This week, in Parsha Terumah, God gives the Children of Israel detailed instructions on how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the many items that will be used in it. God commands them to build it, and says to Moses, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them.”
One approached the Mishkan by entering a large courtyard, which was 200 feet long by 100 feet wide (about 2/3 the size of a football field). (The Torah gives the dimensions in cubits, which equals two feet.) The Courtyard was an enclosure made of beautiful fabric; it opened on the east side. Once you entered it, you would see the large Copper Altar (Mizbeach), where the offerings were made. It was six feet high, and 10 feet on each side. The priests ascended to the top of the Copper Mizbeach by way of a ramp. Beyond the Copper Mizbeach was the Tabernacle.
The Mishkan was a sacred space 80 feet long by 56 feet wide. Its walls were of beautiful wood, and made with fittings of gold, silver, copper and fabrics of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool. It was covered with the skins of the tachash, a now-extinct animal with wonderful multi-colored skin. The front area was the “Holy” and contained three marvelous items:
· The Menorah, a seven-branched candelabra, made from a single mass of gold. Each branch was fashioned into several cups, capped by a knob, and finished with a flower. Special very pure olive oil was burned in the hollow space of the flower.
· The Golden Mizbeach on which incense was burned.
· The Shulchan (Table) made of acacia wood with shelves on which were displayed 12 special loaves of bread.
At the western edge of the Holy was a fabric hanging, the Parochet, and beyond that was the Holy of Holies. The only thing in the Holy of Holies was the Aron (the Holy Ark) the most important object in the Mishkan. The Ark was five feet long, three feet wide, and three feet high. It was a wooden box covered both inside and out with gold. Two Cherubim (heavenly creatures with child-like faces) were affixed to the top, facing each other with their wings spread over the Ark. The Ark had rings of gold at its four corners, two on one side and two on the other side, with acacia wood staves covered in gold with which the Ark was carried. (Of course, you were on the lookout for more staves – I warned you several weeks ago you would see them again.)
Diagrams of the Mishkan and drawings of its furnishings can be found athttp://torahskills.org/mishkanwebquest/sanctuary.html
Only the priests could enter the Mishkan, and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies.
In a couple of weeks we will learn what was kept in the Ark and what may have been God’s reason to have the Israelites create a place for Him to dwell among them. But for now, you can think about the Mishkan and its furnishings like a home – the home of each Jew.
The Mishkan was like a house with four walls and a roof, enclosed by a fence, with beautiful furnishings: a candelabra (the Menorah) for light, a table (the Shulchan) for bread, and an altar used to worship God. Every Shabbat and festival we celebrate our relationship with God: We light candles, parents bless their children with the words of the Priestly Blessing, we bless wine with the Kiddush (as wine accompanied many other kinds of offerings), we salt the challah (the offerings in the Mishkan and the Temple were salted), we wash our hands as was done before conducting the service in the Mishkan and the Temple, and bless the challah.
Enjoy your Jewish home – a place where God can dwell with you.
(The metaphor of the Mishkan and its furnishings as being like a family’s home is a mystical interpretation, taken from the beautiful description by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his book Torah Lights: A Biblical Commentary; Shemot: Defining a Nation.)
© Nelson R. Block 2014