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    Building an edifice – T’rumah

    It is in this sidra that the creation of the sanctuary is instituted.

    Depiction of the Mishkan, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    Depiction of the Mishkan, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    “They shall make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them”, is the crucial verse (Ex. 25:8).

    The commentators all seize on the word b’tocham, “among them”. It is not so much the building in which God dwells but amongst the people who create it.

    From this interpretation arises a question. Couldn’t God have dwelt amidst the people without an edifice? If it is amongst the people that He dwelt, why should anyone bother to gather the building materials and have an edifice at all?

    The beginning of an answer is suggested by something Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz said in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration: “A land focusses a people”.

    Like the Land of Israel, the tabernacle focusses its people. It tells you what sort of people they are and where their priorities lie. It gives them a physical center. It brings them together in a united effort of creation.

    Which leads us to a second question: Why couldn’t God have sent down the sanctuary ready-made and complete, without needing the human contribution towards the project?

    Again an analogy: the rabbis say that when He made the world, the Almighty left tasks uncompleted for the human race to finish off, making Man the partner of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the work of creation (Talmud Shabbat 10a).

    Only if and when human beings have a role to play do they fully value the achievement.

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