“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” Exodus 25:8


Recently, as I passed King’s College, Cambridge, I observed the institution’s world-renowned choristers filing across the college bridge, their canonicals flapping in the breeze and their top-hats reflecting in the rippling river Cam. They strode purposefully onwards to their imposing chapel, completed in Henry VIII’s reign.

One couldn’t help but compare this scene to the city’s rather modest synagogue, just a few minutes away on Thompson’s Lane. But then I thought of the Mishkan and swiftly corrected this thinking.

The Mishkan was a rather temporary abode. It was assembled and disassembled numerous times. In contrast, the great Temple stood as a permanent fixture in Jerusalem. It took seven years of unrelenting work to build. 

In a multinational architectural collaboration between King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre, Lebanon’s eponymous cedar and cypress trees were felled, taken by sea to Jaffa and then transported to Jerusalem. 

This was an epic, monumental project. Yet, shockingly, the Midrash tells us that although the Temple was razed to the ground, the Mishkan was never destroyed and remains intact, albeit concealed until the Final Redemption.
Why did the Mishkan survive but the far grander Temple get destroyed?

Admittedly, the Temple was architecturally outstanding. However, in its construction, myriads of people, working in shifts, were required by law to labour on it. It was involuntary. Conversely, the Mishkan’s construction was voluntary. Materials were received from anyone “who was willing” and volunteered, not because they feared Moses or were compelled, but because they loved God and wanted to give physical expression of this.

Herein lies the difference. Architecturally, the Temple made the Mishkan appear small and of little significance. But God values pure, genuine motives more than palatial magnificence produced through forced labour.

Nevertheless, surely the best way is a combination of both inspiring architecture and sincere devotion. Florence’s Tempio Maggiore, Paris’s La Victoire and the Great Synagogues of Rome, Sydney and Jerusalem are testimony that Solomon’s engineering spirit is still very much alive among his descendants. But we must never forget that far more important than barrel-vaulted ceilings, gilded Corinthian columns and gargantuan, soaring spaces are pure supplications uttered in humble recognition of the Almighty’s beneficence. 

And in daily life, let us acknowledge that the importance of the brand of clothes we wear, the titles we hold, or the houses we reside in, pales into insignificance compared to the question of our sincerity and how heartfelt our interactions are with both God and man.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive