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(G-d said to Moses) 'You shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will reside amongst them.' (25:5)
Rashi explains that Tabernacle was to be a structure dedicated to G-d's service. G-d's 'residing amongst them' means that the Tabernacle would facilitate the Israelites experiencing a more intense level of G-d's Presence - wherever they happened to be.
Whether the Tabernacle was a spiritual ideal for the Israelites or not is debated by the commentators. At one extreme is the S'forno, who postulates that the Sanctuary was only commanded because of Israel's lapse into the idolatry of the Golden Calf - which prevented Israelites as individuals being close enough to G-d to experience His Closeness as they did at Mount Sinai. At the other pole is the Ramban, who regards the construction of the Tabernacle as a means of making the Israelite experience at Mount Sinai a permanent feature of their lives. As he shows, the Tabernacle as both a whole and its individual parts was symbolic of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
In fact the layout of the Tabernacle area may be seen to contain both arguments. It is not symmetrical, but asymmetrical. The holiest part is not in the center, but at the extreme west of the site. The eastern part, near the entrance is mostly open space, with the larger, but less holy outer altar. The intensity of holiness generally increases with the distance from the gate at the entrance to the Tabernacle precinct.
Thus the S'forno's line that the Tabernacle was required to counteract the sin of the Golden Calf is reflected in the in-balance of the Temple Precinct. The Israelites before and at the Giving of the Torah went through intense holiness. That is represented by the Tabernacle itself. But that holiness began to wear off after Moses' departure - illustrated by the Tabernacle being in the background (looking from the entrance). The rest was mostly open space - showing the lack of spiritual direction in Moses' absence. Open space, except the outer, less holy altar - perhaps symbolizing the altar that Aaron reluctantly (following Rashi) built whilst the offending Israelites pushed ahead with the Golden Calf.
According to the Ramban, the Tabernacle was a means of making the Israelite experience at Mount Sinai a permanent feature of their lives. Thus the Tabernacle was at the rear - as far as possible from the entrance - suggesting that one has to make deep spiritual preparations to experience G-d's Presence. That is what the Israelites were recorded to have done in the days immediately preceding the Giving of the Torah. But people also have to bring G-d into their more mundane daily lives 'near the entrance'. (Following the Ramban's explanation of Ex. 24), after Moses received the Torah, Moses 'built an altar at the foot of the mountain' (24:4). He also set up 'twelve pillars according to the number of Israelite tribes' (ibid.). The Rashbam states that these were to symbolize that all twelve components of the Israelite nation accepted the covenant at Sinai. This covenant was not a one-off, but something to be renewed daily - signified by the daily offerings on the outside altar, and the 'space' (one's mundane life) around it.
This argument is something which will have special appeal to those with Hasidic leanings. One early text, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov (his Ethical Will), suggests that one must actually taste death and rebirth in every prayer service. For faith must be chosen, not once but over and over; doubts arise constantly; the act of choosing faith is what makes Hasidic prayer and Hasidic life such an exhausting spiritual and emotional experience…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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