Divine Dialogue

As we ended last week’s parashah, Moshe had ascended Mount Sinai in order to receive the Tablets of Testimony – which means that we begin this week’s parashah with a simple, technical problem that must be solved: What are we to do with a gift bestowed upon us from Heaven? Where shall we place the Tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved by God’s own hand, as it were? The solution to this problem is also provided by God: He commands us to build an ark in which the Tablets will be housed – and a building to house the ark.

They shall make Me a Mikdash (Sanctuary), and I will dwell among them. You must make the Mishkan and all its furnishings following the plan that I am showing you. Make an ark of acacia wood, 2 and a half cubits long, 1 and a half cubits wide, and 1 and a half cubits high… It is in this ark that you will place the Testimony that I will give you.. (Shmot 25:9-16)

We quickly learn that this not merely a solution for a storage problem.

There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you—from above the cover, from between the two keruvim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant—all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people. (Shmot 25:22)

The Ark of the Covenant is not designed to merely store an artifact that bears the record of an historic, Divine communication. The Ark and its cover are to serve as a conduit for ongoing communication between man and God, and vice versa.

The relationship between the Revelation at Sinai and the Mishkan is pointed out by Ramban, who highlights the similar language used to describe them. In last week’s parashah, the events at Mount Sinai are described as follows:

When Moshe reached the mountain top, the cloud covered the mountain. God’s glory rested on Mount Sinai, and it was covered by the cloud for six days. On the seventh day, He called to Moshe from the midst of the cloud. To the Israelites, the appearance of God’s glory on the mountain top was like a devouring flame. Moshe went into the cloud, and climbed to the mountain top; and Moshe remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Shmot 24:15-18)

The inauguration of the Mishkan is described in much the same way in the final verses of Shmot:

… Moshe completed all the work. The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and God’s glory filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not come into the Tent of Meeting, since the cloud had rested on it, and God’s glory filled the Mishkan. (Shmot 40:33-35)

Ramban goes on to suggest that the linguistic similarity points to a much deeper, more significant thematic connection: The holiness of Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were articulated, was transferred to the Mishkan, where the Ten Commandments were stored – but even this is not the whole story. There is more here than merely the “theory of conservation of holiness.” The deeper message is that the Mishkan is the continuation of the Revelation at Sinai; The Revelation was a singular event in human history, but revelation would continue. The Mishkan was created in order to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between God and man; the language that describes its inauguration makes the connection abundantly clear.

Eventually, when the conquest of the Promised Land was complete, the Mishkan was replaced by the Beit HaMikdah, a permanent, stationary version of the Mishkan, where the High Court (the Sanhedrin) was convened as well:

… the High Court is established in the Mikdash…and the wisest person among (the 71 judges)… stands in the place of Moshe our teacher. (Rambam, Sanhedrin 1:3)

Apparently, the Revelation that began at Sinai never ended. The Tablets that attested to the Revelation were placed in the Ark, but the Voice of God continued to speak to Moshe from Ark. The authority vested in Moshe by virtue of his ability to hear the Divine Voice was passed on, throughout the generations when the Temple stood, to the leader who stood in Moshe’s place – at the head of the High Court, situated in the Beit HaMikdash. Although the moment of revelation at Sinai may have been brief, the holiness of that moment was transferred, first to the Mishkan, and later to the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. The pathway that was opened at Mount Sinai would remain open.

The Mishkan and its later iteration, the Beit Hamikdash, was a place where man could reach up toward God in prayer, sacrifice, and song. But it was also the place where God reached out toward man, a place of meeting where God shared His wisdom and divine teachings with man. May we merit its rebuilding speedily in our days.

For more essays and lectures on Parashat Terumah: http://arikahn.blogspot.co.il/2018/02/audio-and-essays-parashat-terumah.html