Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayakhel-Pekudei

Torah teaches us that a tremendous amount of energy went into to building the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Over the course of 13 chapters in Exodus, Torah details every aspect of the tabernacle’s creation, training of priests, and dedication to serving God. Over these chapters, we read and re-read the same instructions. Most clearly, this is important stuff! Torah devotes only two chapters to the creation of the universe (and they oppose each other). We get the Sinai revelation in 3 chapters. The entire plague and Exodus story only gets 11 chapters.

Throughout time, sages seek to understand why so much text, with so much repetition, went into describing the Tabernacle’s creation. Perhaps the process of creating a place where God may dwell amongst us must be an intentional act. Our sanctuary cannot be built cutting corners, displacing people, or alienating people. Elsewhere in the Bible (Isaiah 56:7) we learn that our sanctuary is a house of worship for all people, not just all people who wear the same religious label. It is relatively easy to put together a worship experience for people who all think and act alike, but it takes intentional attention to the details to make one’s sanctuary open for all people.

Perhaps the repetition teaches us that the Tabernacle is not just one structure; it is every structure that creates a home for God. We need to build each of our homes paying attention to the details.  How do we provide for each other? How do we furnish, decorate, and design in ways that make all people feel welcome? In and of itself, this would be a great lesson. No home should be built or lived in without concern for neighbors and for all who might cross our threshold.

Perhaps the text is so lengthy and repetitive to frustrate the reader into asking why we need it at all. Herein we find the most difficult question in all of philosophy and theology: “Why are we?” Why does God need us to build God a home? God can be everywhere and nowhere. Does God need us to do anything for God? With all of the power we ascribe to God (Creator of the whole universe), what need would God have for us? Well, to be honest, God has never told me so directly, but I think that there is one thing that God does not control but that God needs. God needs to matter. The Master of all good has no way in which to judge what is and is not good, except through how we use and proliferate or abuse and destroy the blessings given us.

If a simply hospitable world was the goal, then the simple act of creation provided that. Because God does not need us to build a building in which to dwell, the purpose of building is for us to find a place in which God can dwell with us. I refuse to believe that the textual details of color and material matter, but that they call on each of us to bring our best gifts and build with our best intentions and hearts. God did not finish creation and then create us to enjoy it. God is still creating and evolving “creation.” We are part of the process, not simply the inheritor of the finished product. Our role, as animated partners in the on-going creation, is to evolve ourselves; become vessels through which love and light can be absorbed and shared. This enlightenment cannot happen by accident. We must be deliberate in fashioning our environment, honing our spirit, and focusing our energy, all to foster “good” in the world. Where we fail to be intentional in this work, we end up with what we see too often in the news; the pain and degradation of society and the ultimate destruction of our earth.

Building a place wherein we can dwell with divinity takes intention but not much work. The glistening gold of the Torah is the value our hearts bring to the work. The strength of the acacia wood is the unyielding will for love and dignity with which we engage each other. The inner sanctuary where the priest meets God is the space between each of us when we have the opportunity to engage. The Torah’s altar of sacrifice is the public domain where we meet the world. No, differently than the priest has an obligation dignify whatever people bring to the altar, we must dignify all who with whom we come into contact. The world works when heaven and earth touch – when God dwells with us, not just around us – where we treat each other with the dignity do service to God. Shabbat shalom.