In this coming week’s parashat Teruma, we begin a series of four portions that deal with the building of the מִשְׁכָּן , Mishkan, the temporary Tabernacle, which traveled with the Jews during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Because this Hebrew calendar year is a leap year, none of the four, Teruma, Tetzave, Vayakhel, or Pekudei, are combined as they often are in a normal year. Together with Kee Tisah, we will be reading five consecutive portions devoted to the building of the Tabernacle. These portions often go into excruciating detail concerning erecting the Tabernacle and the manufacture of the priestly garments.
It’s been said that “God is in the details.” Perhaps because of this perception, rather than be intimidated by the details concerning the measurements and contents of the Tabernacle–the lengths and the widths, the cubits and the handbreadths, the gold, the silver, the purple and skins dyed red–it behooves us to try to look at and understand these details. As we know, every single word and nuance of the description of the Tabernacle reflects a most valuable lesson from God concerning life and the way the Torah wishes us to live our lives.
The most well-known verse concerning the Tabernacle is found in Exodus 25:8, וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָםּ , God says, “They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them.” Clearly, God cannot be circumscribed or limited to any particular space or location. Notice how careful scripture is to underscore that God does not actually dwell in the sanctuary, but among “them”–the people–and that the sanctuary is to serve as the location where the people are to go to focus their attention on God.
The Torah tells us that there should be handles or staves as an integral part of the Ark, so that the Ark can be carried and transported by the priests. Most of the furnishings of the Tabernacle also had staves so that they too would be portable. But, only the staves of the Ark were never to be removed. The Torah declares, Exodus 25:15: לֹא יָסֻרוּ מִמֶּנּוּ , They [the staves] may not be removed from it.
Clearly, the Torah instructs that the Ark must be fashioned in such a manner so as to be constantly portable. Jews can live without a candelabra, can survive without a Table of Showbread, and can even live without the Altar, but the אָרוֹן , the Aron, the Ark which houses the Torah, the legacy of our life, must always be with us. Perhaps that is why, the blessing over Torah study is constructed in the present tense, נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה , “Blessed are you, God, who continually gives us the Torah,” as if the Torah were given just a moment ago.
When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 after the Common Era, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai allowed for various rituals that had always been performed exclusively in the Temple to be replicated in local synagogues. For example, during Temple times it was permitted only in the Temple itself to sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashana and to use the Lulav and Etrogon Sukkot. After the destruction of the Temple, it now became permissible to perform these ritual practices in the local synagogue, which became, in effect, a מִקְדָּשׁ מְעַט , a Mikdash Me’at, a Temple in miniature.
It’s important to understand the role of the synagogue. In fact, its name is most revealing. We speak of the synagogue as a בֵּית־כְּנֶסֶת, a Beit Knesset, a house of coming together. Even the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was called the בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ , Beit HaMikdash, the house of the Sanctuary. It is also important to note that the house of study, the בֵּית־מִדְרָשׁ , Beit Midrash, was also referred to as bayit, בַּיִת , a home. Shabbat Shalom