Judy Diamond
Living the Dream

Last week I stood in the holy mishkan (משכן)!!

Every year until the current one, I was completely disinterested and detached from the פרשיות (Torah portions) in the book of שמות (Exodus) focused on the משכן (Mishkan), the holy tabernacle that was built with excruciating detail after Hashem (G-d) brought the Jews out of Egypt through an array of overt/revealed miracles. The משכן, which was portable (!) served as the place where Hashem’s presence was centered. All of בני ישראל (Bnei Yisrael – people of Israel) were witness to the miracles, and the משכן accompanied them during the 40 years they wandered in the desert on their way to ארץ ישראל (Land of Israel). Rambam goes as far as to say that the Jewish people did not become a nation until the משכן was built, meaning it was more instrumental in turning a horde of ex-slaves into a unique people ready to accept the Torah, than יציאת מצרעים (exodus from Egypt) and קריעת ים סוף (splitting of the red sea). And strangely, while the entire creation in Genesis is described in little more than forty verses, the details of building the Mishkan take up more than four hundred verses across five פרשיות. Yet . . . my eyes would always gloss over those verses as I struggled to understand how the Mishkan was relevant to any aspect of my current life.

This year, however, as I studied the weekly Parsha, I suddenly became interested — some might say “obsessed” — with all things Mishkan. Here are some of the things I learned and have been musing over since:

The first mention of the Mishkan is found at the beginning of Parshat Terumah (פרשת תרומה), where Hashem instructs Moses to speak to Bnei Yisrael asking each person who is motivated, to bring gold, silver, copper, wool in turquoise, purple and scarlet, linen and goat hair, red-dyed ram skins, acacia wood, oil, spices and aromatic incense, stones, ram skins, etc. And then Hashem continues: “וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם – They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them.” The rest of Terumah is a series of instructions on how to build the Mishkan and its inner vessels — like the Ark and the Menorah (this is the first time the Menorah is mentioned in Tanach) — all in exacting and minute detail. Next, Parshat Tetzaveh (פרשת תצוה) focuses on the details of how to fashion the priestly garments and breastplate, also the responsibility of the collective. Parshat Ki Tisa (פרשת כִּי תִשָּׂא)  continues with details on the washing station and how to mix the right incense and spices. Parshat Vayakhel (פרשת ויקהל) begins with Moshe assembling the entire Bnei Yisrael to emphasize the importance of Shabbat, and that Shabbat takes precedence over the building of the Mishkan. The parsha then returns to a description of how Bnei Yisrael, men and women, with their own hands and talents did the work to build the Mishkan and its inner vessels, curtains and priestly garments/breastplate. Every type of craft was needed, as it says:

32  to do master weaving, to work with gold, silver, and copper, לב  וְלַחְשֹׁ֖ב מַֽחֲשָׁבֹ֑ת לַֽעֲשׂ֛ת בַּזָּהָ֥ב וּבַכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַנְּחֽשֶׁת:
33  with the craft of stones for setting and with the craft of wood, to work with every [manner of] thoughtful work. לג  וּבַֽחֲר֥שֶׁת אֶ֛בֶן לְמַלֹּ֖את וּבַֽחֲר֣שֶׁת עֵ֑ץ לַֽעֲשׂ֖וֹת בְּכָל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת מַֽחֲשָֽׁבֶת:

and then later:

35  He (G-d) imbued them with wisdom of the heart, to do all sorts of work of a craftsman and a master worker and an embroiderer with blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen and [of] weavers, those who do every [manner of] work, and master weavers. לה  מִלֵּ֨א אֹתָ֜ם חָכְמַת־לֵ֗ב לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֘ כָּל־מְלֶ֣אכֶת חָרָ֣שׁ | וְחשֵׁב֒ וְרֹקֵ֞ם בַּתְּכֵ֣לֶת וּבָֽאַרְגָּמָ֗ן בְּתוֹלַ֧עַת הַשָּׁנִ֛י וּבַשֵּׁ֖שׁ וְאֹרֵ֑ג עֹשֵׂי֙ כָּל־מְלָאכָ֔ה וְחֽשְׁבֵ֖י מַֽחֲשָׁבֹֽת:


Vayakhel continues by saying that while this huge building/art project was happening, the people continued to bring free-willed gifts morning after morning.

This prompted Moses to announce “Let no man or woman do any more work for the offering for the Holy. So the people stopped bringing.” By the end of Parshat Pekudei (פרשת פקודי), Perek 39 לט, the entire project is finally complete and it is time to erect the Mishkan. Pekudei ends, ending the book of Shmot, with the following:

38  For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys. לח  כִּי֩ עֲנַ֨ן יְהֹוָ֤ה עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ יוֹמָ֔ם וְאֵ֕שׁ תִּֽהְיֶ֥ה לַ֖יְלָה בּ֑וֹ לְעֵינֵ֥י כָל־בֵּֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּכָל־מַסְעֵיהֶֽם:


So, here are my main takeaways:
1) The Mishkan was a (voluntary) collective project commanded by Hashem, executed by the people. The opening in Terumah וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם (And I (G-d) will dwell in them), is linguistically challenging, as it should read that Hashem would dwell in “it” — the Mishkan, of course! Instead, we can read the passage with the understanding that the partnership of Hashem and Bnei Yisrael in building the holy Mishkan, would allow Hashem to reside not in the structure the people built, but in their hearts and minds. This is a precursor to the formal covenantal relationship that would occur later with the acceptance of the Torah at הר סיני (Mount Sinai). Judaism, the first covenantal religion of its kind, was set up as a free agreement of a free people who attribute absolute sovereignty to G-d alone. This concept helped shape Western civilization as we know it today.

2) Bnei Yisrael used their hands to perform every craft and building element for the Mishkan. What? This was a group of beaten-down people who were slaves in Egypt for over 200 years. They were not attending Ivy League Art Schools or seminars in high-end fashion design, mosaics, sewing and crafting. The passage in Vayekhel saying that Hashem filled them with wisdom, talent and all the abilities they needed may at first seem fantastical. But one only has to look at the Jewish people post-Holocaust for this to fully resonate.

3) Vayakhel describes that at some point, Bnei Yisrael went overboard. Too many gifts, too many volunteers to work, and Moses has to put an end to this generosity and enthusiasm. Sound familiar? One only has to look at the very recent past since Oct 7, where Jews (and our friends/supporters) all over the world sprung into action, literally tripping over one another to organize, donate money, pray, rally, purchase and deliver supplies, clothing, gear, boots and socks for our Chayalim, visit the sick, make sandwiches, prepare shabbat meals, make shiva calls, lend an ear, offer חיזוק (strength/inspiration), toys for kids, visit בתי אבלים (homes of mourners), hotels opening their doors for the tens of thousands of the displaced, provide apartments for families to live in, run daycares for the displaced children, provide babysitting for families with husbands/fathers serving in the IDF, create Tehillim groups, make tefillin for soldiers, and on and on. I heard that many army bases had to throw out food, because there was simply too much.

4) This leads me to my final observation, which is that I’ve always had trouble believing that we — the Jewish souls alive today — were all present at הר סיני (Mount Sinai) when we accepted the Torah. But, after realizing points 2) and 3) above, I can see that we haven’t changed all that much. Our core characteristics, creativity, and abounding talents remain the same. Perhaps we are the same souls who were present at הר סיני after all.

5) While the Mishkan may have been the first collective house of worship in the history of Israel, it was not the last. Moving forward from the desert, the Mishkan was replaced by the majestic first and then second temple in Jerusalem (both destroyed by enemy conquerors) and then later by the בית כנסת (synagogue) creating Jewish communities around the world. Even the Jewish home is sometimes likened to a modern substitute of the holy Mishkan. So, while there are so-to-speak miniature satellite Mishkans around the world, the magic of the original Mishkan in its simplicity in the desert with the overt miracles and the presence of G-d felt intimately to all who were there, has never been recreated, at least to my knowledge, until nine days ago . . . . .

. . . Last week, I experienced my first ever יום הזיכרון – Yom Hazikaron טֶקֶס (ceremony) and יום העצמאות – Yom Haatzmaut event in Israel. Yom Hazikaron was perhaps one of the heaviest for the nation in decades. I went with some of my friends to a טֶקֶס hosted in English by the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center outdoors at Ammunition Hill. On that very cool, windy spring evening, the blue and white lighting against the array of heavily knotted olive and pine trees made them take on a human quality, creating a poignantly beautiful setting. The many heartfelt speakers included Efraim Abrams, a young, religious commander in Combat Engineering, an elite unit that has the job of clearing the battlefield for the army behind them, and is thus always first to enter enemy territory. He and his men were the first to enter Gaza. His entire speech, offering details from Oct. 7 onward, was delivered with a breathy, haunted voice, tinged with tears, which, even if he tried, could not hide the trauma that this young man has survived the last seven months and is still living through. He describes weeks on end with just a few hours of sleep, battle plans he and his team executed, with the knowledge that they were likely suicide missions, some instances where they saw open miracles from G-d, and the fact that he personally lost 36 close friends/fellow combat soldiers. He voiced regret that though he attended most of those funerals, he was not able to attend all of them. My entire row was in tears.

The following evening, I joined friends at Teddy Park for a concluding-Yom Hazikaron turned into Yom HaAtzmaut event, just one of the many choices like it across Jerusalem. Over a thousand people attended, and collectively we sang out loud Maariv and then a special Hallel. We had arrived early, so were one of the few groups who had secured — though in the back — a bench. Mid-way, I decided to stand on the bench for a better view. The masses of people against a backdrop of the illuminated old city walls was a visual indulgence. It is hard for me to put into words how deeply moved I was during those two hours, how the voices and the music entered my pores and my soul, expanding my heart to such a degree, it felt like it needed to fold into itself to continue fitting in my chest. It seemed as if we were all singing from the same voice, Jews, young and old, religious, non-religious all there for the same reason: אהבת ארץ ישראל ואהבת עם ישראל (love of the land of Israel and love of the people of Israel). In being part of it, my decision to build a new life for myself and my family in Israel was validated yet again. That night, I internalized more intensely that the transition from my previous life, to my current life — in my country, with my people — is quite revolutionary. And most of all, standing on that bench, viewing the large sea of people praying for better days, for peace, and for the end to suffering, I was certain I was standing in the Mishkan. The real, original holy Mishkan, the one where Hashem hovers in a cloud above during the day and in a fire burning all night, and where all of Bnei Yisrael feels G-d’s presence. I’m discovering that we Jews derive both strength and comfort in numbers. So, Diaspora Jews: Yalla, take the plunge. Come join us in Israel. Build your lives here. Let’s together bring Him closer and plead for the kind of open/revealed miracles (ניסים גלויים) we so badly need now, like the miracles He performed over 3,000 years ago when he took us out of Egypt and made us a people.

From the decimation of European Jewry to our current 0.2% of the global population, came a vastly disproportionate number of giants in every field of creative art:

  • Fashion: Levi Strauss (denim jeans, anyone?), Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein, Judith Leiber, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, Lane Bryant, Ida Cohen Rosenthal (Maidenform Bra), Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Zac Posen, Tory Burch, Ruti Zisser, Chana Marelus, Lee Petra Grebenau, Irina Shabayeva
  • Literature: Phillip Roth, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Arthur Miller, J.D. Salinger, Herman Wouk, Saul Bellow, Chaim Potok, Victor Frankl, Leon Uris, Cynthia Ozick, Will Eisner, Henry Roth, Tony Kushner, Arthur Koestler, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Michael Chabon, Isaac Babel, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, Israel Joshua Singer, Maurice Sendak, Elie Wiesel
  • Playwriting: Neil Simon, Nora Ephron, Tony Kushner, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Joseph Stein, David Auburn, David Mamet, Sir Tom Stoppard, Yasmina Reza, Harvey Fierstein
  • Movies/Acting/Directing: Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Milos Forman, Roman Polanski, Rob Reiner, Sam Mendes, Paul Newman, Oliver Stone,  Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, James Franco, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Harrison Ford, Ben Stiller, Harvey Keitel, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Lisa Kudrow, Barbara Streisand, Mel Brooks, Tony Curtis, Alan Arkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Matthew Broderick, Martin Landau, David Schwimmer, William Shatner, Jerry Lewis, Jerry Seinfeld, Leonard Nimoy, Gal Gadot, Ronit Elkabetz, Shira Haas, Ania Bukstein
  • Comedy/Acting: Groucho Marx, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Jackie Mason, Sarah Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Gilda Radner, Bette Midler, Seth Rogen, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Howard Stern
  • Art/Architecture/Photography: Marc Chagall, Chaim Goldberg, Diane Arbus, David Bomberg, Isidor Kaufmann, Huvy Elisha, Moshe Safdie, Menashe Kadishman, Annie Leibovitz
  • Music: Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Irving Berlin, Philip Glass, Leonard Cohen, Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Gene Simmons, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Naomi Shemer, Neil Diamond, Adam Levine

In sum, we are a gifted people, maybe in part because of the covenantal relationship and the active role we play in our covenant with the Divine. We are somewhat of an egalitarian religion too. The Mishkan was constructed by everyone, it belonged to everyone, and the Torah is the inheritance of everyone. Equal opportunity to succeed, I guess, and succeed, we do.


לעילוי נשמת מלכה בת חנוך

לעילוי נשמת יהודה בן יצחק

לעילוי נשמת רחל בת חנוך

לעילוי נשמת מרים בת חנוך

About the Author
Judy Diamond upended her life in the U.S. and moved to Jerusalem almost 2 years ago, fulfilling a decade-long dream. With a 30-year Wall Street career behind her, she currently works remotely in securities markets education. Writing has always been Judy's passion, a necessary way to process emotions through her life's journey. She is divorced with two young-adult children and a voracious reader. She is passionate about the Jewish people and Israel and seeks to make a meaningful impact beyond her own life. Outside of work and writing, Judy loves the outdoors, helping others, meaningful conversations, and hosting a wide variety of people for shabbat meals.
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