Alone with G‑d on Mount Sinai, Moses learnt the details of building the Sanctuary, the portable Temple described in this week’s Torah reading. This was to be the spiritual center for the Jews, and eventually, for the whole world: the place where the shechinah, the presence of G‑d, would be revealed.

The Sanctuary was constructed of heavy wooden planks standing upright. Each plank was supported at its base by two heavy blocks of silver. The plank slotted into these. These upright planks were overlaid with gold and securely fastened together. They formed the walls of the Sanctuary, and layers of curtaining formed the roof.

Inside the Sanctuary were the menorah, a table and an altar for incense, all made of gold. Behind a beautifully embroidered curtain was the Holy of Holies, containing the golden ark. Inside this were the sapphire tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them, which Moses brought down from Sinai.

The Sanctuary built by Moses existed long ago, and, in the form of the Temple, will again be rebuilt in Jerusalem. But there is also an inner Sanctuary, within the heart of every man and woman. The details of the physical Sanctuary described in our Parshah help us understand how we can build this inner Sanctuary, so that the presence of G‑d should be revealed there too, within us.

The acacia wood of which the Sanctuary was made has in Hebrew a strange name. It can be translated as “the wood of folly.”

This helps us understand the purpose of the Sanctuary, and of life.

There is a level of ordinary, civilized behavior. This is the norm. Low, base and callous behavior means acting in a way which is lower than this norm; this is folly. All sin and evil come from this lower kind of folly.

But there is also another kind of folly, which entails going above the norm. This is termed “sacred folly.” Through faith, dedication, devotion and love, a person can go beyond his or her ordinary level, making a step which might be exceptional. Imagine a person deciding to put on tefillin every day, or to change around the kitchen so as to make it truly kosher.

Judaism is based on the power generated by such decisions. We have survived for thousands of years because of the power of this “sacred folly,” our willingness—occasionally—to go beyond the norm of conventional rationality. The leap forward which we then achieve redeems the blunders and excesses of our lower, unpleasant folly. Bad is changed into good, darkness into light. It is through this process that we build our inner Sanctuary.

This is why the Sanctuary was built of acacia wood, “wood of folly.” Through the quest to advance, we go beyond ordinary reason into the realm of sacred folly, transforming our coarse, worldly folly into something spiritual. Thus we reveal the radiant shechinah, the presence of G‑d. It illuminates the Sanctuary in our heart, our home, our life—and ultimately, from the Temple in Jerusalem, the entire world.1