Having a grown-up relationship with G-d

Rabbi Hyim Shafner serves Bais Abraham Congregation in University City. 

By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, Moses has just ascended Mount Sinai after the saying of the aseret hadibrot, Ten Commandments, and G-d now commands Moses to tell the Jewish People to collect funds for the building of the Mishkan (tabernacle), a moving Temple the Jewish people traveled with in the desert. 

This Torah portion and several subsequent to it continue to describe the details of the Mishkan’s construction. Why do the commandments for building a tabernacle follow so soon on the heels of the revelation at Mount Sinai? Indeed, why do the Jewish people, a nation that our rabbis say saw G-d face-to-face at the Red Sea and at Mount Sinai, require a Tabernacle at all for relating to the Divine?

Furthermore isn’t it a dangerous proposition for a people so soon redeemed from a land of idolaters to have a concrete place and gold vessels for worshiping an infinite G-d?

Rash”i, the great medieval French Torah commentator, was perplexed by the same questions. He answers that the Torah here is in the wrong chronological order.In reality, Rash”i says, the Tabernacle was given to the Jews only after they had worshiped the golden calf and G-d realized their need for a more concrete form of worship. Maimonides, in his book “The Guide to the Perplexed,” says similarly that prayer and personal interaction are a higher form of connection with G-d than Temple sacrifices and communal service but that the Jews, a nation 50 days from slavery, could not relate to things so abstract.

The Midrash though, sees the Mishkan in a more positive light. The Midrash says that Moses was quite perplexed when G-d gave the commandments for the building of the Tabernacle and said, “Will You who even the whole universe can not contain, constrict Yourself in the Mishkan?”

The Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, offers the following parable as G-d’s answer to Moses. There was a king who had a young daughter. When she was a little girl, she would run to the king in the marketplace, and he would pick her up. He was always available to play with her and talk to her. When she grew up, the king said, “It is not fitting for us to talk in the marketplace; I will make a special personal room for us to talk in.”   

So it is with Israel, G-d says. When she was young, I interacted with her everywhere face-to-face; at the Sea, in the Exodus and at Mount Sinai. But now that she has grown up, received the Torah and become a complete nation, it is not polite (or profound enough) for me to talk to her in public like a child, rather let her make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them.

Do we have a Mishkan due to our lack of ability to interact intimately and maturely with G-d or because we have an even greater ability to do so? Though growing up often changes the parent-child relationship into one that at first may seem less intimate, the potential exists, if we can mature enough, to have a relationship that is ever so much more deep and complex.

This Shabbat, may we each personally become spiritually mature enough to have an even more intimate, deep and complex relationship with our G-d.