Is G-d in your heart, is He at least in your mind, or is He only in your deeds? A tabernacle can be built by deeds, but the most important tabernacle is built in the heart.
When G-d instructed Moshe to build the Tabernacle, the Jewish people contributed more materials than necessary. When Moshe saw that there was extra, he asked G-d what to do with it. G-d replied, use it to build a tabernacle of testimony. After the tabernacle was built and Moses gave his accounting, he opened with, “This is the accounting of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of testimony.” By this he meant to say, I used the materials for the physical tabernacle, and I used the extras for the tabernacle of testimony.
What is a tabernacle of testimony and if Moses used the extra materials to build it, why did he not provide an accounting of those materials?
The answer comes to us from a curious passage in our Parshah. When describing the collection of materials, the Torah states that there was just enough and there was extra.. How can both be true, was there just enough, or was there extra?
Intensity of Emotion
The Chassidic Masters offered a deep insight that answers our question and explains the Midrashic tale too. The Jewish people brought two kinds of contributions. The physical items and the love, devotion, ecstasy, and joy that came with it.
Imagine if G-d wanted to build a home and asked you to contribute the materials. Would you not melt in ecstasy and dance for joy at the historical opportunity and sacred privilege? Of course, you would. Every gift would be laced with scalding tears of joy. Every item would be lathered with humble gratitude. Every object would be buoyed with bursting joy. A smile would be plastered to your lips, a bounce would be unceasing in your step, a sparkle would be bright in your eye, and patent joy would be palpable in the beat of your heart.
My pen is too shallow to capture the grandeur and convey the intensity of emotions that would grip you at that moment. And yet, whatever rapture we might imagine, whatever glow we could envision, would be a shallow description of what our ancestors felt when they contributed to the tabernacle. Here they were, a nation of former sinners, forgiven for worshipping the golden calf and offered the opportunity to make amends. To use their gold to build a home for G-d.
The physical donations went to build the physical tabernacle. The emotional and spiritual intensity endowed the physical tabernacle with sanctity. It rendered it not just a home, but a sacred home for G-d. Moses saw the physical donations and knew that there was just enough. But he saw the spiritual devotions and he knew that there was more than enough.
This explains the curious passage in our parshah. There was enough and there was extra. There was just enough physical material, but the spiritual endowment was much more than enough. The tabernacle did not require such intensity, a more moderate amount would also suffice.
So, Moses asked G-d what to with the extras. G-d instructed Moses to build a tabernacle of testimony with the additional spiritual endowment. Testimony refers to the Torah, which is the book of testimony between G-d and the Jewish people. The Talmud teaches that after the destruction of the Temple, G-d made His home in the houses of Torah study. These houses are today’s Holy of Holies—G-d dwells wherever the Torah is studied.
The Spiritual Tabernacle
When we study the Torah, we create a tabernacle of testimony—a tabernacle of Torah. But how does our Torah create a home for G-d? Because the original home for G-d was not only a physical home, it was also a spiritual home. It was built not only with metal and wood, but also with love and tears, with dedication and heart. When Moses built the physical home for G-d, He directed all the additional spiritual intensity to the Torah that we would study across the generations.
Although we don’t muster the same kind of intensity that our ancestors brought to their contributions, we can piggyback on their intensity. It is for this reason that our sages tell us that the study of Torah is the equivalent of bringing an offering in the Temple. The offering was not merely a physical animal or bird. It was the love and connection engendered between G-d and the Jewish people. That connection is eternal, and it is reignited when we study it.
When we study passages that describe the building of the Tabernacle, we build a spiritual tabernacle in our heart and soul. Some of the love and dedication that our ancestors invested into the physical tabernacle, merges with our Torah study to create a tabernacle in our heart.
This is what Moses meant when he proclaimed that he used the contributed materials to build the physical tabernacle and the extras to build the tabernacle of testimony. There weren’t any extra physical contributions. But there were plenty of extra spiritual contributions and those went to create the spiritual tabernacles in the hearts of Jews across the generations.
Moses never gave an accounting of the tabernacle of testimony because it never ceases to be built. Every time we study a page of the Torah, every time we learn about an offering, every time we pray to G-d, every time we perform a Mitzvah, our thoughts, words, and actions are endowed with the love and intensity that our ancestors poured into their tabernacle.
There is only one caveat. We must study with heart—with the intention of building a tabernacle for G-d. It is not enough to read the passages that describe the building of the Tabernacle. We must also visualize the power of our words and realize that we are building a new one as we speak. It is not sufficient to perform good deeds, it is critical that we perform them with heart—with the intention of building a new tabernacle, a new connection with G-d.
Our intentions and emotions pale compared to those of our ancestors on that fateful day, but that hardly matters. Once we endow our thoughts, words, and action with spiritual intention, we open the door to the flood of spirituality that lay in wait since the tabernacle was built.
The day will come when our efforts will bear fruit and the millions of spiritual tabernacles built over the years in the hearts and souls of the Jewish people will coalesce into a single grand building. The third Bet Hamikdash that will descend in all its glory with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days, Amen.