Three of our greatest Jewish philosophers and scholars of early 20th century German life were Martin Buber, Franz Rozenzweig and Benno Jacob, and all noticed the parallel between the story of the Creation in the Book of Genesis and the building of the Tabernacle in the Book of Exodus, the latter of which is the focus of this week’s Torah portion, T'rumah. Here are some of those parallels:
“Thus the heaven and earth were finished and all the host of them.” (Genesis) - “Thus was finished all the work of the Tabernacle at the tent of meeting.” (Exodus)
“And God finished on the seventh day all the work of divine creation.” (Genesis) - “And Moses finished the work.” (Exodus)
“And God made the firmament.” (Genesis) - “And let them make Me a sanctuary.” (Exodus)
“And God rested on the seventh day.” (Genesis) - “And the seventh day God called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud.” (Exodus)
“And God saw everything that God had made.” (Genesis) - “And Moses saw all the work.” (Exodus)
“And God blessed the seventh day.” (Genesis) - “And Moses blessed them.” (Exodus)
Comparing verses from the narratives shines a light on the co-relation between Creation and the structure that would house the tablets of the law during the period of wandering, the Tabernacle. We soon learn the purpose of this sacred structure: “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – Make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them – lit. in them.”(Exodus 25:8)
The Kabbalah sees hints of deeper truths about the Mishkan (the in-dwelling Place of God amongst the people) using number symbolism. For example, the verb “asah - makes” appears ten times in the Genesis creation narrative, and twenty-two times in the story of the building of the Sanctuary (Exodus 25).
The number ten is commonly associated with the Ten Commandments, but also it points to the Ten Emanations (S’firot) of God in the Kabbalistic picture of the universe.
The number twenty-two are the number of letters of the Hebrew aleph bet that rabbinic tradition teaches are the basic building blocks of language and of the created world.
Adding ten and twenty-two brings us to thirty-two, (Lamed-bet – or “Lev”), meaning “heart”. In Jewish mystical literature, the “heart” is the place of intuitive wisdom, and Kaballah teaches that there are 32 pathways to wisdom, that is, to God’s own heart.
Heady stuff all! So, what does it mean for us in real-world terms?
The purpose of the Mishkan isn’t just to house God’s Name. The greater purpose is tikun (the restoration of a human life – tikun hanefesh - and the restoration of the world – tikun haolam).
During the period of wandering the Mishkan became a traveling Mt. Sinai. Eventually the structure was carried to the City of David and eventually rested above in the new Temple of Solomon. Following the destruction of both Temples, the Mishkan, holding the sacred scroll of the law, was carried into exile so that whenever Jews read Torah publicly they would be spiritually transported to Sinai again, as at the beginning when God first appeared on the mountain.
The Mishkan, therefore is the Place of God and the community’s place, of transcendence and engagement, of vision and ethical responsibility, of love, compassion, justice, truth, and peace.
Synagogues today are our Mishkenot. Each human life is a Mishkan. Our purpose, is to become a holy vessel, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav explains:
“The Divine presence is always flowing into the world, but we need an inner vessel to receive it. That’s created through the act of giving (t’rumah), because when the heart opens to give freely….a vessel is made.”
The act of giving not only sustains a community, it creates a community of like-minded people bonded together who care about the greater purposes for which we as Jews live. Building sanctuaries for the Jewish people, sustaining our fellows (Jews and everyone else as well) in all the ways that they need, supporting causes that advocate for peace, promote knowledge, education, medical care, the environment, and basic human decency, all are included in this greatest of all commandments - “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – Make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them – lit. in them.”(Exodus 25:8)