Ok, maybe you’re not as excited as Moses would be – he’s been dealing with this project for the better part of fifteen chapters. And it’s odd to think that, just as the project ends, and Moses surveys his work and decides it’s acceptable, the people are ready to take it down , pack it up and move it to the next destination.
Only not yet. First, like the honored inhabitant of a newly-built abode, God has to try it out. “…the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34) This image of a cloud (anan) intrigued the commentators, and they picked up on some interesting parallel language in Genesis.
Each time God finished a day’s work, God looked it over and saw that it was good; that is, until God got to the sixth day. (Bear with the transliteration because you have to see the parallel Hebrew language.).
“Va’yichal Elohim bayom ha-shvi-I m’lachto…” And when God finished the work God had been doing…” (Genesis 2:2)
“Va’yichal Moshe et m’lacha…” And when Moses finished the work…” (Ex 40:33)
Coincidence? I think not. Back at Creation, God’s actions followed a specifically ordered description (Day One, Day Two, etc.) and pretty detailed listing of what was there (creepy crawlies, fishes and birds, etc.). The book of Exodus has been mind-numbingly detailed about the building of the Mishkan, instructions, inventory, materials and furniture, all in a very specific order of what to build first.
So what do we make of this parallel? First, humanity in general, and then Israel in particular begin the next stages of their journeys. Adam and Eve had to build an entire world, but they had to leave Eden first. Moses and the people are coming to the end of their wanderings, but first they have to learn more about how to be a holy community, because God is pretty clear about this (“You shall be holy because I am holy.”). They’re not ready yet. This time in the wilderness has been pretty much “quality time” with God – it’s just been God and the people, though God knows (!) they’ve had their ups and downs. Just like in Eden, in fact.
Now, as we begin the next book, Vayikra, (Leviticus) we learn how to be that holy community. We got glimpses of what a holy community is in Exodus, as we learned how to treat people, and to be aware of being strangers, because we were strangers in Egypt. But there’s so much more to learn! What do we eat, if it’s not manna? How do we build families? How exactly do we get closer to God when we need to, and what do we do if we mess up, because after all, Moses isn’t going to live forever, you know.
Stay tuned for Leviticus.