In this parashah, we embark upon a great enterprise that will concretize the relationship between God and Israel for all time: It begins with God's declaration:
"And they [the children of Israel] shall make Me a מקדש/mikdash/holy place and I shall dwell among them." (Sh'mot/Exodus 25:8)
Who is Involved?
There is so much to say about this project: As the name of the parashah implies, the materials to build this holy place were to be collected by voluntary donation. There was no tax to be levied, there was to be no pressure to contribute. The list of materials required (skins, precious metals, dyes, fabrics, stones) were to be brought by individuals as their hearts dictated. So when God declares "...they shall make Me a mikdash..." the emphasis is very much on the "they." This holy place must be an expression of the commitment and love of the people themselves. A grassroots effort.
What Will Be Constructed?
Then we come to what is being built: מקדש / mikdash means a holy place. This word is based on a root ( ק ד ש ) that is familiar to many of us in words like קידוש/kiddush (the blessing on wine which sanctifies [makes holy] the Sabbath or festival) and קדיש/kaddish (the Aramaic prayer which declares the holiness of God recited as markers between units of our liturgy and by mourners). That which is קדוש / kadosh / holy in Judaism is that which is "other", unique, set aside for a purpose like no other. Thus, Shabbat is a day like no other, set aside for rest, for appreciation of the world God created during the six days of creation, the Kaddish addresses the uniqueness of God. So this מקדש/mikdash was to be a unique place set aside for a use like no other.
What Will Happen There?
The last phrase of the verse expressed God's plan for this construct: "I shall dwell among them" ... among the people who build this place for Me. The Hebrew word is שכנתי/shachanti, based on the same root as the modern Hebrew words for neighbor (שכן/shachein), and neighborhood (שכונה/sh'chunah). God says: I'm moving in!
For weeks, we are going to read about the construction of this divine residence: we will read the "to-do list" of what to build and what materials need to be collected. We will read of dimensions, shapes and methods of construction. Then we will receive reports as each item (the tents, the implements, the altars, the accessories, the priestly vestments) are completed. Then we will read a report of everything that was made and completed just before the precincts of this area are dedicated, the priests/kohanim are trained and the first sacrifices are offered.
Very quickly, the name of this project changes. In chapter 25, in the verse quoted above, the Israelites are instructed to build a מקדש/mikdash/holy place. But in the beginning of chapter 26 (verse 1) this same project is referred to as the משכן/mishkan! It will continue to be called משכן/mishkan through the remaining 39 years or so of the Israelite journey through the wilderness.
משכן/mishkan: Based not on that root for holy (ק ד ש) but based on the root for neighbor (ש כ ן). In the space of a few verses, God's hopes for this place are embodied in its name: this is not a place for God to be separate, apart and "other" from the people. This is a place designed to bring God and the people closer together. To live in proximity through the decades of wandering to come.
Ultimately, the name מקדש/mikdash will be revived. The מקדש/mikdash will be the Temple in Jerusalem. The fixed edifice that will anchor the worship of God in the land God ordains for the Israelites. Here the dynamic will be so different: in the משכן/mishkan, God will travel where the people travel, in the מקדש/mikdash the people will have to come to God, so to speak. For all the magnificence of that Temple, for all the significance of b'nai yisrael, the childrenof Israel, returning to and settling into the land of their ancestors, there will be a certain intimacy lost with the replacement of the מכשן/mishkan with the מקדש/mikdash/Temple.
I seek the intimacy of the משכן/mishkan when I seek God with my community. This is how God first sought us, this is how we can find God: building a community together as our hearts dictate.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.