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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Consciousness for Crafting a Sacred Space

by Rabbanit Yaffah Aronoff (Posted on March 14, 2024)
Topics: Pekudei, Sefer Shemot, Torah

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The close of the Book of Exodus is breathtaking. “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34-35).

Something Bnei Yisrael have built together has become a space worthy of the Divine Presence. What was it about Bnei Yisrael at that moment in history that made them equal to such an invaluable gift?

A midrash from this week’s parsha offers us a clue. On the verse, “They brought the Mishkan to Moshe…” (39:33) Shemot Raba writes:

They had so many wise people there, and yet they had to go to Moshe and were unable to assemble it by themselves… What did they do? They all took their craftwork to Moshe and said, “Here are the beams and here are the bolts.” When Moshe saw them, the Holy Spirit immediately dwelled on him, and he assembled the Mishkan. And do not say that Moshe assembled it. Rather, miracles occurred and the Mishkan erected itself, as it says (Ex.40:17), “The Mishkan was set up.” (Shemot Raba 52:4)

The midrash opens with a predicament, to which anyone who has struggled with Ikea furniture can relate. Here are a group of intelligent artisans who have handcrafted the component parts of the Mishkan, expecting that the final stage of connecting the pieces would be the easy part. Yet, just the opposite is the case. No matter what they try, nothing works.

How do they react to this unforeseen difficulty? They bring the pieces they have crafted to Moshe, and, according to the midrash, use simple words to allude to their problem: “Here are the beams; here are the bolts.” After giving so much of themselves to this project and after fruitless attempts to reach completion on their own, these artisans are able to speak to Moshe from a place of detachment. The beams are not their beams, nor are the bolts their bolts. They are simply the beams and bolts.

Years ago, a gifted carpenter named Shmuel built some bookcases for our living room. When he finished his work he told us with a smile that the bookcases were really his and that we were merely using them and that if ever we had any trouble we should call him. I felt reassured knowing that Shmuel was proud of his work and did not see his creations as just another job.

Shmuel’s approach is obviously ideal for everyday life. But Hashem asks something else of us when it comes to creating a sacred space. In such an endeavor, there is no room for ego. Instead we are asked to give of ourselves without thinking of ourselves, to contribute to a sacred, national project free of any expectation of personal recognition or aggrandizement. What qualified the artisans of the Mishkan for the job was not only their manual skills but, more importantly, their consciousness of these values.

Perhaps as a nod to the artisans’ intense humility, the Torah seemingly prematurely describes the component parts of the Mishkan brought to Moshe as the Mishkan itself:

They brought the Mishkan to Moshe, the tent and all its furnishings, its clasps, its beams, its bolts, its pillars and sockets (Ex. 39:33)

The artisans did not bring the Mishkan to Moshe. Rather, they brought him the bits and pieces that they hoped would comprise the Mishkan. I would like to say that in this verse, Hashem has granted each beam, clasp, etc the status of Mishkan because of the selflessness and sense of higher purpose with which the artisans presented them to Moshe.

Moshe, whose outstanding attribute is humility, immediately grasps the magnitude of the artisans’ act of self-effacement. And in that moment, he is graced by the Holy Spirit and succeeds in assembling the Mishkan.

According to the Midrash’s conclusion, Moshe only appeared to assemble the Mishkan. But, in fact, it arose on its own. And that is only fitting. No one person can assemble what was to become the spiritual focal point of the nation.

In this difficult time of war, we have been privileged to see so many acts of selflessness and intuitive understanding that success can come only from a deep sense of a higher purpose that unites us all. May we, just like Bnei Yisrael, be worthy of the dwelling of the glory of God among us.

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