<I>Vayak'hel-Pekudei</I>: The King's House

Does God need a Tabernacle, a synagogue - a Land?

Aloh Naaleh

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7
In the parshiyot of Vayak'hel and Pekudei, the Torah concludes the topic to which it devoted the better part of five parshiyot - the construction and operation of the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle which the Israelites used for sacrifice and prayer in the desert. The Mishkan was the forerunner of the two Temples in Jerusalem, as well as the model for our modern-day synagogues.

One might ask: Why does the Torah spend so much space and effort to talk about building a tabernacle - and, later, Temples in Jerusalem and synagogues all over - to God, who, after all, is everywhere? Why should we "enclose" God within a Mishkan, when the very message of Jewish theology is that God is infinite and cannot be limited to any space or time? By extension, we might ask: Why do I need to go to synagogue? If God is everywhere, then I can pray at home.

The Midrash Pesikta D'Rav Kahana on parshat Terumah presents a fascinating dialogue between Moses and God, relating to these questions:

"At the time that God said to him (Moses), 'And you shall make for Me a holy place (the Mishkan),' Moses said to God: 'Master of the Universe, behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You , and yet you say to me "Make for me a holy place"?'
How can we say that God's presence is more immanent here than it is anywhere else on earth?

"God answered Moses: 'Not as you think, Moses, but [place] twenty boards in the north and twenty boards in the south and eight in the west, and I will descend and constrict My Presence amidst you below.'"

What a strange answer! But perhaps not, because God was really saying, 'Yes, philosophically, it is difficult to say that My Presence can be contained, even within a tabernacle. But I am giving you the building blocks. Make the effort, dedicate yourselves to bringing My Presence down to earth; place these boards here and those boards there, and I will find a way to 'come down' and be with you.' This is the reason for a Mishkan, a Bet Mikdash, a synagogue.

Perhaps, it is the same with the Land of Israel. How can we say that God's presence is more immanent here than it is anywhere else on earth? Isn't God everywhere? But God has given us a Land, the building blocks of a society dedicated to His values and ideals. Somehow, if we use the building blocks, the "boards" of society building, and do so correctly, creating a society which reflects Torah values, then God will indeed "constrict his Presence" and dwell within the Land. May this happen soon.
Rabbi Abramson received semicha from Yeshiva University in 1973 and served first as a congregational rabbi in Saratoga Springs, New York, and then as the principal of Rockland Hebrew Day School and Westchester Day School, both in the New York City area. He came on Aliyah with his family in 1983, and has worked both in the worlds of education and business in Israel. He is presently teaching at the Israel Center of the Orthodox Union in Jerusalem, and completing a book on the origins of Orthodox Outreach as pioneered by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York in the 1960s and '70s.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.