After reading at the end of last week’s סדרה, where משה goes up to הר סיני to receive the מצות from G-d, פרשת תרומה opens with some of the מצות that G-d passed on to משה during this period. 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, going into special detail for each small part of the structure. The question we must ask is why did G-d open His 960 hour pow-wow with Moshe with a discussion of 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 as 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, arguably the highest moment in Jewish history. 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 connection 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 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 of 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 atoning for this sin, 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 Torah’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 returned to dwell in their midst again. So, we see that the משכן, according to Rashi, was not ideally necessary, but since the Jewish People 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 strong 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 perform 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 Bet Hamikdash and the immediately succeeding it were destroyed because of the respective generation’s lack of commitment to the practice of מצות and their negative attitude towards each other. Furthermore, before the destruction, Jews 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 ה’ צְבָאוֹת אלקי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵיטִיבוּ דַרְכֵיכֶם וּמַעַלְלֵיכֶם וַאֲשַׁכְּנָה אֶתְכֶם בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה. אַל תִּבְטְחוּ לָכֶם אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַשֶּׁקֶר לֵאמֹר הֵיכַל ה’ הֵיכַל ה’ הֵיכַל ה’ 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 Bet Hamkidash- 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, G-d Forbid, maybe even Eretz Yisrael.
The structure of the word וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי very interestingly parallels a crucial פסוק in Teruma: “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם.” I think we can learn a very important lesson from this textual connection for our times. In order for our generation of Jews to earn the Third Bet Hamikdash and return G-d’s שכינה to dwell in the land (“ועשו… ושכנתי”), we must first earn our own dwelling in the land (“וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי”) even before we build the Third Bet Hamikdash. While we must be committed to שמירת התורה at all times, it behooves us to focus on the practical measures of coming to dwell in Eretz Yisrael. It would not be particularly reasonable to ask and pray for G-d’s divine presence to return to Jerusalem and dwell in the Third Bet Hamikdash when some of us have not yet made our own way there. Unfortunately, there are many Jews who emphasize the observance of other מצות while downplaying the all-important command of ישוב הארץ, continuing to ask G-d to return His presence to Zion without any concrete plans of returning themselves. I believe that they must learn a lesson from Yirmiyahu’s prophecy; not to forget the importance of “וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי,” and balancing this with “ושכנתי.” Through this increased השתדלות and sensitivity, we will hopefully bring about the third and final fulfillment of “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” and the ever-anticipated גאולה . Shabbat Shalom.