Four of the Torah's 54 portions are dedicated almost exclusively to the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary built to house the Divine presence in the desert.
Four of the Torah's 54 portions are dedicated almost exclusively to the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary built to house the Divine presence in the desert. The final two portions of the book of Exodus, both of which comprise the Torah portion for this week, describe how the commandment to build the Mishkan was implemented. The Torah, uncharacteristically, goes into a very detailed description of how this charge was carried out to the fullest extent.
It would seem that after this lengthy narration, the book would culminate with a description of the Divine presence occupying the Mishkan. Instead, the book actually concludes with information regarding the travels of the Jewish people through the desert, and how these travels could occur only after the heavenly cloud of glory lifted from the Mishkan. This description is puzzling for two reasons: Firstly, the travels of the Jewish people are discussed elsewhere in the Torah, and secondly, the portion concludes with the proceedings after the Divine presence had departed, instead of describing the Divine presence dwelling in the Mishkan among the people.
The following thought may help us solve this puzzle. The book of Exodus contains a general pattern. We discover how the Jewish people became a nation, received the Torah, were accorded Divine protection and nourishment, and, finally, built a "home" for the Divine presence. The story seems to be so perfect. The Jewish people are courted by Hashem, and are dazzled by a brilliant and awesome display of might and strength. The nation is shown affection, care, and love. It is no wonder that the people were counting the days in eager anticipation of connecting and bonding with the Almighty; they were ready for "marriage" and they were not let down. With the accompaniment of a shofar, thunder and lightning, and smoke and fire, the Jewish people were "married" to Hashem in an elaborate and moving ceremony at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The marriage was solidified and complete after the "home" (or Mishkan) was built, and the bride and groom supposedly lived happily ever after.
Can the picture get any better? The prospective of being surrounded and filled with G-dliness, holiness, and sanctity should unquestionably lead to spiritual bliss. However, this is clearly not what G-d had in mind with this relationship. Our sages teach that the purpose of creating this world was that the infinity of G-dliness should be present and made to feel "at home" in the confines of a physical, finite world. In the spiritual worlds, the Divine presence is very much "at home," since this is its element and environment. The greatness of an infinite G-d, however, is captured by the ability to permeate and affect a finite climate which is foreign, and even hostile, to spirituality and G-dliness.
We are therefore compelled to add another chapter to the story of the "marriage" between Hashem and the Jewish people; a chapter which describes the continuation and advancement of this relationship and herein is where the real work of the marriage lies. It is our charge, as Jewish people who have been bestowed with Hashems Torah and commandments, to transform this physical world into a "home" for Divinity and G-dliness. In other words, it would not be enough to live happily ever after, while we build our relationship with G-d secluded in a home in the desert; rather, we must take the holiness and spirituality radiating from the Mishkan and make the entire world a home for G-dliness.
We can understand, then, why the book of Exodus, which describes the birth of the Jewish people, concludes with the account of the clouds lifting from the Mishkan and the travels which ensued. We are being taught that the purpose of the Mishkan, and the dwelling of the Divine presence in the midst of the Jewish people, was to create an atmosphere that would enable the Jewish people to "journey" in their quest to fulfill the Divine purpose of creation.
From the above, we can derive a significant and meaningful lesson: In these days, when a spiritual darkness clouds much of our world and the Divine presence is all but removed, we must take advantage of the opportunity that even this situation presents. We must be aware that the purpose of concealment and removal of G-dliness is to use the powers vested in us to illuminate and brighten the world. Just as with the Mishkan, where the signal to forge ahead was the ascent and departure of the heavenly cloud; similarly, the concealment of heavenly light and the darkness of the exile should also be treated as a signal. This signal should give us the impetus to strive ahead, permeating the world with holiness and light, as we continue our journey into the final and complete redemption.
Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefillah, director of outreach at Chabad of Georgia, and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy middle school.
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