A Tedious Tabernacle?
Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )
It happens every year. Every time we open up the Torah to read Exodus, it glaringly stares us in the face. We ask ourselves: What in the world did God have in mind when writing all the intricacies and minutia of the building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan?
This section seems much more appropriate for a class in architecture rather than a Book of God's Instructions for Living! What are we to make of this portion of the Torah and how can we grow from it?
Let us first ask another question. In the beginning of Parshat Trumah (Exodus 25:1-7), God tells Moshe to collect donations from all Jews for the building materials of the Mishkan. He mentions the specific materials that they should bring such as gold, silver, copper, and turquoise wool. Why must they bring specific materials? Why isn't it enough to donate money and the Tabernacle Building Fund would go buy the materials? Why the emphasis on set items that needed to be donated as opposed to simple money?
The answer teaches us something fundamental about God's Mishkan. The Tabernacle was to be the combination of the efforts of all Jews. Each possession that we own is part and parcel of who we are. God wanted us to contribute our essence to the Mishkan, which is present in our possessions. (See "You Are What You Own").
In each bar of gold that I donate, in every piece of fabric that I give, there is a piece of who I am. I invested part of my life and energies to acquire this belonging and it is in many ways a representation of my inner being.
We all have experienced this concept through desiring to possess an athlete's jersey or baseball bat, or a celebrity's pen . Many of us love to hold on to our deceased grandparents' old books or furniture and the like, because we somehow feel that as we hang on to their possessions, we are holding on to them.
Similarly, God lists all the various ways in which the possessions that the Jews donated were used. Every single nuance, every architectural instruction is mentioned. God wants to show us how He fashioned our possessions to form one collective whole structure that manifests all Jews and their substantive qualities together.
This theme explains why the Torah spends so many verses describing the Tabernacle's construction.
Haven't we all had something we owned that we were so enamored with that we knew it so well? Some of us may have had a car that we could describe in lengthy detail down to its tail pipe. Others may have a home that they bought or are building that is so state-of-the-art they fell in love with it. They can describe every nook and cranny of the house. God feels similarly about His Mishkan. After all, it is His Home in the world. It is where He rests His Divine Presence amongst His special nation. It is no wonder that He is fascinated with every detail of the Tabernacle's construction and wants us to be as well.
But most of all, God is 'obsessed' with the Tabernacle's building and architecture because He sees in it a collective soul of the Jewish People, through the material they donated from their personal acquisitions.
This idea perhaps explains a puzzling passage in Yechezkel (43:10-11):
"Tell the House of Israel about the House (of God, i.e. the Temple) and let them be ashamed of their sins -- let them calculate the design. If they become ashamed at all that they have done, then make known to them the form of the House (Temple) and its design, its exits and entrances, and all of its structures."
How does the form and structure of the Temple connect to being ashamed of sins?
If we remind ourselves why God is so concerned with the details and minutiae of the Tabernacle and Temple, then we will be thoroughly embarrassed of our iniquities. The Tabernacle and its construction is a living testimonial to God's love for us and our essence (which is present in our possessions) that became the building material of the Mishkan. If we contemplated God's enormous love and concern for us, would it be possible to rebel and sin against Him? We would only feel ashamed of our transgressions.
What are we obsessed with? What drives us to know its minutiae? Is it the batting averages and statistics of our favorite baseball players and athletes? Or is it something more spiritual and meaningful? What kind of minutiae should we be obsessed with?
While reading Parshat Trumah, let's allow its minutiae to transform our value system in making us more spiritually detailed.