This Shabbos, we will complete the reading of the Book of Exodus. It closes with the erection of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the structure that housed the Holy Ark and provided the focal point for the spiritual life of our people during our travels in the desert. (It was here that offerings were brought, and it was here that G-d spoke to Moshe to command him in leading, and instructing, the Jewish people.)
Or, rather, the book closes with the "descent" of G-d's radiant presence onto the Mishkan, such that G-d's closeness (and the reality of the spiritual) could be perceived with unmatched clarity in that place. "The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle...For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Tabernacle by day, and fire would be on it at night, before the eyes of the Children of Israel throughout their journeys. "
One may wonder why the Book of Exodus, whose central motif is the enslavement and subsequent redemption of the Jewish people, does not close immediately after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Once the "exodus" is complete, this book should end...and the book of Leviticus, which anyway will discuss the details of the divine service performed in the Mishkan, can start off with its actual construction. Granted that the Mishkan is important, and even that (as our Sages tell us) its component parts embody profound kabbalistic wisdom. But what is it doing here, in the Book of Exodus? What's the connection between the Tabernacle and the Exodus?
I'm not sure what kind of answer I myself could offer. It's a good thing that one of our very greatest Torah commentators, Ramban (Nachmanidies), weighs in with one. Here's what he says.
The building of the Mishkan is not unrelated to the redemption from Egypt. On the contrary, it is its very culmination.
"Now the exile was not completed until the day they...were restored to the
"Redemption" signifies a restoration from "exile," which itself refers to a concealment of the Divine Presence. Redemption not only implies a revelation of the glory of G-d, and of His control over all earthly affairs, but also the ongoing ability of the Jewish people (and the rest of humanity) to maintain that lofty level of spiritual insight. This is why the redemption from Egypt was only complete when the Mishkan--a physical structure which became the vehicle for the ongoing "revelation" of G-d's greatness and glory--was finished.
What's more, the Mishkan represented the possibility--the living reality-- of teshuva (repentance), for the sin of the Golden Calf had caused a serious breach in G-d's relationship to the Jewish people. Our zealous dedication to the construction of the Mishkan, according to every detail that Hashem had commanded Moshe, signaled "the moral rehabilitation of the nation" (Munk, Call of the Torah). The Cloud of Glory resting on the Mishkan signaled G-d's forgiveness.
As the Midrash states, the reason the Torah calls the Mishkan the "Tabernacle of Testimony" (mishkan ha'edus) is that it "is a testimony to the whole world that there is forgiveness for Israel."
Now, in our time, we lack the physical structure of the Mishkan (or the Temple). But we do have another "structure," another means in the physical world to access the Divine Presence--albeit in a somewhat less palpable way as in earlier times. (After all, we do remain in a state of Exile, following the destruction of the Second Temple.)
This structure is comprised of the Torah's mitzvos (commandments), actions that we perform down here that connect us to G-d...and that bring His holiness into our lives. How do mitzvos accomplish this? The
S'fas Emes gives an explanation of the mechanism involved in this "trans-dimensional" process. Every mitzvah, he writes, represents an acceptance of G-d's Kingship (for, implicitly, we are doing the commandment in obedience to a Commander-in-Chief). Therefore, each one is a testimony that we have dedicated ourselves to do the will of Our Father and King. In response to this testimony that we Jews effect by keeping the mitzvos, Hashem causes His Presence to "dwell" [shachan, related to the word, mishkan-which means, "dwelling"] on our mitzvos.
Make no mistake. G-d doesn't need this world to be His home...though He greatly desires it to be (which is why He created it in the first place). We, on the other hand, desperately need this world to be His home...though we don't always seem to desire it.
May we come to see ourselves as builders in this world, builders of magnificent moral and spiritual edifices, with the mitzvos as our bricks. We can then look forward (more and more) to Hashem truly making His home among us.
My new e-mail address is email@example.com
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
Produced and distributed by the Ben Portman Computer facilities of the Savannah Kollel.
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be implied or taken by the OU.