And then, G-d will build His own house

When you love somebody you want them near you. The more you love them, the closer you want them to be.

G-d programmed us to crave physical proximity to our loved ones. How many movies have the immigrant parent cry to his adult child, “Why you leave me!”

The Torah portion of the week says, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

The commandment came after Mount Sinai, when G-d put on the greatest sound and light show as He gave the Torah to the Jewish people. After that, what was G-d to do — walk away? That is not the way of a loving G-d. Instead, He asked to live among the Jews.

His structure would be marginal — 30×10 cubits, or about 75 square meters, today regarded as an average apartment. The roof was a tent of animal skins, the walls made of wood and held together like Lego. There would be no cement, no steel, no nails. The tabernacle would be designed for mobility. It could taken apart quickly to accompany the Jews as they moved through the desert.

The Midrash explains that G-d was frank with His people: “I can’t leave you,” He said. “So, I ask that wherever you go, prepare Me a small house for Me to live near you….Make Me a temple so I won’t be stuck outside.”

Every Jew was commanded to contribute to the house. Obtaining gold, silver and copper would be no problem. The Jews brought out vast treasures from Egypt. In the desert, G-d rained precious stones among the manna. The divine rule was G-d would bestow on the Jews. But they had to give as well. Warm words were not enough. Action was required.

The Jews could not evade their obligation by finding other donors. They could not accept contributions from gentiles. This house was not meant for them.

There were two forms of contributions. One was compulsory and consisted of half a silver shekel, given annually. Adult men were the subject of this command.

The other contribution was meant for the construction of the tabernacle, a one-time donation. G-d did not specify an amount. Anybody, including children, could donate. But anything given had to come from the heart. Nobody would be left out, regardless of his spiritual state. This would mark G-d’s relationship with the Jews — based on mercy rather than the letter of the law.

“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”

G-d’s house was a means for Jews to welcome their Maker. Many of the vessels in the tabernacle were made of or covered with gold. The menorah was shaped from a block of gold. G-d didn’t need the metal. But he sought to encourage the Jews to contribute with what they regarded as valuable. The lesson was that the most desired material element could also be used for a spiritual purpose. In other words, everything that G-d gives contains true value.

In contrast, the outer altar in the tabernacle courtyard was made of copper. This is the most mundane of metals, a reminder that modesty marks the key to atonement.

Moses would visit the tabernacle on a regular basis to receive the divine word and relay it to the Jewish people. He was unsure of how much to share with his flock. After all, many of them had witnessed the golden calf and were now tainted with sin. Were they ready to participate in G-d’s house? G-d was confident that the Jews would rise to the occasion. They are the children of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and your words, Moses, will spur them to do the right thing.

The tabernacle was the smallest edifice built for G-d. The axiom in Jewish history was the holier the people, the smaller the temple. The first temple was not much bigger than the tabernacle. The second temple also started out small. But when Herod seized power and killed all the rabbis, he decided he needed legitimacy and built a structure that the Talmud says marked unprecedented beauty. Still, Herod’s temple was corrupt, its administrators venal. The divine presence was gone. When the Romans invaded Jerusalem, they made sure to obliterate the temple.

For nearly 2,000 years, there has not been a temple. Even Jewish sovereignty failed to lead to any serious consideration to recreate such a structure. Regardless of the viewpoint, there appears to be a consensus that the time is not ripe. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev says G-d is searching for our love, that inner core that wants to cling to our Maker. It is this love that will want us to serve G-d.

And then, G-d will build His own house.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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