Why Did God Give B’nai Yisrael the Mishkan in the Desert?
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) were destined to exist only in the Land of Israel. Each time that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jewish people went out to exile, synagogues were built in the Diaspora, but they were not substitutes for the Beit HaMikdash. If this is the case, then how did God allow the Mishkan to exist in the wilderness for 39 years, from the time that it was dedicated until B’nai Yisrael entered the Land of Israel?
We see in Parshat Truma, Shmot 25:8 that God decided not to wait until B’nai Yisrael arrived in the Land of Israel. Rather, He instructed them to build the Mishkan, a traveling Mikdash (Sanctuary) already in the wilderness: “They shall make a Mikdash for Me, and I will then dwell in their midst.”
The Talmud, Ketubot 62b brings a parable of why God decided to instruct B’nai Yisrael to build the Mishkan in the desert immediately after they received the Torah:
Rebbi went to arrange a match for his son in the house of Rabbi Yose ben Zimra. They agreed to give the groom 12 years in between Kiddushin (engagement) and Nisuin (marriage) so that he could go to study in the Torah academy. However, when the groom saw the bride, he said, “Let the engagement be six years.” When the groom saw the bride a second time, he said to them, “Let me first bring her under the chupa (get married) and then I will go study.” He was a little bit embarrassed in front of his father that he wanted to get married right away. His father said to him, “My son, the mind of your Maker is within you. Originally it is written (Shmot 15:17) “You will bring them (to the Land of Israel) and implant them on the mountain of Your inheritance, the foundation of your dwelling place…” But in the end it is written (Shmot 25:8): “They shall make a Mikdash for Me, and I will then dwell in their midst.”
Rashi explains that in the end, God decided that B’nai Yisrael would build a temporary Tabernacle (the Mishkan) in the desert, before they entered the Land of Israel.
The Revelation at Mount Sinai is often compared to an engagement as it established the bond between God and B’nai Yisrael through the Torah. The resting of the Shechina (Divine Presence) in the Temple is like Nisuin when the bride and groom begin to live together. According to Maharsha, out of God’s love for B’nai Yisrael and inspired by their acceptance of the Torah, God decided to dwell among them earlier than He had planned.
Rashi points out that Rebbi’s son acted in a similar way. Although he originally intended to study for 12 years between the engagement and the wedding, he loved his fiancee so much that he decided to get married first and study later.
Although the Beit HaMikdash will never reside outside of the Land of Israel, God made an exception for the Mishkan due to His love for B’nai Yisrael.
May we merit that the Third Temple be built in Jerusalem speedily in our days and may the Shechina once again dwell in our midst.