"... of every man whose heart is willing..."
From the grandeur of the Mount Sinai revelation and the emphatic pledge of the Israelites, "We will do and we will obey" (Your commandments), G-d's approach to the children of Israel in the opening verses of parashat Terumah seems much more modest:
"'Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart is willing, you will take My offering'" (Exodus 25:2). And for what exactly is G-d trying to "raise funds?" For nothing less than a home for Himself: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell amongst them." (ibid 25:8)
Midrash teaches us that G-d's chief desire is to dwell in this world, the world which He created. If this is the case, then why does He allow the implementation of this desire, (the building of the Tabernacle), to be contingent upon the willingness of the hearts of man? Surely, G-d, who witnessed the generations of the flood and the tower of Bavel was not so naive concerning the inclinations of the descendants of Adam?
Continuing to read from Exodus 25 we see that G-d's faith in the Israelites was well founded. Each and every Israelite man and woman opened their hearts and became part of the Tabernacle. Not only did they donate the raw materials, and give of their time and skills in order to construct the Tabernacle, but they gave of themselves in order to become part of the function of the Tabernacle: to provide a place on earth for G-d's presence to dwell. And this end was anticipated in the very words of G-d: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell amongst them." (ibid) Amongst them! Not within the four walls of the Tabernacle, but within the G-d seeking chambers of their giving hearts!
The riddle is solved. G-d placed His desire to dwell amongst His creation dependent upon the hearts of His children because it was within those very hearts that He truly wished to dwell! But what about the Tabernacle itself? Was it all just a ruse? What about the beams of wood and the goat skin coverings? The silver sockets and the brass hooks? What is the purpose of the Tabernacle?
By attaching themselves to the Tabernacle through its construction, and later, through the service of the Tabernacle, the children of Israel became individual extensions of the Tabernacle. But no individual or individuals can replace the Tabernacle itself, which is the collective heart of the nation. When the hearts of the people are directed as one toward G-d, then His presence pulses through all of the people. G-d is the heart of the Jewish nation. This heart resides in the Tabernacle.
Torah goes to great lengths to describe the construction of the Tabernacle and how it functioned as a traveling sanctuary in the desert. If so much of the architectural detail of the Tabernacle is geared toward providing mobility, why then, is the Holy Temple, which has superseded the Tabernacle, associated with a single specific and immovable location? What has changed?
The generation of the desert was unique in many ways: they were nourished by the manna and the well of Miriam followed them throughout the wilderness. Their clothes never wore thin and the cloud of glory protected them. Once they entered the land of Israel, however, all this changed, and eventually, so did the outward nature of G-d's sanctuary, from the mobility of the Tabernacle to the fixed permanence of the Holy Temple. What hasn't changed is the abiding message of the House of G-d: all who find it in their hearts to attach themselves to the G-d of Israel become an integral part of fulfilling His desire to dwell here on earth, amongst His children.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the timeless commandment to "make for Me a sanctuary," the urgency of this commandment today, and the spiritual revolution that is taking place among the nations as Righteous Gentiles find their way to Torah and seek their places in His plan for humanity.
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