It is fair to say that this weeks parsha is unlikely to provide the script for a West End musical. The parsha – from beginning to end – provides a highly detailed technical description of the measurements of a temporary structure (the Mishkan) and its contents which the Jewish people would transport with them on their wanderings around the desert. Any attempt to understand exactly what the Mishkan and its purpose was, as well as the contents of the Mishkan, the dimensions of which are also explained in great detail, must be reconciled with a fundamental tenet which should form the basis of how we relate to all of Torah – the Torah is supposed to speak to us. Each and every part of Torah should communicate to us an invaluable and timeless lesson about reality and our relationship to that reality [1]. There are then essentially two main questions that need to be answered:

1. What was the purpose of this Mishkan in the first place which justifies its apparent centrality to Judaism?

2. Even if the Mishkan was important, why all the details? Is the number of hooks to which the protective curtain was tied down with on either side really that crucial to our relationship to G-d and spirituality?

The Mishkan (and later the permanent Beis HaMikdash, the temple, whose dimensions were proportional to those of the Mishkan) provides a point of fusion between the worlds’ of physicality and spirituality. It provides a place for the expression of that which cannot be placed; a finite co-ordinate for experiencing the infinite. The Mishkan/Mikdash is the focal point for ongoing Divine Revelation – the place where G-d’s presence is most naturally experienced. The rebuilding of the Mikdash is a necessary characteristic of Messianic times when G-d’s presence will be experienced most manifestly by all of humanity. Likewise, the Mikdash served as the place where Moshe would go to receive Divine instruction to then pass on the Jewish people.

The significance of the concept of Mishkan is clear. As the Jewish people leave the Revelation of Sinai and slowly begin their move towards a life bound by physical realities, the notion of an eternal place of revelation, where G-d’s face is never hidden, is crucial.

Though an extensive analysis of the deeper significance of every detail of the parsha is obviously beyond the scope of this piece, there are two clear messages which are expressed which are of permanent and practical significance.

Firstly, the most obvious aspect of the parsha, as discussed, is its extensive attention to detail. This seems at odds with our natural notion of what spirituality is supposed to be – surely the more ‘spiritual’ something is, the less grounded it is in physicality. Our society-influenced notion of a ‘spiritual being’ tends to be of someone floating around experiencing upper worlds oblivious to the lowliness of the physical world around him. Yet the Torah’s description of the most spiritual place in the world is totally dominated by details of its physical workings?! The Torah is communicating a profound lesson about the nature of true spirituality – living a spiritual life is not just about feeling some removed sensation removed from the reality of this world. On the contrary, the Mishkan, the most intensely spiritual place in the world, was characterised by an almost excessive attention to detail. Every utensil in the Mishkan was carefully designed to fulfil a very specific purpose, and the exact measures and materials used were crucial to insure that purpose was fulfilled. A truly meaningful spiritual life entails a calculated and extensive interaction with the world around us. Judaism is not about denying physicality, but about elevating it. Every part of creation has the potential to fulfil a spiritual purpose. Our role is to find that purpose and thereby elevate the physical reality around us in doing so. This is being emphasised with the Torah’s lengthy description of exactly what materials were to be used, i.e. elevated, in the Mishkan and how.

There is a second, equally important message being communicated by the Mishkan. The Mishkan was not fixed in one place, but was transported along with the Jewish people throughout their journeys. This means that a connection to G-d and Torah was not assigned to only one specific place. Wherever the Jewish people were, the Mishkan naturally and necessarily became the place where a real connection to spirituality was possible. This message is again extremely relevant today; Judaism is not a ‘shul experience’ or something to experience around the table at home, or in any other one place. A truly Jewish existence is one that expresses itself in every walk of life. Someone connected to spirituality in a real way expresses it in every area of life; every facet of our daily life should be infused with a sense of inner spiritual purpose.

Each and every one of us is essentially a Mishkan – a point where the physical (the body) and spiritual (soul) meet, and our task is to develop and express that spiritual reality we each contain, in the same way the actual Mishkan did for the entire Jewish people. This week’s parsha then, upon the closer inspection, is as packed with practical and relevant messages as much as any other.

[1] Of course this will (and in fact necessarily must) entail painstaking work and analysis to see those messages, but they are certainly there to be seen.

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