The “Mishkan – the Tabernacle (‘sanctuary’) ” on earth was intended to parallel on a human scale God’s creation of the world. God commanded in the Torah: “And let them make Me a tabernacle, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8) Immediately, He added: “According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the dwelling…” (verse 9) Was it humanly possible to tackle such an auspicious project? Could human beings create something worthy of God? This question apparently loomed large in the minds of the sages contemplating this week’s parasha.
The juxtaposition of these two verses prompted some serious contemplation on the efficacy of this project as we see in the following midrash: “Rabbi Yehoshua of Siknin taught in the name of Rabbi Levi that when the Holy One said to Moshe: “Make Me a Tabernacle,” Moshe could have brought four poles and stretched skins over them to form the Sanctuary. Rather, [since he did not do so], we may infer from the verse which followed this command that while Moses was on High, the Holy One showed him red fire, green fire, black fire, white fire, and said to him: Make the Tabernacle for Me [in these fiery colors]. Moses asked the Holy One: Master of Worlds, where am I to get red fire, green fire, black fire, and white fire? The Holy One replied: “According to all that I show you on the Mount (Exod. 25:40).”
In this midrash, the sages waver over the nature of this project. Should it be built on a purely human scale or should it manifest “divine glory” and if it should be built on a divine scale, is it possible for human beings to do so? The sages answer this quandary with a parable:
Rabbi Berechiah in the name of Rabbi Levi answered [in a parable about] a king who appeared before his attendant in a garment covered entirely with precious stones. The king said to the attendant: “Make me a garment just like this.” The attendant replied: “My lord king, how can I make a garment covered entirely with precious stones? Where will I get the stones to make it?” The king replied: “Make it with the materials you have, and I will still reign in my glory.”
[After telling the parable, Rabbi Berechiah explained its meaning:] So too, the Holy One said to Moshe: If you pattern the Tabernacle here below after the one in heaven above, I will leave My heavenly counselors, come down, and so shrink My presence as to fit into your midst below. Even as Seraphim stand (Isa. 6:2) above, so the Tabernacle’s boards of shittim cedars stand (Exod. 26:15) here below. Even as the stars are above, so the Tabernacle’s clasps are here below, a parallel which proves, according to R. Hiyya bar Abba, that the Tabernacle’s golden clasps looked like stars fixed in the firmament.” (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 1:3 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 7-8)
God does not expect us to do what we cannot do. He does expect us to do the best we can using the tools He gives us to shape our lives and the world. Hopefully, in doing so, we can create a world worthy of God comporting with us.