“Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and
the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.” (Exodus 25:9)
Parashat T’rumah introduces the instructions for building the mishkan, or Tabernacle. The mishkan’s importance is manifest by the level of detail included; the Torah devotes three times the space to the creation of the mishkan as it does to the creation of the world.
The mishkan is built for a practical reason: to house the luchot habrit (the Tablets of the Law). Since the aron, or ark, holds the luchot, it is the central feature of the mishkan and its most sacred element. That’s why it is the first item to be described in T’rumah. The mishkan also fulfills a symbolic role: to represent God’s presence among the Israelite people. The design of the aron makes a radical theological statement about God’s presence.
The aron is a box with three layers: gold, wood, and gold. (Some commentators claim it is a set of three separate nested boxes; Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72b). It is fitted with a cover of pure gold with two cherubs with outstretched wings facing each other from opposite corners (Ex. 25:18-20). Supposedly, the cherubs support God’s throne, and so God’s voice comes from the space above the aron, from between the cherubs (Ex. 25:22).
Because the cherubs sit permanently above the aron, they represent God’s “up-close-and-personal-right-here-and-right-now” presence in our midst. At the same time, the cherubs’ outstretched wings represent God’s “everywhere –and -all-the-time” presence. These two attributes – being simultaneously on high and close in – are fundamental attributes of God according to Jewish thought. Thus, when T’rumah says, “Let them make a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8) it doesn’t mean God will live in a particular spot, literally. Rather, it means the symbols of God’s attributes will express God’s manifold presence.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom