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   by Jacob Solomon

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They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will live amongst them (25:8).

Rashi explains that the Sanctuary was to be a structure dedicated to the service of G-d - namely the Tabernacle, whose details occupy most of the second half of Exodus. The making of the Tabernacle is in the plural - alluding to the notion that it was the Israelites as a body of people who made its construction possible, by means of their individual contributions (25:2-7).

However, the Tabernacle was to be succeeded by the Temple. And instructions for the building of the Tabernacle were given before the Israelites were sentenced to forty years' wandering in the desert. At the time of the plans, the Israelites were approaching departure from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land - directly. Though some of the vessels of the Tabernacle found their way to the Temple, the elaborate Sanctuary and courtyard of the Temple were to be succeeded by a permanent structure in Jerusalem.

Why, therefore, were the Israelites to make heavy donations from their wealth for a structure - however holy - that was to be largely temporary? Why did G-d not give Moses the details of constructing the Temple in the 'place that G-d would choose to make His Name rest'? (Deut. 12:11) In any case, (following the text in chronological order) G-d was 'with' the Israelites at the time in 'a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night' (13:22). In short, why was the task of building the Tabernacle so urgent?

Rashi's explanation signals an approach. He does not take the Hebrew word 'Li' as 'for Me' - its literal translation. G-d does not need the gold and silver. Rashi understands 'Li' as 'for My service' - for the service of G-d. That is a very different notion. The Tabernacle is a means for the Israelites to come close to G-d, enabling His living 'amongst them'.

That sets a new frame with which to view the Tabernacle. It was a means of spiritually elevating the Israelites. By their parting with their personal wealth acquired from the Egyptians, they were getting a personal stake in the Tabernacle and, most important, in its serving as a means of bringing G-d closer to the people - themselves. It was not a distant structure for the privileged, but something tangible that every contributor would see his own hand in. Each item had to be built: 'as G-d commanded Moses' (39:1) - were there insufficient raw materials, the Tabernacle would not fulfill that requirement, and become merely secular. Thus every contribution had the potential of being the deciding factor of whether the Tabernacle was spiritually functional or not. Each contributor could see that it was his donation that made the Tabernacle possible, and through it, G-d's holiness coming to the people. And a person would feel more connected to what the ideals the Tabernacle stood for if he saw himself as part of it.

It is that holiness that was to spiritually accompany the Israelites into the Promised Land, so that their holiness would convey onto the Land holiness - which, subsequently, became a process that stalled…

As my Father put it: 'Buildings are a means for an end. People are an end in themselves.'

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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