It is astonishing, after weeks of reading the instructions for the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, we finally hear that the work was completed. Every Israelite, male and female, young and old, contributed material and time to ensure that this dwelling-place would be fit for the Divine Presence. Once Moses completed the final touches, “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).
Let us remember the context of this building project and the people who were behind it, a people who were enslaved and tortured by a mighty empire; who had, for years, lived in the wilderness; who had struggled with their new found freedom and complained, panicked and made some mistakes along the way (eg Golden Calf-gate).
The once disparate and displaced Israelites had worked together to create a home for themselves and for the Divine Presence. Through this building they had sanctified their journey and found a peace and contentment between them and within themselves.
The root of the word Mishkan means “to dwell, to inhabit, to settle down”. For an exiled people, creating a home of safety and holiness is all that matters.
My community at Manchester Reform Synagogue has understood this deep need for a home through working with the charity Refugees at Home.
My family has hosted a number of refugees. The first was a young doctor from Afghanistan, who was homeless while she was studying to convert her qualifications to our British system. After months and months of waiting for a council property, she finally got a small flat in Greater Manchester. It was completely unfurnished and in bad repair — no curtains, no oven, no sofa. My community came together and, just like our ancestors, each contributed something — a cushion, a table and chairs, plates, pots and pans, a wardrobe. Together, with our refugee, we built a dwelling-place for her, a home and a mishkan of sorts.
For we know, it is only by working together to ensure everyone’s dignity, safety and wellbeing that we can invite the Divine Presence in and cultivate holiness here on earth.