Posted on March 23, 2011
by Alex Krule
Tabernacle: From Latin, tabernaculum meaning “tent.” We hear this term used frequently when discussing the Israelites’ journey through the desert, but what exactly was it? We find out this week in Parashat Terumah. The Beit HaMishkan, Hebrew for Tabernacle, is the temporary and transportable “dwelling of God” or “Sanctuary” for the Israelites while they live in the desert. Actually, not only do we learn what the Mishkan (Hebrew for Tabernacle) is in this week’s portion, but we also learn everything there is to know about it: its dimensions, what goes inside of it (including the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the altar, certain spices, and other vessels), the materials that compose each and every article within it (including dolphin skin, gold, silver, copper, crimson thread …), how each material is to be made, and much, much more. While this may seem a bit excessive in detail, it shows us how our ancestors came together to build a beautiful structure for the sake of something beyond themselves; for God.
In order for the Mishkan to be built, the Israelites had to put together a significant amount of their valuables in order to build this masterpiece. They did not fight over who had to give what amount; they all gave what they considered was “God’s portion.” In a sense, the nation became one in their construction of the Mishkan. I think that the Menorah, the six-branched lamp in the Mishkan, epitomizes this behavior of the Israelites as the Menorah, while dividing into multiple branches (just as the Israelites are divided into tribes and clans), was carved from one solid piece of gold to form a holy object (just as the Israelites unified in their effort).
While we may not have a Mishkan today, we can certainly think about how we as Jews of the world should come together for a cause that goes beyond ourselves, something that is of a higher, more important purpose. We could look towards our current synagogues, built and supported by our Jewish communities in order to provide for all of our communities’ spiritual needs. Perhaps we can turn towards Israel’s Arava Institute, located in Kibutz Ketura in the Negev, which is currently at the forefront of educating about and resolving the energy and climate crisis not only in Israel, but around the world, fulfilling the mitzvah of l’takayn olam, to fix the world which God has given us. Of course, we could also look at our own Tikkun Olam projects within USY. Today, there are an untold number of Jewish community-based programs, initiatives, and foundations all for the purpose of coming together for a higher, perhaps holier purpose. And that is something for us to be proud of.