This week’s Torah portion begins by describing the construction of the tabernacle. Dennis Prager writes in his commentary, “More chapters are devoted to the Tabernacle and the details of its construction and functioning than to any other subject in the five books of the Torah.” This means that the topic of the tabernacle happens to be one of the most important topics, which we find in Torah. Not the Creation of the Universe nor the Exodus from Egypt; rather, the primary focus of the Torah is dedicated to the creation of the “Mishkan—Tabernacle.” In this portion, we read one of the most important phrases mentioned in the entire Torah from Exodus 25:8. “V’asu Li Mikdash V’shachan’ti B’tocham—And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” 

God’s Divine Presence dwelling among the Jewish nation is predicated on the fact that the Israelites build a sanctuary. God doesn’t say “Build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell inside of it, among them.”God didn’t need a building to live inside. What God was truly asking for was an open invitation from the Israelite nation. The phrase “Make me a sanctuary”could be read as “Send Me an invitation.” God wanted to dwell among His people, but in order for God’s Presence to stay among His people, a sanctuary–a “mikdash” was necessary.At the beginning of this portion we read God’s instructions concerning the building of the Tabernacle. God tells Moses, “[take for] Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take…” There is something to be noticed here in this verse. How does one take an offering?” Doesn’t the word “offering” itself imply that it must be given of a person’s own freewill?

The wording here is definitely not by accident. The simple explanation is, we don’t own what we have while here on earth. God gives us our riches, while different institutions and governments worldwide define the concept of “money”. When using the phrase “[take for] Me an offering,” it is in recognition that everything we have comes from God. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik notes concerning these verses, “the Torah uses the term take to refer to the donations to the tabernacle even though the people were giving and not taking. This is because only the money that a person gives away to charity is really his…the money you give to charity is your eternal possession.” (Book: “Growth through Torah”) When we give to charity, we are using the wealth God has blessed us with to sustain others, allowing them to bless God as well. We are returning our blessings and wealth from whence it came.

When we “take an offering” from the abundance God has given us and bless others, these are the true treasures, which become our “eternal possession.” Only after we “take” what we have and use it for God’s glory does it actually become ours. Rebbe Nachman writes in his commentary, “In order to be charitable, a person must open his heart. Once his heart is open to give to others, it can also receive blessings and bounty…”Only a person whose heart is open to giving charity is open and ready to receiving blessing from God above. One opening leads to another.
Now when God says, “Make me a sanctuary” why does He begin to define the structure and implements of the tabernacle? In Verse 9 of Exodus 25 God tells Moses, “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.”Why couldn’t God allow the Israelites their own creativity so they could present Him with a surprise? Why was God so controlling over the building project? Dennis Prager writes, “leaving it completely up to the subjective tastes of some of the Israelites might well have led to the building of a Tabernacle that… looked just like a pagan house of worship.”When people are left to their own devices, they will act and react to life according to their experiences. If God had told the Israelites Make me a sanctuary,” without clarifying what He meant, the Tabernacle in the wilderness would have probably ended up looking like an Egyptian temple with a few exceptions.

God does not want to be worshiped like some Egyptian god or goddess. He is not on equal footing with the idols of the world. So why should He be worshiped as such? Deuteronomy 12:4 specifically states, “You shall not worship the LORD your God [as the pagans do].” God defines how He wants to be worshiped, honored and invited into our midst. We do not/cannot set the standards or boundaries for God, therefore, we need His proper instruction on how to invite Him into our midst. When we look through history we see how civilizations, generations and peoples have defined “worship of God.” When humanity defines for itself what proper worship of the divine looks like, we end up with unspeakable acts of immorality, bestiality, human sacrifice, witchcraft/ wizardry, and communication with the dead.

The list unfortunately goes on…things that need not be described. God knew mankind’s tendencies; this is why He established the order and structuring of the tabernacle rather than leaving it in the hands of the people.When reading about the creation of the “Mishkan—Sanctuary,” it is supposed to be reminiscent of another “creation story” we read about in the Torah—the Creation of the Universe. Rabbi Jonathan Sack Z’TL writes, “The latter mirrors the former. As God made the universe so He instructed the Israelites to make the Mishkan…Just as the universe began with an act of creation, so Jewish history (the history of a redeemed people) begins with an act of creation.”In the book of Job we read that on the day of creation, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” This same sentiment appears at the creation of the Mishkan. In Sifra, Shemini (a commentary on the book of Leviticus) the Sages say, “We are hereby taught that the day of the erection of the Mishkan was as joyous before Him on high as the day of the creation of heaven and earth.”The Heavens were as excited as the children of Israel were regarding the completion of the Tabernacle.

The question is, why? In the Torah we read of only two places that reference “Keruvim—Cherubim.” The first mention is found in the creation story. Adam and Eve are being sent out from the garden, and as they leave, God places “cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Cherubim ensure Adam and Eve’s hasty exit from the garden with flaming swords; these beings are put in place to keep Adam and Eve out from the garden and presence of God. In the creation of the Tabernacle, we read, “you shall make two cherubim of gold.”But, though the Cherubim are back, something is missing. It’s the flaming sword.

The Cherubim, the gatekeepers to God’s garden and presence are now found upon the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God and man can once again talk. The God who “dwells between the cherubim” is once again opening a way for man to have a relationship with Him. The tabernacle, as well as the garden, was created to facilitate the relationship between God and mankind. This is why God was so excited about the creation of this structure, this building would once again allow for the connection of the heavens and the earth.
When reading about the construction of the tabernacle, there three different places where the images of Cherubim appear. (From Rabbi Fohrman/AlephBeta). They appear on the Yeriot—the outer Curtains of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:1), on the Parochet—the Veil separating the Holy place from the Holy of Holies (Ex 26:31), and lastly, on the Kaporet —the covering for the Ark of the Covenant. (Ex 25:18-22) Why in these 3 different places? When God created the universe, we read about 3 times God “divided” something. He separated light from darkness, He separated between the firmaments, and He separated day from night. God had to create separation in order for life to exist, as we know it. Rabbi Fohrman writes, “God made a world for us, a universe for us. God carved out a little bit of everything and made a little apartment specifically for us. God lives in the world beyond our own, in a world beyond space and time…God carved out a little piece of that – so that the one that He could love would be able to live.” God carved out a place in His “world” in order for our world to be able to exist.

If God created a world for us and we were “created to emulate God,” as Rabbi Fohrman says, then shouldn’t we reciprocate what God has done for us? Continuing with this thought, Rabbi Fohrman writes, “God made a little apartment for us in His everything. We call that our universe. We reciprocate by making a little apartment for Him; we call that the Tabernacle, the Mishkan.”We are “returning the favor” so to say, in building a structure to invite God into our realm. The 3 places in the tabernacle represent 3 different levels of sanctity and separation, which ultimately allow mankind to meet with God. Not only do we have 3 different places mentioning the Cherubim, at the beginning of this portion we also have the word “Terumah—Heave Offering” mentioned 3 times. This word is used in relation to people’s contributions to the work of the Tabernacle, but the significance of 3 mentions shouldn’t be lost; Cherubim in 3 places and Offerings taking place 3 times.

The tabernacle represents different levels that each person should attempt to attain in life.The Ramchal writes, “Each mention of ‘Terumah’ (Heave-offering) alludes to another step in rectifying the physical world and making it fit for ‘Kedusha’ (Holiness) to reside in it.” The word “Terumah—Heave-offering” hints at the idea of “lifting or elevating.” We are called to elevate the world by bringing God to the world and the world to God.The world is in a state of perpetual “Tumah—Impurity.” We are called to elevate the world. The Tabernacle gives us the blueprint.The first Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the outer Yeriot—Curtain of the Tabernacle. This first transition is from impurity to the point of the mundane or the ordinary. The normal way God created the world to exist.The second Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the Parochet—Veil separating the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. This next “step” that we must make transitions us from the ordinary and mundane to Kedusha—Holiness. This is a state in which God can dwell with man on earth.The third and final Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the Kaporet —the lid of the Ark of the Covenant upon which are the Cherubim. This is when we begin to develop from the state of Kedusha—Holiness, to the place of Kodesh Kodeshim—Holy of Holies. It is at this point that God and man can once again be intimate on the deepest of levels. Ramchal writes that God “wishes for the world to rise as high as possible – to the level of Kodesh Kodeshim (Holy of Holies)”In the Tabernacle there were 4 items.

The first 3 items were found in the large outer chamber known as the “Holy Place,” while the last item was found beyond the veil in the Holy of Holies. The 3 items, the Menorah, the Incense Altar and the Table of Show-Bread in the larger chamber represent our intellectual capacities. It is only after we arrive at an intellectual consciousness of God that we can explore and proceed to the next level = beyond the veil. The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that the Holy of Holies represents the place where “not only our intellect but our entire being is engulfed in Divine consciousness.” What is beyond the veil is not necessarily anything that we could logically comprehend. However, it is the place where we can fully experience the wonderfully mysterious and mystifying God of wonders. It is not a place we can enter, only God Himself could remove the veil and show Himself to the world. What we can do is bring the world to a place of complete “Kodesh Kodeshim—Holy of Holies.” As God Himself said, “I will meet with you, and I will speak with you.” Where? In the Holy of Holies! May we all work to see the entire world soon merit to be like the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle = a place fitting for God’s Divine Presence and may we soon hear the proclamation, “The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

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