Why does the Torah devote so much space to the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)? Why so many details, why the lengthy narrative?

These are all good questions, and the answers are perennially relevant.

Moses assembles the nation to hear G‑d’s commandments in this week’s Torah portion.

Previously, they had assembled for the construction of the Golden Calf—the greatest communal transgression in Jewish history. A tikun (“repair”) was needed; time to press the reset button. By building the Tabernacle, a dwelling place for G‑d’s Divine presence, they’d strengthen their relationship with the Almighty.

Moses succeeded in imbuing the people with a unity of purpose. He transformed them into a united workforce of willing individuals. How was this achieved? By respecting and valuing each person’s contribution, Moses demonstrated that everyone mattered. He impressed upon the people the greatness of their collective mission; within their diversity was a greater cause that melded them together into a like-minded community.

Diverse personalities can pool their energies and resources for the common good. Dignity and a sense of belonging come from such lofty endeavors.

We are told that G‑d selected Betzalel and Oholiav, two men of very different lineages, to imbue with Divine inspiration and the artistic ability to perform all kinds of highly skilled work, including weaving, woodworking and the crafting of gold, silver and copper vessels. Recently freed slaves would not have developed such refined skills without Divine inspiration.

Even more noteworthy is that while Betzalel was of esteemed lineage and Oholiav was from the lowest of the tribes, the Torah equates their talents.1 This sent a message to the nation that neither family background nor social status influence G‑d. Every individual’s contribution is equally meaningful, as long as it is sincere.

I frequently meet Jews who proudly state that their grandparents were observant or that their great-grandfather was a rabbi. It’s all very nice, but what matters much more than who your parents or grandparents were is who you are. What are you doing to perpetuate Jewish life? Who will your grandchildren be? Today, Jewish education is available to everyone. With some effort, each of us can become knowledgeable in any area we choose. We can even give ourselves the knowledge that our parents may not have received.

The Tabernacle was a portable sanctuary built to accompany the Children of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. It was the sanctified space in which G‑d’s presence was manifest among His people.

The Tabernacle reminds us of an enduring lesson. Throughout our history, we have been dispersed across the world, frequently having to travel from place to place. Yet no matter where we settle, it is only a temporary resting place, not a permanent home.

Regardless of how comfortable we’ve been in any host country, at some point, we’ve had to move on. But as long as G‑d’s presence is in our midst, Judaism and the Torah accompany us wherever we may go.

Making It Relevant

  1. Try to make every gathering a place where G‑d’s presence can dwell. Stress unity, dignity and mutual respect when combining diverse individuals and groups.
  2. View every talent and skill as being bestowed by G‑d. What we do with our abilities is how we express appreciation for what we’ve been given.
  3. Contemplate the unifying effects of building community through a common purpose.