Parashat Vayaq’hel-P’qudei/Shabbat Ha-Hodesh
The national effort to build a sanctuary for God has concluded. The Divine Dwelling Place (mishkan) is finished and put together. Each piece of it had been meticulously and lovingly fashioned by the men and women of Israel. How they must have yearned to walk through the finished structure in its completed state! Yet, what they had once handled and manipulated they were now prevented from touching. The end result of their magnificent accomplishment was to create a space so filled with Divine energy that it made their entry into that space both legally and physically impossible. Not even Moses, God’s most intimate interlocutor, could step inside the Tabernacle: “And Moses could not enter into the Tent of Meeting because the Cloud was dwelling upon it and the Glory of the Eternally Present One was filling the mishkan.” (Ex. 40:35)
God had promised that, if the people of Israel would make a sanctuary for the Eternal, then God “would dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8) God promised to dwell within the Israelites, but God did not say that the Israelites would dwell within God. God was Present in the Tabernacle. Therefore, there was no room left in that place for any Israelite, even for Moses.
This is in glaring opposition to the tender words God spoke to Moses right before revealing to Moses the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy: “Look here – there is always room with Me!” (Ex. 33:21) But the difference lies precisely in those words. In order for us to dwell with God, God must first invite us into God’s private space. Our gift to God was of a space that would be God’s very own, not a space of our own that we would allow God to use. Our devotion to God meant the expenditure of all our physical and heartfelt efforts in order to construct a sanctuary that we could relinquish and completely give over to God.
After letting go of the work of our hands we stood waiting. Would God invite us into the gift we gave to God, that which was once wholly ours and was now wholly sacred and suffused with God’s Presence? Indeed, if we would be able to enter without any invitation that would indicate that the space was not really God’s Home, after all. Until such an invitation would be extended, we could only follow God’s lead from afar and look toward God for guidance along the path, but we would need to respect God’s mysterious privacy and keep our distance.
But then the Divine invitation is extended: “And the Eternal called out to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” (Lev. 1:1) And with that invitation we are able to enter into the next stage in our relationship together, and into the beginning of the next book of the Torah.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein