suggest that Moses wanted everyone to be involved and wanted everyone to know, and later read, of all the details so that it would be clear that this is only a building.

Yes, We call it a Mishkan, a place of dwelling, but it is made by human beings from raw materials brought by ordinary people.

Now, we must recall what was told in the parasha just one week ago – Ki Tisa. At the end of that parasha Moses comes down from Mount Sinai after meeting God. The people of Israel saw him and were afraid since his face seemed different.

I wish to suggest that in this process of building the Mishkan Moses wishes to show the people who are afraid that they, too, can meet God, and that there are different ways to meet the divine. Just as we Progressive Jews believe that many ways of study and worship should be offered, since there is not only one way to be Jewish or to practice Judaism, so Moses is showing the people that it is up to them to contribute to the experience of the divine but they must also understand it is all built from ordinary materials and that everyone takes part.

The Mishkan is made by the people for the people to meet the divine. God does not need the Mishkan and God can be met anywhere.

Just as there is not only one way to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and not only one way to be a congregation so it needs to be clear in the desert when building the first temple.

If we wish God to dwell in our worlds we must create the situations that enable this to happen. It does not have to be a building or prayer, but it must involve us giving something of ourselves.

We are different – and we experience life and spiritual life differently. Some of us loved celebrating Purim and some of us are happy it is gone and we can focus on Passover.

When we sing in prayer today in the 21st century, ”

Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisra’el

” – “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel”, this prayer and biblical verse and idea reminds us of the many ways to reach God and human beings.

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