Today we get into Divine architecture - the architecture of the Tabernacle where we may benefit from Divine guidance here on earth in a fashion that carries forward from Mt. Sinai. Now that we've received the revelation we see God's interest in our having a sacred space where we can formally encounter the Divine. Why? And for what reasons? And how might this apply to us in our day? That's what this week's portion is all about.
God brings Moses up to the top of the mountain and gives him this extensive instruction about the construction and design of the Tabernacle. The details of the architecture, the design, and the furnishing and construction of the space are very fine and really amazing. We're going to delve into these matters today, so put on your hard hats or at least your design hats and get ready for quite a tour.
We don't have the Tabernacle or the Temple in our world today. So, many wonder why we give serious attention to these verses, believing they don't have any contemporary meaning for us in our time. Others believe they're important either to better appreciate what our ancestors experienced and/or what might be true again should the Temple be restored one day.
I don't want to dispute any of these points of view but rather want to suggest another, somewhat radical idea. I want to explore these words with you and see if they speak to us at a deeper level that has broader meaning for us today.
One question I want us to ponder is whether these words inform the way we experience the sacred or the spiritual, physical ways in space - things that spark our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch - that facilitate our own encounter with God.
Another idea I want us to consider and discuss is whether an important verse we studied two weeks ago calls us to see this portion today in broader terms. Recall we were told that if we obey God's word, we would become to God a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We spent a good bit of time discussing what that meant and the sense of mission it entailed.
Well - in order to be a kingdom of priests that serve God in the world - we saw last week how God began to help us with instructions in mishpatim, specific ways in which we are to act with and toward others and God.
Now, in the portion this week, we see God's instructing Moses in the holiness we must infuse into the space of God's presence.
Here's my somewhat radical hypothesis: if God wants us to be a kingdom of priests who help God in the world, wouldn't we want to conceive the architecture of space governed by principles of holiness expansively? These larger boundaries of space might extend not only to our churches and synagogues, but also perhaps to the space of our lives, our friendships and families, our communities, in time, and even in our bodies and souls - indeed anywhere that we hope will be a place in which God's presence may inform, instruct, and be present to us and others. For wouldn't it be in all such space that a kingdom of priests would be expected to serve God?
If my hypothesis is at all sound, these verses help us see deeper truths below the surface. Indeed, these architectural and design lessons we learn here that apply directly to the Tabernacle may also help us understand how to deploy the powerful elements of space we study today wherever we serve God and hope for God's guidance and nearness.
Let's begin with this question: either from your own familiarity with these chapters in the Bible or from your own experience or beliefs, why do you think the Bible spends so much attention on the details of sacred space - the feel, the look, the sights, the sounds, the design, the objects, the architecture? How and in what ways might all this resonate with you?
(Whether it's the space alone or through some combination of space, time, deed, and faith that help us get closer to God, details matter. An emphasis on, and respect for, God's word. Light. Signs of gratitude. An expectancy of offering and the reality of offering. The feeling of being close to friends, family, community. The sight and feel of fabric and beauty. Symbols that we associate with God's power and saving hand in our lives. Reverence. The feel of energizing and instructing to our mission. The separation of all this from the mundane or the ordinary.)
I. Read Exodus 25:1-10
1. So, the question is: what's the title of our portion, and why is that word important here and for us?
(Gifts! One view of the text is that much of this value had come from Egypt, and it was intended to be offered to God by those who were ennobled and so moved to create this tabernacle and make it beautiful. We give it away for this purpose with gratitude and a sense of elevation (the root of the word).
As Rosenzweig wrote, in servitude, we built under duress for the pharaoh, but now we freely and devotedly build for God. Isn't it so that our best gifts are given in this spirit? Indeed here the giving spirit was so rich and enthusiastic among the people we'll see that it in the end had to be limited. Oh, were our giving so plenteous today!)
How does making a gift to God elevate us? Is it an elevation to God of the gift? Or is it an elevation of ourselves in the giving? Or both?
2. We won't look together at the next few verses, but take note of the texture, the fabric, the colors, the animals, the minerals and stones. There's so much here. Just see how rich and special and extraordinary it all is. If we had time, we'd even explore some of the mystical notions (in the Zohar) that suggest that the gold, silver, and brass are really a combination of lights, including the light seen at Sinai, that come together to represent and show us certain virtues. Wow!
A. Let's note verse 8 - a sanctuary "that I may dwell among them." It is unclear whether the spirit of God is to dwell in the Tabernacle, or rather is to be present through this space to Moses and then to us, that God may dwell among us. It's indeed mysterious, to be sure.
These are good verses to try to unpack. We'll get later to what these ideas might mean to us in our own time. But, first, what do you believe to be the objectives or benefits of this notion of sanctuary to the people of the Bible?
((a) offering all manner of fine material to honor God's enthronement and assure God's sovereignty on earth,
b) using sanctification of the material to service of the spirit,
c) creating an ongoing means of formally encountering the Divine, especially as the drama of Sinai recedes to memory, and
d) meeting our spiritual, emotional, and other human needs by facilitating God's nearness to us, the community, and individuals.)
B. Now think more expansively. What might the building of a sanctuary so that God might dwell among us mean more universally, more broadly, and perhaps to us in our own time?
(a) more mystically or spiritually perhaps, establishing an architectural model for our bodies and souls to accommodate our reach to God and Divine wisdom,
b) modeling the creation of sacred space on the creation of the world,
c) according to some sages, a depiction in the various places of the tent the places of heaven, and
d) God's seeking a connection with the hearts and souls of all those who build "the sanctuary," that is to say, anywhere God's presence can be felt by us and our fellows.
Some go further to say that the sanctuary here enables God to be our guardian here as Shepherd, Watchman, and Father, with our being able to associate with the Divine in those roles through fidelity to the covenant. Each part of the Tabernacle corresponds to these roles - the courtyard with the protection, the holy area of offering to prosperity and light, and the Holy of Holies to the relationship of intimacy with the Father. Thus, we are a vineyard in need of protection, a flock in need of nurturing, and a son in need of a father.
It could be the church or sanctuary or wherever people go to draw near to the Divine. If this is so, we'll see how these elements of the Tabernacle in this and the next portions guide us in how to construct and design such space.
Some indeed think that it is principally within us that the Divine spirit wishes to dwell. As we consider all of the space elements God teaches Moses, those of us who are interested in this more personal and spiritual idea ought to ponder such questions as: how do we construct our lives, our inner and outer selves, in accord with these principles - with what features, what separations, and where do we place God's word and the light that guides us?
Further, we might see the construction of the Tabernacle as something we are well able to do, each of us within our communities, with our fellows, through using our resources richly and fully and with all our heart and desire to create an edifice of our personal and communal lives in such a way that it enables and promotes God's dwelling in our midst.)
II. Let's now begin to look at the various components of the space in our Biblical text and see what they seem to be about.
A. So, what would you guess would be the first place of focus in the space? That's right, the ark!
(It holds the pact of the covenant, God's revelation to us, which is what binds the whole enterprise together. It's the heart and soul of the space, just as our relationship with, and duty to God, is central to us.)
B. Read 25:10-22
1) Who were to make the ark, and what's important about that?
(The people! It's our case that holds our covenant, the testimony, the edut. As Ramban says, we "should all merit thereby a knowledge of the Torah."
Some say the ark's being mentioned at this time corresponds to the light God created after the heaven and the earth, that is, after the tabernacle, but before everything else.)
2) Why were the poles in place?
(We're always ready to move and keep safe? Ready to carry in processions and to war? Or suggesting again that it and we are mobile, and it (the wisdom and the direction) should not be thought to be fixed in one place, but it is the truth there and anywhere and everywhere really.)
3. Thoughts on the cherubim on the cover? Why? What do they represent?
(one possibility: remember one of our earliest encounters with cherubim? They were left by God with the fiery wheel guarding the tree of life, presumably from our possible return.
Here they appear again, guarding again, but we, through Moses and later the priests to be sure, now have access to our true tree of life, Torah. Fascinating, lovely, and consequential! Here, we come to what we need most, a continuing sense of access to guidance from God, and to the word of our covenant with Him.
Another lovely idea: the cherubim are looking at each other as we look at each other in the presence of God. That's God's expectation for us.)
C. Let's go further. Read 25:23 and 30.
A table with showbread always before God's face. Literally the Hebrew is the bread of Panim, of face. What do you think this is about, and what seems to be its significance?
(gratitude for blessings from God, food that sustains life, the supporting earth, all from God to meet our needs.)
D. On to 25:31 and 37, noting that the light is to go over against the space before its face (panim again!) (with all the beautiful detail on how it is to be constructed)
So, what's with this menorah, this lamp stand? What is it there for? Its significance?
(The lamp brings forth light that recognizes God's wisdom, enhances, gives glory, clarifies, focuses, makes splendid, allows all this to be seen so as best to use our resources in support of our living true to the covenant.
We, too, can be seen akin to the Menorah; when our branches light up (enlighten) and our oil burns to inspire and teach and clarify and focus on God's way and word, we too serve the part of the lamp stand in our own ways in our own lives. There surely must be such a "lamp" in the space where we come together to encounter and serve God.)
E. General reflection and question. So, we've seen fabrics that are fine and beautiful as a part of this space that gives access "to the royal." And we see planks of acacia, tall and strong. What do these characteristics of elements in the space signify to you?
(...that we should have only the best for God and us with God, that we should similarly build ourselves up (our bodies, our bones) and adorn ourselves spiritually and ethically (on the inside and the outside) as if we were ourselves a sacred space for God. How we construct what we build for God and our encounter with God matters - that our houses, our bodies, our lives, our souls (as represented here in the Tabernacle) should be solid, enduring, beautiful, conducive to God's presence and pleasing to God.)
F. Note and read 25:40. God is instructing Moses to remember and direct this building on earth as He is instructing it on the mountain.
G. We note the curtains and coverings and boards and sockets for the tabernacle in chapter 26. We won't look today at the detail, but do note the lovely patterns and connections and order they reflect and think on what that means.
H. Let's look at the veil in 26:31, 33, 35.
What's the purpose of the veil? And what does that mean?
(It separates the holiest place from even other holy space and then there's further separation from the place of offerings.
What is this about? Do we or should we do separations of this sort in our "structures"? Is there a place that's separate in us as well? Our soul, for example? That part of ourselves, our soul, that we especially seek to acknowledge and vigorously protect and guard? Do we use this principle of separation more generally within us and in our lives and places? This image of a veil and a screen covering it seems pretty lovely and meaningful.)
I. Let's take note of the altar for sacrifice in Chapter 27. We'll return often to it, and in great detail, but we'll leave it for now.
Let's close by reading 27:9. What is the purpose of the courtyard, and why the hangings for them?
(We have now gotten in the architecture of this space to that place in the outer area where there's further separation from the holy areas and the holiest area. Doesn't this make sense? Isn't it so in other physical or even natural spaces we know? Isn't it so with us? Some, spiritual and sacred, and some more secular or even profane. Do we see why there would be a separation?
Whatever else these mitzvot might mean and however our ancestors or we might understand them on a literal basis, I want to suggest we leave our study today instructed and inspired to reflect further on all the possibilities we've discussed in which God showed Moses (and us) a heavenly or spiritual paradigm of what building space for God on earth entails. Further, I would suggest we think and work to use all our earthly tools and materials to "architect" our lives (in the so many ways we can extend holiness in the world) in accord with these extraordinary Divine design principles.
In that respect, it is we who are the recipient of gifts, in the form of the blessings of God's word. So, while the portion's title, Terumah, seemed to suggest at the outset that this is about the gifts we bring to God to make His space, we could also see it as God's extraordinary gift to us of His continuing nearness and instruction and the manner in which we honor and respect that gift.