I sometimes dream of building a small home in the Catskills and one of my favorite ways to waste time is to peruse building plans on the internet – all of which promise a straightforward and easy build process.
This week’s parshah, Terumah, discusses the building of the Mishkan wherein we receive exacting detail about how to construct, not only the structure of the Mishkan, but also many of the objects inside it. The specificity relayed in the parshah certainly gives me pause about building a house or even just managing the project.
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)
Or HaChaim, an 18th century commentary originating in Morocco, understands this verse to mean that God will dwell within the children of Israel who encircle the Tabernacle with four banners. These four banners bring to mind the image of a chuppah and the marriage of God and B’nai Israel is a fitting metaphor.
An important message is that to receive God’s divine presence, in this case the Shechinah, the comforting and protective manifestation of God, the people must gather together, themselves creating a sacred container through the community they build.
A few verses later, we receive instructions on how to build the ark:
וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתוֹ זָהָב טָהוֹר מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ תְּצַפֶּנּוּ וְעָשִׂיתָ עָלָיו זֵר זָהָב סָבִיב׃
Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out—and make upon it a gold molding round about. (Exodus: 25:11)
Our sages ask why is it necessary to overlay even the inside with gold as no one will see it. In order to teach that our internal thoughts and intensions, should align with our external actions. Then and only then do we make ourselves a sanctuary.
And just as the four banners in the Mishkan represent a Chuppah, so too, they represent the corners of our tallit. The corners that we gather together when we say Shema. The liturgy teaches that when we gather our tallit it symbolizes gathering Jews from the four corners of the earth. However, in actuality we gather the tallis around ourselves. In so doing, we make of ourselves an ark to hold the Divine covenant and the Divine presence.
Some say that the Mishkan below reflects the Mishkan above in heaven.
So this parshah, which at first glance seems to be a far too detailed blueprint, actually works on many different levels. As such, it teaches that every individual has the potential to be a holy ark, and together in community, we can build a sacred place—one that, though it requires work, has the potential to mirror the sacred workings above.