T’rumah – Exodus 25:1 to 27:19
This reading provides a listing of building materials for the Tabernacle – a home for the Eternal on earth. Many commentators doubt that it was ever built as described. Whether it existed in a scaled back format or not, the plans are filled with symbolism that relate a Biblical relationship between God and the Israelite people.
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts, you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved …. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them..’” (Ex. 25:1-8)
And so the Israelites were commanded to build a place in which God could reside as they traveled. They knew God was with them at Sinai…. But, when they left Sinai, they were looking for assurance that God was still with them.
However Plaut, in a commentary to this parsha, states that “most scholars consider the account at least in part as fictitious.” (Plaut, The Torah a Modern Commentary, p. 553) Some commentators think that this description of the Tabernacle may have been an attempt to give authority to the future Jerusalem Temple. Others have added that the instructions as given would have created a structure that would be too complex and difficult for a nomadic people to move in the desert. If the structure existed, it may have been more like a tent that could have served as the “meeting tent” for the exchanges between Moses and God. In fact, many places in Torah the structure is called a “meeting tent.”
In a recent article Rabbi Edwin Goldberg (Temple Shalom of Chicago – Reform) wrote that “We have already met God as creator of the universe and God as redeemer from slavery. Now we meet God in the vital role as revealer of God’s will, or as teacher. Now most modern people can accept the belief that God created the world, even if it took billions of years and very slow evolution to do it…. It is easy to accept Deism, the notion that God created the universe but since then has allowed us human to fend for ourselves….”
“It’s more difficult for us moderns to imagine that God somehow communicated information to us humans on how to live our lives.”
Rabbi Goldberg then quotes Rabbi Michael Gold of Tamarac, Florida, who applies these two concepts to the tale of the Israelites experience at Sinai. He states that Torah, hence the Sinai experience, are teaching experiences where God communicated precise words to Moses who wrote them down. Such is the process of revelation.
Gold continues by offering another view of Torah’s origin. This view holds that Torah was not communicated by God at all. Torah is merely great literature sanctified by millennia of study. Such is the insight of Spinoza and many others. While just literature, it has much to teach us. “But ultimately, this view sees the Torah as human made. The Torah reflects humanity reaching up to God rather than God reaching down to humanity. This approach is more common among liberal Jews, for obvious reasons.” (Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Two perspectives on Yitro, A modern way we can approach the Sinai story, Chicago Jewish News, Jan. 17, 2014)
If we pursue the concept that the Sinai experience is literature that teaches, what can we learn from this parsha that gives us extremely detailed plans for a portable Tabernacle that is planned as God’s home on earth. Through the years commentators have seen the Tabernacle and its contents as symbols showing the relationship between God and mankind… And how the covenant approved by the people in last week’s parsha can become a reality.
First, the building materials listed in the Torah represent the major elements of earth – minerals, animals in the form of skins, and plants in the form of fabrics. In effect the tabernacle is earth and represents a place where earth and heaven can meet. At the center of the structure is the ark containing the teachings or words of God. It is covered in pure gold to reflect its value. On top of the ark are two cherubim facing each other with wings extended. Commentators have said they are protecting the words of God. And by facing each other they are telling the people to cooperate and use the words in peace.
The ark has two carrying poles attached to it. Unlike the other items in the tabernacle, these poles are never to be removed. This tells us that the message of God should always be ready to travel with the people.
The area in which the ark is placed is separated from the rest of the structure by linen curtains. At the time, this was considered a precious fabric. On the other side of the curtain is a seven-branched menorah and a table with twelve loaves of bread. It is said that these represent the material and spiritual elements of humanity. The menorah is placed so that its light shines on the curtains to represent the spiritual resources of earth. Throughout Torah light has represented knowledge…. The table with its loaves of bread represents the material resources. The twelve loaves indicates the prosperity that will come to the people by following God’s words.
Outside of the covered portion of the tabernacle is the altar. Here is the connection between the holy area described above and the rest of the world. The altar is the place where the Israelites can present offerings and sacrifices to God.
Symbolically, this structure shows how the Eternal and the Israelites can come together. While comparisons could be made between this tabernacle and our current temples and synagogues, the purpose of each is different. The tabernacle was seen as a place for the Eternal to reside and receive the offerings of the Israelites. Its presence serves as a reminder to the people the God is with them.
Our Temples and synagogues, unlike the tabernacle, are completely open to the people. They act as a place of worship, education, and socializing. These structures serve as home for the people where they can study the words of Torah and reach out to God.
Description of Text:
T’rumah-Exodus 25:1-27:19: Did the Tabernacle ever exist or did this text provide symbols that demonstrate the relationship between God and the Israelites?