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(G-d said to Moses) "They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will reside amongst them." (25:8)
Rashi explains that Tabernacle was to be a structure dedicated to G-d's service. G-d's 'residing amongst them' means that the Tabernacle would facilitate the Israelites experiencing a more intense level of G-d's Presence - wherever they happened to be.
Whether the Tabernacle was a spiritual ideal for the Israelites or not is debated by the commentators. At one extreme is the S'forno, who postulates that the Sanctuary was only commanded because of Israel's lapse into the idolatry of the Golden Calf - which prevented Israelites as individuals being close enough to G-d to experience His Closeness as they did at Mount Sinai. At the other pole is the Ramban, who regards the construction of the Tabernacle as a means of making the Israelites re-experience the Revelation at Mount Sinai: making it a permanent feature of their lives. Indeed, he demonstrates the Tabernacle as both a whole and through its individual parts as being symbolic of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
However all three commentators seem to agree on one important implication. That is that the Israelites 'give to G-d' - with their energy, time, and resources - to make for Him "a sanctuary". And He reciprocates with "I will reside amongst them".
Taking this more broadly, it may be understood as follows. The Israelites make an effort in building the Tabernacle for the service of G-d. And G-d responds by making His intense presence felt at that place. He also responds to their communications: as Solomon put it in respect to the Temple "they shall pray and entreat you in this House, and in Heaven You shall hear them" (Kings I 8:33-34).
In short, the people make an effort to 'go to G-d'. And He responds, by 'going to the people'.
Later on, near the end of the directives in building the Tabernacle, He elaborates "I will reside amongst them", with "I shall rest My Presence among the Israelites, and I will be their G-d. They shall know that it is I… Who took them out of the land of Egypt… I am the Lord their G-d" (29:45-6).
The Ohr Hachayim remarks on this elaboration which culminates with the words: "I am the Lord their G-d."
'Perhaps [these words] cover a situation where He remains our G-d even when His Presence is not among us'.
Thus G-d is always with His People even if He 'hides His face' (Deut. 31:18). He remains our King, but a king is not personal - he is a monarch, a ruler, an entity who has the power of life and death over his subjects. And G-d remains King even when His People conduct themselves in ways where they would much prefer He is not looking too closely - Tabernacle / Temple or no Tabernacle / Temple. And, following the implications of the Ohr Hachayim, G-d remains with His People even when they have forfeited the privilege of His closeness through the Tabernacle, and later on, the Temple.
But when He is thus estranged from his People, G-d's relationship with them is still there, but more distant and impersonal - to the extent of His appearing not to relate to the suffering of the people. Nevertheless, He is still in the background 'watching through the windows, peering through the cracks' (Song of Songs 2:9). He sees you, you don't see Him. So He is 'their G-d' not 'our G-d'. He is our King, but not close enough to be our Father. As expressed by the Prophet, Ezekiel: 'When I disperse the Israelites, I will be to them as a "small sanctuary", wherever they reside' (Ez. 11:16).
However, this relationship is a more difficult one, as it takes efforts not only to build 'small sanctuaries' (understood by several commentators to refer to the synagogue, then a very novel concept), but it also to come away with the benefits, as explained below.
Many a person attends synagogue services regularly - weekdays very much included, but will give you a puzzled look if you ask him or her why. The response is: "well, it's what I always do. And I feel comfortable in doing it. And it wouldn't be me not to go." And as likely as not, he or she would change the subject, as you might well have brought up something that would rather not be opened and talked about.
But in fact, such people are missing out on the essential relationship. Ideally, a person makes the effort to attend services early in the morning - full working day ahead notwithstanding. He has made the effort. In response, he should feel plugged into the spiritual energy that comes with contact with the Almighty - which came in greater force by his making that effort.
That however, does not come naturally to all. It takes not only the effort in attending, but the development of spiritual sensitivity to tune into G-d in His 'small sanctuary'. And those connected with running of the small sanctuary should also contribute to this spiritual development that the synagogue stands for. They do this by enhancing the building's aesthetic qualities, cleanliness, and high quality of inspiration and guidance from its spiritual leaders. So that people do not leave the synagogue empty handed… So that they have indeed taken something away with them.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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