Parshat Teruma- A Timely Tabernacle

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“שמות כ”א:ח’) “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם)

After reading at the end of last week’s פרשה that משה goes up to הר סיני to talk to G-d for forty days and forty nights, this week’s פרשה opens with some of the מצות that G-d gives to משה during this time. The first topic discussed is the construction of the משכן, the temporary dwelling place of G-d’s שכינה while the Jews travel through the מדבר. G-d gives משה guidelines on how to set up the משכן, giving special detail for each small part of the structure. The question we must ask is why does G-d open his 960 hour pow-wow with Moshe with the construction of the משכן? Furthermore, the Jewish People in their travels so far did not have a need for a משכן- G-d simply traveled with them in an עמוד ענן and עמוד אש and they brought קרבנות to him. Why did בני ישראל all of the sudden need a משכן to connect to G-d?

Ramban answers that according to the order of the פרשה, we see that the command to build the משכן was for it to be a means to extend the Sinai experience into the Jew’s daily lives. This Tabernacle, centered around the לוחות, would be a communal place to serve G-d and would serve as a constant reminder of מתן תורה and the highest moment of Judaism. This explains why the משכן was among the first מצות given to משה on הר סיני- because it connected the עשרת הדברות and משפטים to the other מצות that would be mentioned later on. It also serves as an inspiration for our daily עבודה- that as we serve G-d in our daily lives, we should remember the קשר our ancestors felt to Him at הר סיני and we should connect to that feeling to feel closer to Him as well.

Rashi (שמות ל”א:י”ח), on the other hand, answers by using a controversial principal originally mentioned in the first פרק of Gemara Pesachim- אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה- The Torah isn’t necessarily written in chronological order. Using this, Rashi teaches that these instructions for the משכן actually were given after the חטא העגל in פרשת כי תשא. The Jewish People, at their national spiritual high at הר סיני, sinned by worshipping G-d through the golden calf when they believed that משה had disappeared. As a way to fulfill their apparent need for physical worship as well as being מכפר for this חטא, G-d commanded בני ישראל to build the משכן. The Tabernacle, called the משכן העדות, was a symbol to the Jewish People that even though they had sinned, G-d gave them a second chance to do תשובה and reach an even highest level of connection than before. Furthermore, we see in the first רש”י of פרשת פקודי that the תורה’s usage of משכן העדות in “”אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי מֹשֶׁה (ל”ח:כ”א) teaches us that the עדות is testimony to Israel that G-d had forgiven them for the חטא העגל since His שכינה dwells in their midst again. So, we see that the משכן, according to רש”י, was not ideally necessary, but since בנ”י did need to build it, they were able to reach higher levels of connection to G-d, and were eventually forgiven for חטא העגל through it.

This week’s הפטרה, which appropriately tells us the story of the construction of the בית ראשון under the auspices of שלמה המלך, ends with very interesting warning:

“הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בֹנֶה אִם תֵּלֵךְ בְּחֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשֶׂה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתַי לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת דְּבָרִי אִתָּךְ אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל דָּוִד אָבִיךָ. וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב אֶת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל

This house which you’ve built, if you do my commandments and follow my laws and fulfill that which I’ve told to David your father, I will dwell amongst Bnai Yisrael and I will not leave my nation Israel”

(מלכים א’ ו’:י”ב-י”ג)

G-d warns שלמה המלך that the בית המקדש will only stay around while the people keep the מצות and משפטים. This ended up being fulfilled as both that בית המקדש and the one afterwards were destroyed because of their lack of commitment to the practice of מצות and their negative attitude towards each other. Furthermore, before the destruction, people used to justify their sins, believing that the עבודה in the בית המקדש would protect them from retribution. ירמיהו הנביא in one of his first prophecies from G-d, answers this practice:

“כֹּה אָמַר יְיָ צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵיטִיבוּ דַרְכֵיכֶם וּמַעַלְלֵיכֶם וַאֲשַׁכְּנָה אֶתְכֶם בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה. אַל תִּבְטְחוּ לָכֶם אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַשֶּׁקֶר לֵאמֹר הֵיכַל יְיָ הֵיכַל יְיָ הֵיכַל יְיָ הֵמָּה

So says G-d: Israel! Improve your ways and you will dwell in this place. Don’t feel wrongly secure [believing that you will be safe] because “To the Halls of G-d I go” (ירמיהו ז’:ג’-ד’).

The נבואה continues by saying that if the Jewish People change their ways and start serving G-d properly: “וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לַאֲבוֹתֵיכֶם לְמִן עוֹלָם וְעַד עוֹלָם- I let you dwell here in the land that I gave your forefathers forever.” The prophecy concludes with a list of בין אדם לחבירו issues that the Jews of that time needed to improve in. This prophecy teaches us that there is more to the Jewish People’s spiritual standing than just having the בית המקדש- we also need to behave properly to deserve to merit living in the land. For the Jewish Nation to be at its highest state, we must keep the מצות and treat each other with respect, even if there is no מקדש, otherwise we will lose the “וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי ” and we will lose ארץ ישראל.

The structure of the word וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי  very interestingly parallels a crucial פסוק in our פרשה- “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם.” I think we can learn a very important lesson from this textual connection for our times. In order for the Jewish Nation to earn the Third Bet Hamikdash and return G-d’s שכינה/presence to dwell in the land (“ועשו… ושכנתי”), we must first earn our own dwelling in the land (“וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי”) even before we earn the Third Bet Hamikdash. While we of course must be committed to שמירת התורה all the time, we also need to focus on our בין אדם לחבירו in order to merit our continued dwelling in the land and eventually merit to have השם’s שכינה among us. Unfortunately, there are many Jews who emphasize the שמירת המצות while downplaying the בין אדם לחבירו by pushing their standards of Shemirat Hamitzvot on others and alienating them in the process. I believe that they must learn a lesson from ירמיהו’s prophecy; that we must make sure to focus on national unity and interpersonal relationships as we work to bring the גאולה through our בין אדם למקום, and through this increased sensitivity, we will hopefully bring about the final fulfillment of “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” and a higher level of Jewish unity very soon. Shabbat Shalom.