The detailed description of the dimensions and materials of the mishkan/tabernacle as listed in this week’s parsha must contain great cosmic, if murkily unknown importance. The question of the purpose of these myriad details being included in the Torah has been asked by all students of the Torah over the ages. While the answers advanced have also been many, few of them have been truly satisfactory. The matter remains a mystery.
It is an example of the continuing inscrutability of the Creator and the finite and limited ability of His creatures to divine His methods and instructions. And perhaps this itself is the greatest and strongest message of the parsha. God does not need structures to be built to His service. The words of the prophets of Israel make this point abundantly clear. Yet somehow the building and its exact method of construction and its size and dimensions are part of the service of Israel to its God.
The very mystery of it, the difficulty of human rational logic to encompass and understand the entire subject, is the object lesson of the parsha. Humankind has always attempted to create gods in its own image – to have a human god that we can somehow recognize and deal with.
However the Torah states that the opposite is true – humans were created in the image of God, so to speak, and throughout life and the ages, the quest to reach and understand that image has been the focal point of human history and existence. God will soon tell Moshe that no human being can “see” Him and remain alive. The mystery of the mishkan/tabernacle is part of that quest to “see” Him and understand our relationship to the Creator.
The mishkan/tabernacle also illustrates the partnership, so to speak, between God, Israel and humankind generally. The mishkan/tabernacle required human effort and resources. People had to, of their own volition, give material of great value and labor of great talent to the project. This fact alone signifies the relationship between God and Israel.
If there is a movement of goodness and spirituality on the part of us here in the lower world there will be a commensurate response in the Heavenly world above as well. The famous parable is the phrase in Psalms, that the Lord is the shadow of our right hand. When a human being moves his hand, the shadow it makes moves with it. So too do our actions and behaviors here on earth call forth a movement and response from Heaven. Thus the words of the rabbis that the Temple built below is parallel to the Temple built above in Heaven.
Therefore the dimensions and instructions given to us for building our earthly Temple are meant to allow it to match, in exactly, the Heavenly Temple that it is to mimic. This is part of the goal of humans to imitate, so to speak, their Creator in attitude, values and behavior. The mishkan/tabernacle stands as the symbol of this symbiotic relationship between Heaven and humans that is in itself the basic axiom of Judaism and Jewish life.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com