Rabbi Elana Dellal – 8 March 2019
Over the past few weeks, we have been reading about the building of the mishkan – the portable sanctuary the Israelites carried through the desert. The description of how to build the mishkan is very detailed, covering five parshiyot. Within these texts emerges an important question: What does it take to build an environment in which Kavod Adonai (the honor of Adonai) can dwell?
The account of the building of the mishkan includes many details, many steps along the journey, many people with varying skills, significant generosity and numerous stops and starts. It’s hard not to see the parallels between our congregations and the way in which the Israelites built the mishkan: There is a guiding vision and a role for each person.
Each person was commanded to contribute based on their own capacity. No one person, no matter their wealth, had all the materials needed to build the Mishkan alone – some had the gold, others the crimson thread, the dyed wool, the animal skins and the olive oil. Still others held the skills necessary for the designing and building of the mishkan. It was a true community effort – and we are told that it’s one that was done with a generous heart.
This week, as we come to the end of the book of Exodus with parashah Pekudei, we get to reflect on what we’ve learned. We began the book of Exodus as slaves. Over the course of the book of Exodus, the Israelites have found the courage and the leadership to break the shackles of their slavery. They have strengthened their relationship with God and they have begun establishing a system of ethics and guidelines by which they will live in community with one another. Finally, at the end of this book of Exodus, they are creating a sacred space to allow for God to reside with them. The book of Exodus shares the story of a people with little control over their own lives moving towards a self-governing people with courage and faith. From enslavement to freedom. The Israelites, on their journey through the wilderness, are becoming a self-sustaining, self-governed, faithful people.
At the completion of the building of the tabernacle, a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and God’s presence filled the tabernacle. A cloud of Adonai covered the tabernacle by day, and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence had filled the tabernacle, the meticulous and generous efforts of the community allowed for the divine to dwell among them.
The mishkan was completed one year following the exodus from Egypt, with 39 more years of wandering in the desert to come. The Israelites did not wake up the morning following its completion with nothing left to do. For them, and for us, the task of making our world a worthy dwelling place for God continues daily, requiring us to continue working together, sharing our skills, and building community.
At the end of each book in the Torah, we say Chazak chazak vnitchazek – Let us indeed be strong and strengthen one another.
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