“Vaʼasuli mikdash vʼshachanti bʼtocham” God tells Moses to tell the people to “Make Me a Sanctuary so I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8) For many commentators, what happened at Sinai was like God and Israel getting married – choosing each other, being consecrated, forever bound to each other. Well, what’s next for the newly-married?
Welcome to the Home Depot section of the Torah. For you engineers and do-it-yourself-ers, you should have lots of fun for the next couple of weeks, because itʼs allabout building a Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The parasha Terumah is a highly detailed description of the measurements and materials that must go into building the Tabernacle, which will be where God lives. Like any new home-owner, God has a very clear idea of what that home will look like, all the conveniences, decorations, and where everything will go.
“Vʼshachanti”, and I will dwell. The word is connected to the word “Mishkan”, the place where God will live amongst the people. Talk about improving the neighborhood! The commentators each have a take on what this “sanctuary” is all about. For Rashi, it’s a place that is connected to teshuva (return, repentance) for the sins of the people. No way, says Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th c Spain), the sanctuary is simply a physical place for the “Shechina” to dwell in. (catch the connection between shechina, v’shachanti, and mishkan?…all the same root word) Ramban says that Israel became a holy people back at Sinai, and a holy people needs a holy place, no more complicated than that.
For something completely different, Sforno, (16th c. Italian Renaissance man) thinks all the directions and details parallel Creation itself, and indeed, there are a lot of “Genesis” words in this section – decorations come in sixes, like the days of Creation, for example, and furniture is designed with sevens (Shabbat). The Mishkan opens to the East, where the light begins, as in “let there be light..” And there are others. But I digress.
Back to the Shechina. It’s a beautiful word, shechina. To the Kabbalists, Shechina is the feminine aspect of God. In the Kabbalistic layout of God’s spheres, the emanations that connect the earth to the heavens, Shechina is the one closest to us mortals. Shechina is the one that shows up in the Friday night prayers, welcoming Shabbat , bridging the worlds through Shechina. She is the Sabbath bride Herself. But the Shechina doesn’t get a permanent home.
The Mishkan was meant to be portable; it was designed to be set up when the Israelites camped, and taken down when they moved on. The Israelites moved around for 40 years, and the Shechina moved right along with them. Each time they set up in a new neighborhood (Hebrew: sh’chuna..surprise! those two words are connected, too), there was a place for a little bit of the Sinai experience to set up camp, too. The experience moved when the people moved.
The mountain didn’t move. The mountain didn’t become the focus. The Israelites didn’t stay at the base of the mountain, and nowadays, we don’t even know for sure where it is. The mountain itself isn’t as important as what happened there, and in an astounding display of humilty, God left the mountain and traveled around with the people, instead of making the people stay where God was.
“Make Me a sanctuary”…make Me a place….make a space for Me…make space….make room in your neighborhood, clear out some stuff in your own life and make some holy time and space for that little bit of Shechina to dwell. God Herself is knocking on the door, saying, “Make room for Me.” The neighborhood’s picking up.