Terumah–Interior Space

“You shall make the enclosure of the Tabernacle”  Exod. 27:9

The word translated “Tabernacle” is mishkan, literally “abode,” what we could call God’s dwelling.  Its cognate verb, shakhan, appears first at the end of the previous parsha—”the Presence of YHWH abode on Mt. Sinai”—and at the beginning of this one: “make me a sanctuary (mikdash, holy place) that I may abide with them.”

The laws for building the Tabernacle immediately precede the incident of the Golden Calf; the actual construction of the Tabernacle immediately follows it.   Both the mishkan and the molten object are attempts to map the experience of God on to physical objects.  Apparently, there is a right way and a wrong way.

The Tabernacle shows us the plan of the right way first, a blueprint that Moses can view on high.  This seems to me to preclude the view of some interpreters that the Tabernacle is a kind of “plan B,” a lower form of religion introduced after Israel displays its spiritual immaturity in making the Golden Calf.

But how is the Tabernacle different from the Calf?  One could point to several differences, but the one that struck me was that the Tabernacle has interiority.  It is not a monument but a dwelling place.  You experience it by going inside.  It contains lavish decorations, but also empty space (mostly the latter, in fact, as any diagram of the Tabernacle will illustrate).  Together, they are a springboard for the worshipper to fill the rooms with our awareness, our response.

Whatever spaces we create to cultivate a sense of holiness, and however we fill (or not) those spaces, that is our mishkan.

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