Exodus 25:1 to 27:17
Moses asked the Israelites for donations of the materials needed to build a “home for God” … the structure that was also designed to become a powerful reminder of the presence of God in their lives.
God tells Moses to speak to all the Israelite people … all the men and women … and tell them to bring gifts. Moses is to “accept gifts from every person whose heart is so moved.” These gifts are to include gold, silver, copper, fine fabrics, rare animal skins, jewels, oils, and specific types of wood. “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:1-8)
“… that I may dwell among THEM.” …. That specific wording tells a lot. God is not asking that the sanctuary be built so that there will be a house for God on Earth. God wants to dwell among the people… not in a special building.
But why is there a need for this elaborate structure? In the past God spoke to the patriarchs in the open space. God spoke to Abraham in his tent, Jacob experienced God at the foot of a mountain as he slept, Moses saw God in a burning bush. These people didn’t need a special building to communicate with the Eternal. They all had a very personal relationship with God.
Yes, God has touched the lives of all the Israelites with the plagues in Egypt, in the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, and at Sinai. As long as the people remain at Sinai, they will remember this awesome experience…. But, when they move on, will they remember? As they experience new difficulties, will they feel that God is still in their presence? We know the outcome. The Israelites have short memories. They forget and lose faith….
They were awestruck at Sinai…. Now, if they could only bring Sinai with them…. But how is that possible.
Torah tells us that the Israelites were to build a structure dedicated to God…. Then, place God’s Words in its center. This structure will be portable so that God’s presence can follow them wherever they journey…. It is almost like they are taking the Sinai experience with them. And to make sure that every man, women, and child realizes that their God is represented in this special structure, everyone is asked to contribute the materials needed for its construction….And once built, this will be the place where they can bring offerings to God. Everyone makes a personal investment in God’s home. Anytime the Israelites view this structure, they will remember the Eternal.
So this is the meaning of the phrase in Torah … I will dwell among them. God doesn’t have to live in this special building. But, the people remember. God is now living within all the people of Israel.
The same is true today…. Six days a week we labor, but on the seventh – Shabbat – we enter this special building and remember. Our temple building is our center for worship, Jewish education, and for Jewish socializing…. Just as the tabernacle in Biblical times, the temple serves as the center of our community. Without it, our traditions would be weakened … and possibility over time, create a Jewish community that would be indistinguishable from the community as a whole. Just as the Israelites in the times of Moses needed a place to remind them of God, we also need a place to where we can regularly praise God, educate ourselves and our children, and create a lasting Jewish community. And just as Moses asked the people for donations that, at that time, bought the people closer to the faith and to God… We, in the twenty-first century, in order to create an enduring community, also have to make a commitment of time, effort, and dollars. Without the commitment of all three factors the community will not endure…. Without involvement – the commitment of time and effort – the community will drift apart, lose the reasons for existence. Without dollars, and the efforts of all, the community will not be able to sustain itself.
I guess the more thing change, the more they seem to remain the same.