“And let them make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them” Exodus 25:8
This week marks a fundamental shift in the content of our weekly Torah portions as we begin the story of the Tabernacle. Unfortunately, the change sees many people lose interest as they struggle to relate to the predecessor of the synagogue and its detailed composition. But here’s a way to appreciate the construction of the Tabernacle.
Until now, the text has largely been a series of stories about great characters and unusual events. Creation, the flood, ancestry, tragic experiences, miraculous recoveries, the extraordinary journey from slavery to freedom, and precepts for building a community — all have easy parallels with life today. But this week, the children of Israel are asked to do something unusual.
The request is clear: “Make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them”. As signalled by the name of the sidrah, Terumah, meaning “offering” or “donation”, the children of Israel are asked to create a space for a special someone else (God) and for once they are to give back.
Until now the children of Israel have always been takers. Constantly complaining and always asking for more, they were privileged to benefit from miracle after miracle as they survived the hostile and unforgiving desert experience. God is insisting that they now give, a crucial step in the maturity of this young nation.
They must be weaned from dependence and to do this one must experience the selfless act of giving.
Another key insight is found in one word: oseh. This Hebrew root meaning “make” is a key feature in the Tabernacle construction, appearing more than two hundred times. But until now it has been associated with divine creation. This word gives brings great significance to each of our actions.
Just as God “made” a world for us to inhabit, mankind is asked to “make” a space for God. This highest form of imitatio dei has served as an eternal lesson for mankind: assume the role as God’s partner. Create, develop and design in the positive way that God did when creating the universe. And so Torah portions about the Tabernacle provide a useful principle for our daily routines. Become a divine partner in developing this precious world… but begin by making something for someone else.