Sanctuary, Then and Now — Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
Rabbi Lisa’s commentary on torah portion Terumah in the Jewish Journal, 2017.
The entirety of Parashat Terumah consists of God instructing Moses, during their first 40-day “retreat” alone together atop Mount Sinai, on the details of the mikdash/Mishkan (holy place/Sanctuary) that God wants the Israelites to build. In fact, with the exception of chapters 32 through 34, which tell the stories of the golden calf and the giving of the Ten Commandments, the last 15 chapters and last five Torah portions of the Book of Exodus — starting with Terumah — focus on the construction of the Sanctuary.
God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites, “Let all those whose hearts are moved to do so, bring Me terumah (offerings/gifts)” (Exodus 25:2). Then God provides a list of precious gifts they might offer, including gold, silver, brass, fine linen, animal skins. God further explains how those gifts should be used: V’asu li mikdash v’shokhanti b’tokham — “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I might dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Commentators often note God’s desire to dwell among them (the people), rather than in it (the Sanctuary).
Why so much detail about this portable Sanctuary in the wilderness? It’s not as if later generations were going to use the same blueprints for their places of worship. Was God a control freak? Did God think the human designers couldn’t figure it out? That they were incapable of making something beautiful enough to honor the Holy One?
Contemporary commentator Richard Elliott Friedman points out that God is going to be associated with this tabernacle for many generations. Friedman notes that in 2 Samuel (7:6), God reports to King David that since bringing the Israelites out of Egypt I have been “going about in a tent and a Tabernacle.” And the haftarah that accompanies Parashat Terumah reports that King Solomon began to build the Temple in Jerusalem in the 480th year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt. Perhaps so much detail on the traveling Sanctuary is simply because it will be in use for a very long time.