A “Place” for Hashem

Rabbi Reuven Mann 

This week’s parsha, Terumah, describes the greatest national project in Jewish history, the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  This was the precursor to the Holy Temple, which would be built by King Solomon many years after the land was settled. The Mishkan was a “temporary” sanctuary where the people could offer sacrifices under the auspices of the Kohanim during their sojourn in the wilderness.

Initially, they were not supposed to stay in the wilderness for a long time. At first, they spent about a year encamped around Mount Sinai, preoccupied with studying and practicing the mitzvot and building the Tabernacle. Then they were to immediately embark on the march to Canaan, a matter of just days, and initiate its capture. Unfortunately, that became an ordeal of 40 years, due to the sin of the Spies.

Why was it so important to establish the Mishkan right after the great Revelation on Mount Sinai? They did not know then that they would be spending 40 years in the desert. Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to complete the conquest and division of the land and afterward erect the Mishkan?

Why should they have to take time to create the Sanctuary instead of moving immediately forward to the Promised Land? To answer this, we need to understand the true nature and purpose of the Mishkan.

The Ramban (Nachmanides) explained that the Tabernacle was supposed to be the place where Hashem “dwelled” amongst the people of Israel. However, this statement cannot be taken literally. We must always remember that Hashem is not physical and therefore cannot be said to occupy space.

Rather, it means that the Creator manifests His presence in a certain locale, and it is as though He is actually there. Hashem manifests His presence by His providential care of the Jewish people. When G-d is with us, as He was on our trek through the wilderness, He fends off all dangers, and no harm can befall us. His care even extends to Moshe’s poignant depiction in recounting the Midbar experience: “Your garment did not wear out upon you, and your feet did not swell, these forty years.”

All the major calamities in our history occurred only because we had distanced ourselves from Hashem. To describe this, Moshe said, “My anger will flare against them in that day, and I will forsake them; and I will conceal My face from them, and they will become prey, and many evils and distresses will encounter them. And he will say on that day, ‘Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?’ ”

Our “closeness” to Hashem depends on obeying His words and keeping His commandments. The degree of divine Providence we might enjoy is related to the level of moral perfection we attain.

G-d’s presence also manifests itself in His ongoing communication with us. In that sense, the Tabernacle was a continuation of Mount Sinai as a place of Revelation. As the Ramban says, “The main purpose of the Tabernacle was to contain a place in which the Divine Glory rests, this being the Ark, just as He said, ‘And there I will meet with thee, and I will speak with thee from above the Ark-cover.’ ”

We can now understand why the Mishkan had to be constructed immediately after the great Revelation on Sinai. The Jewish people can be unique as a holy entity only when Hashem is “among” them. If we could imagine that (Heaven forbid) Hashem would separate from us completely, then we could no longer define ourselves as the Jewish people.

The Mishkan accompanied the Jews on their journey in the wilderness. And the Ark, which was its most essential feature, was brought with them when they went into battle with their enemies. It was essential that the people traverse the wilderness and conquer the land as a “kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.” That could only be done with the presence of the Mishkan, that is, with the presence of Hashem. Thus, it had to be built immediately, so the people could be transformed into the Jewish Nation. And that is why we long for the restoration of the Holy Temple. May it be rebuilt speedily and in our time.

Shabbat shalom.

P.S. Have you finished reading the essays in Eternally Yours: Genesis and are feeling a bit sad that you no longer have thought-provoking material to look forward to reading on Shabbat? 

Good news, because Eternally Yours: Exodus is now available:  bit.ly/EY-Exodus  The articles offer a new and original perspective on the weekly parsha that will encourage you to think and enhance your appreciation of Torah and enjoyment of Shabbat. 

Eternally Yours on Bamidbar is completed and we are proof reading the hard copy. When that is done  we will inform you and you will be able to order the book.