ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם (25:8)

This week sees the opening of a topic that is to take up a large portion of the totality of the Written Law. The Mishkan or Tabernacle is understood in this Posuk to be a place where H’ can dwell, as it were, even down here in our world. While this however may be one of the results of the Mishkan, there is a major dispute as to the purpose of its building. Rashi informs us that since the B’nei Yisrael sinned by creating and worshipping the Golden Calf, they had severely reduced their standing in terms of spiritual refinement. Whereas at the Revelation at Sinai they had reached the pinnacle of spiritual awareness and almost transcended human confines, the sin with the Golden Calf reduced them once again to mere mortals. There is no difficulty with the fact that the Torah mentions the instruction to build the Mishkan here, before Yisrael even carried out the sin with the Golden Calf because, as we know, Rashi is of the opinion that אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה, there is not always a need to maintain chronology in the structure of the Torah.

The Ramban on the other hand, understands that the Mishkan was not to rectify the problem of the sin of the Golden Calf, since he sides with the school of thought that maintains that there is chronological consistency in the Torah, יש מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה. If so, mentioning the Mishkan before the Golden Calf must mean that even without the sin there would have been a need for the Mishkan.

The question is, whether this Parsha actually happened as it appears or after the sin of the Golden Calf, why is it presented at this point. In other words, for Rashi why did the Torah go out of its way to interrupt the narrative of Revelation at Sinai, what is the Torah conveying through this juxtaposition? Furthermore, even though the Ramban will maintain that this must be the natural place for this Parsha since Torah obeys chronology, why was the instruction for building the Mishkan specifically at this point?

The Ramban in two different places gives reasons for the requirement to have a Mishkan. In our Parsha he says that the Revelation at Sinai was more than just the event that enabled the giving over of the Torah, this was merely a function of something much greater. This was the establishment of a covenant between H’ and Yisrael, whereby H’ was established as our G-D and we as His People. The verse states explicitly that we were to become His ‘Holy Nation’ (19:6). The Ramban says that inasmuch as this covenant defined us as the Holy Nation of H’, it was only fitting that we should establish a vehicle for expressing this connection. This vehicle was the Mishkan. It symbolised that there was an almost tangible representation of H’s essence with us always, that the Revelation at Sinai was not a one-time event, that H’ was to dwell amongst us, as it were.

This explains why the Torah mentioned the first instruction to build the Mishkan after the Torah had been given on Sinai. The Mishkan was to be the continuation of a relationship with H’ that was as close and as real as can be experienced in this world. That is why even though there may be elements of the Mishkan that were to act as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf as Rashi maintains, and the fact that he holds אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה would justify such a position, we now have a deeper understanding of why the Torah interrupted here with the details of the Mishkan. Again, the Mishkan was a way in which we could sustain a new and enriched relationship with the Almighty, long after the initial inspiration of Sinai had passed.

The Ramban in his introduction to the Book of Exodus gives another approach to understand the requirement for the Mishkan. It is well known that the Book of B’reishis is referred to as Sefer Ha’Avos, the book of the fathers, while the Book of Sh’mos is titled Sefer Ha’Banim, the book of the sons. The Ramban explains that our forefathers established for us a model by which to live a meaningful and spiritually enriched life. They had a constant awareness of H’ and not only that, but they also merited the ability to literally converse with Him. We may have thought that Redemption from Egypt merely required removing Yisrael from their Egyptian masters, and perhaps also giving the Torah. The Ramban explains though, that a crucial component of the Redemption was that Yisrael, the Banim, should once again reach the level on which the Avos had lived. This, as we have noted, required the continual presence of H’ within the Camp of Yisrael. This was achieved only once the Mishkan had been built.

This too explains why the Torah should relate the giving of Torah at Sinai and then immediately refer to the instruction to build the Mishkan. The next step of Redemtion after Torah has been given is to ensure the presence of H’ dwells with Yisrael.

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