Twenty-two times the Hebrew verb asah (aleph-sin-heh – to make) appears in Exodus 25. There the verb is associated with the building of the Tabernacle that carried the Tablets of the law that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai – as described in this week’s Torah portion, Terumah.
Twenty-two is also the number of letters in the Hebrew aleph-bet that the Midrash (rabbinic commentary) regard as God’s building-blocks of creation.
Ten times does the same verb (asah) appears in Genesis 1. There it’s associated with God’s creation of the universe.
What’s the meaning of the parallel between the creation of the Tabernacle and the creation of the world?
The Mishkan (i.e. Tabernacle) was a physical manifestation of God’s presence on earth as designed and built by human hands, just as the created world (through the twenty-two letters of the aleph-bet) is an emanation of Divine thought into the creation of the universe. In each case, the same verb asah (make) appears in the Biblical text. There being nothing of coincidence in the Hebrew Bible, the rabbis concluded that there was a direct correlation between the creation of the world by God and the creation of the Mishkan by the ancient Israelites.
The Torah calls upon every Israelite to present the finest gifts in their possession in metal, gems, wood, fabric, and other materials and to offer them (“from the heart”) for the purpose of constructing the Mishkan, the most important and central religious structure in ancient Israelite life.
God commanded the Israelites: “Asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – Make for me a holy space that I may dwell ‘in them!’” (Exodus 25:8-9).
The final Hebrew word of this divine instruction, b’tocham, is curious as it refers to the one Tabernacle to be constructed but is a plural form meaning “in them.”
Commentators explain that the Tabernacle is at once a singular physical structure and that God can dwell within the hearts and souls of many human beings – hence “b’tocham – plural “in them.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught – “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 because when the heart opens to give freely…a vessel is made.”
When the people freely gave of their finest possessions to build the Mishkan, they merited the Divine Presence to dwell within each of their hearts – hence, “b’tocham.”
The portion goes on: “They shall make an ark of acacia wood, …[and] overlay it with pure gold – overlay it inside and out – and make upon it a gold molding round about.” (Exodus 25:10-11)
The specific command to overlay the inside and outside of the Tabernacle reminds me of the design-thinking of Steven Jobs who learned from his father as a boy in carpentry that the inside of a structure had to be as beautiful and finely built as the outside. Jobs made this a principle of Apple.
More than 3300 years ago the Torah promoted this very principle by specifying that both the inside and outside of the ark must be overlaid with gold.
The rabbis compared the Ark to the body of a Torah scholar just as the physical Torah that’s placed in the Ark is compared to the wisdom, insight and love attained through learning, contemplation and the performance of righteous and kind hearted deeds.
Rabba (3rd century C.E.) warned that learning Torah is never enough: “Any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside isn’t a Torah scholar.” (Yoma 72b)
Rabban Gamliel went further still when he said: “Any student whose inside is not like his outside [i.e. whose deeds are inconsistent with the most exalted spiritual truths of Torah] should not be allowed to enter the Beit Midrash (the House of Study).” (Mishnah Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 4:1)
Though Rabban Gamliel’s position was harsh, I consider his proclamation as aspirational that our goal ought to be to create a life of integrity infused with Torah learning.