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God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to donate materials and to make a sanctuary – a Mishkan – in order that God may dwell amongst the people as they journey. The parasha then outlines extensive details about how the Mishkan is to be built.

Another voice

Terumah by Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz :: 5767

Lindsey studied archaeology at Cambridge and the Hebrew University and lived in Israel for 17 years. She is a Teaching Fellow of London School of Jewish Studies, is currently finishing her PhD at University College London, and has been coming to Limmud since 1998.

Parshat Terumah is the first of four parshiyot that are overwhelmingly concerned with the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites built at God's command and carried with them on their wanderings in the desert. After the excitement and fireworks of the ten plagues, the redemption from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the Sinai revelation and the giving of the Ten Commandments, there is a sense of anticlimax as we settle down to four solid weeks' worth of technical details, building specifications, and lists of materials, enlivened only by the shameful episode of the Golden Calf. Was this what we were brought out of Egypt to do?

The problem with the Mishkan parshiyot is that we can't see the wood for the trees: we get entangled in all those cubits and fine twisted linens and miss the point of the entire enterprise. Traditional commentators noted long ago that the language describing the completion of the Mishkan is very similar to that used to describe God's completion of the Creation of the world, and Midrash Tanchuma (a collection of traditional commentaries) underlines this: 'The Mishkan was the equivalent of the seven days of Creation'. The midrash goes on to parallel the component parts of the Mishkan and the Creation: the curtains parallel the heavens made on Day One, the separation of the Mishkan's chambers parallels the separation of waters of Day Two, the bronze water container parallels the making of the seas on Day Three, and so on, up to the completion and blessing of the Mishkan, which parallels Shabbat.

In commanding us to make a Mishkan, God is giving us a chance to imitate Him: humans too can create, and can derive joy and fulfilment from their creations. Both men and women are involved in the construction of the Mishkan, and the text emphasizes their wholeheartedness as they engage in this communal project. Their labours are crowned with the ultimate success: God Himself dwells there, among them, in their creation, the mini-cosmos that they have made, just as humans dwell in the God-created macro-cosmos. The Temple was a repeat of this project, as we see from the Haftorah for Terumah.

But it doesn't end there. Surely the heart of the Mishkan project is to show us that human creativity is ardently desired by God, that our task is to imitate Him by working together to build, to beautify, to create an environment worthy of receiving God's Presence. Every creative project we undertake - building communities, hospitals, organizations that restore justice and peace to the world; providing food, clothing, and safe homes for our own families and those less fortunate - is part of the Mishkan enterprise. God reveals Himself to us in His creation; our task is to respond to His commands by creating in our turn. And if we carry out our task successfully, God will truly dwell among us.


More by Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz

Another voice by Taste of Limmud Team

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Exodus 25: 1-2


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