This week’s final portion found in the book of Exodus describes the finishing construction of the Tabernacle. Everything that we have read about in the last few portions comes to fruition within these last chapters. The portion begins with the words, “This is the inventory for the Tabernacle…” But why do we need to suddenly take an inventory? We already know from the last Torah portion that the donations the Israelite’s had brought were exceedingly more material than necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. So if they had enough, why count everything? The sages taught in the Talmud, Taanit 8b, “…A blessing is not found either in an object that is weighed or in an object that is measured or in an object that is counted…Rather, a blessing is found only in an object that is hidden from the eye.” What the sages are telling us here is that by counting and/or valuing an item, that item loses meaning, worth, and blessing. So then why would Moses take an inventory of the Tabernacle items and its furnishings?Why would Moses take an inventory of all the offerings of the children of Israel? First, we must ask the question, “What’s the problem with counting? What did the sages of Israel mean when they said a blessing is not found in a counted object?”
The children of Israel look at everything they have brought. Huge piles of dedicated items and material are spread out before them in order to construct a house for God. Why not celebrate this fact? The sages, when they made the ruling that “blessing is not found in a counted object,” recognized the fact that human nature is always desirous for more. The phrase “It’s never enough…” comes from a discontented heart. Once a person begins counting what they have (and what they don’t have) it can quickly lead to dissatisfaction. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the oft quoted phrase, “Count your blessings.” However, a problem that can arise, is people counting their blessings, as well as counting other peoples blessings. They begin comparing their blessings to other people’s blessings. Instead of being grateful for the donated family car, they become jealous of the friend who was given a brand new vehicle. Instead of being grateful for the cheap rental house miraculously provided, they become envious of the individual who received a brand new residence. This is the problem with counting blessings (the ones we receive AND the ones we give).
Now imagine the Israelite’s…they’ve been oppressed and enslaved for hundreds of years. During that time of hard, forced-labor, they’ve had to construct numerous Egyptian temples and palaces…they know the amount of material that goes into a massive building project like this. What happens when the Israelite’s finish blessing God by giving loads of offerings, only to realize after the inventory count, they’ve only brought a smidgen of material in comparison to what was necessary for construction in Egypt? They become downhearted. They realize that the seemingly enormous offering they just gave, is small pickings when compared to the wealth of Egypt. It is better to not count what one has, because this leads to comparison, which leads to envy, jealousy, and status wars. It leads the Israelite’s to compare the Tabernacle of God to the glory of an Egyptian temple…Human nature likes to put price tags on things—the more expensive an item, the higher the status. But in God’s eyes, value is found in the sacrifice, not human evaluation/valuation.
A lot of affluent people give/live from their surplus, but God’s people here in this portion offered a “Terumah,” an “Offering,” in order to build God’s house. There has to be an understood cost in order to understand what it takes to welcome God into this realm. The amount of an object matters less when compared to the sacrifice behind the object being given. I’m reminded of the words of our Master Yeshua in Luke 21, when he saw a poor widow giving her 2 cents in the Temple treasury. He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” How did this poor widow put in more than everyone else? I believe it goes back to this week’s portion.
When Moses began inventorying the items for the construction of the Tabernacle, it wasn’t to impress the people by showing how much had been collected. It was to show the sacrifice being made by the Israelite’s—even if it wasn’t comparable to the Egyptian wealth necessary to build huge temples and carve out massive stone icons. But the God of Israel didn’t need an Egyptian temple; He desired the hearts of the Israelite people. The Israelite’s showed their desire for God not by the amount given—they didn’t have much comparative to the other surrounding nations, but they sacrificed for God by giving all they had…“Everyone whose heart was stirred.”
When Moses counted the articles for the Tabernacle, according to the Berditchover Rebbe, “he drew out the Divine spark within [each] thing, causing increased levels of Godliness to rest upon it.” The inventory Moses takes in this portion was for the purpose of elevating the items given by the Israelite’s for the creation of the Tabernacle. Moses was dedicating each individual item; every piece of gold, silver, bronze, linen, wool, all of it was dedicated to the holy service of building a house for God. Every single piece was needed for the construction. What is interesting here is that the Hebrew word for Tabernacle is the word “Mishkan” and has a numerical value of 410. Another word with this same numeric value is the Hebrew word “Kodesh” which means “sanctified/holy.” As the Ramchal writes in his commentary, “…This abode for the Shechina (God’s Presence/Glory) would need to be holy.” Every last detail of the Tabernacle needed to be pure and holy—inspected and inventoried by Moses to ensure spotlessness.
This tabernacle was going to be God’s home amidst the Israelite nation; it had to be done correctly. Which brings me back to the Hebrew word “Mishkan.” There are several different meanings and understandings behind this word, which will help us better, comprehend the function of the Tabernacle. The first word related to the Hebrew word MiSHKaN/Tabernacle is the word “SHaKheiN,” which means “Neighbor.” The ultimate purpose of the Tabernacle was to allow God to dwell among His people—allowing the Israelite’s to be neighbors with God. Because who wouldn’t want God for a neighbor?
The next connection we find to the Hebrew word MiSHKaN/Tabernacle, is the word “MiSHKoN” which means “a pledge.” Rebbe Nachman comments that, “God gave  the Tabernacle as a guarantee (a pledge) that He will always be with us.” God’s promise to remain with the Jewish people was symbolized by the Tabernacle of Meeting being amongst them. Not only that, but in Song of songs 1:4 we find the Hebrew word “MaSHCHeNi” (shares the same Hebrew root word as Mishkan/ Tabernacle) which happen to be the words of the bride longing for her bridegroom with the words “draw me away!” And the very next thing the bride says is, “The king has brought me into his chambers…”Isn’t this a perfect representation of the Tabernacle? The chambers/courts of the greatest King of all! The bride in Song of Songs represents the ancient Israelite nation as well as the modern community of God, both longing for the Bridegroom; wanting to be found in the chambers of the King, with Him pledged to us and us to Him, not just as neighbors, but as Friends and Lovers as well.
Rebbe Nachman, in his commentary regarding the Tabernacle wrote, “The Tabernacle radiated Godliness in the desert. The Temples illuminated holiness to the Diaspora…By building the Tabernacle in the desert, Moses prepared for the eventuality that the Jews could invoke Godliness even in a place devoid of Godliness…” Moses knew that the Tabernacle and Temples would not always be with the Israelite nation, therefore, by building the Tabernacle in the desert, it was to be a constant reminder to the children of Israel, that even in the depths of the deserted wasteland known as exile, God could still be found. To this idea, Rebbe Nachman continues his thoughts by writing, that the word Mishkan/Tabernacle is mentioned twice in Exodus 38:21. Why? He says, “[it] is mentioned twice in this verse because whether it is erected or destroyed, it always remains with [the Jewish people].” The idea of the Tabernacle—God dwelling with man, has been enough to keep the Jewish people united as a nation. He then says, “The Tabernacle was dismantled every time the Israelites journeyed and rebuilt every time they encamped, to teach us that it accompanies us always. The Jews were able to travel through the desert —a place of serpents, poisonous snakes and scorpions, a place devoid of faith and serenity, a place filled with confusion and doubts—because the Tabernacle always remained with them.”
Whether the physical structure of the Tabernacle/Temple was with the Jewish people, the God of that structure was always, undoubtedly there, leading and guiding the nation into relationship with Himself. The Jewish people could face the vast desert, full of snakes and scorpions, because God was in their midst. The Ramchal tells us, “The word mishkan (tabernacle) appears twice in the opening pasuk (verse) of the parsha (portion) – ‘these are the accountings of the mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony’. Why is it not written more concisely: ‘these are the accountings of the Mishkan of Testimony?’ The Torah is alluding here to two mishkans – the mishkan above in the spiritual realms and the mishkan below in our world.”
The earthly Tabernacle was created to be a reflection of the heavenlies. It was a reminder to the Israelites, that the physical tabernacle represented something much greater—the Tabernacle of Heaven. God’s desire to dwell with man is so great—He wants to be invited into this realm. His invitation to all of humanity through the symbolism of the Tabernacle is, “I have invited you to join Me in My realm, will you invite Me into your realm?”
As the Ramchal stated in his commentary, “…the ‘Mishkan of Testimony’ served as a testimony to the world that the Shechina (God’s Presence/Glory) resides among Bnei Yisroel (the children of Israel)…” God’s house, among His people is a sign to the nations of the world; the God of Israel is alive! He desired to dwell among His people, and as we read in this portion, they welcomed Him in to be the center focus of their nation—the Tabernacle of God was placed in the very center of the Israelite encampment. God and man united as one. Nearer to the end of this portion we finally read, “[So] Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him.”I love the dedication of Moses here. He did “everything just”—or—exactly, “as the Lord had commanded…” Moses did not withhold, cut corners, or let things slide. He was obedient and precise in following God’s Masterplan. Why? Moses knew that God dwelling among His people was contingent upon him getting the structure of the Tabernacle right. Did Moses succeed? In Exodus 40, at the very end of this portion and book of Torah, we read, “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” The cloud of God’s presence hung so thick that Moses couldn’t even enter the Tabernacle. He went up to Mount Sinai, in the clouds and presence of God. But here, Moses cannot take one step into this glory cloud. It shows how much God desired to dwell among His people.
In this incredible display of passion, God descends amidst clouds of glory, and the people welcome His presence to take His place among them! Which brings us to today…God’s desire to dwell among His people, is just as strong now as it was back then. Are we preparing to have God as a neighbor in our neighborhood? His desire is to tabernacle among us…are we preparing to receive His presence? The Prophet Jeremiah envisioned a coming time when, “No longer will each man teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me…” Why will everyone know the Lord in that day, to where no one will have to teach his neighbor about the Lord? Because in that day, we all will be neighbors of the Holy One of Israel! But until that day, our job remains, to prepare the world for God’s coming (to a neighborhood near you!). How? By telling each and every one of our neighbors and brothers, “Know the Lord,” the Mighty One of Israel Who desires a personal relationship with everyone!