“And they shall make Me a tabernacle, that I may abide in their midst…” (Ex. 25:8)
This verse poses a hermeneutical challenge: We are just chapters from the events in which God shows Godself to the people through the act of liberation from slavery in Egypt, in the war against Israel’s enemy Amalek, in the story of the sweetening of the waters at Mara, and most impressively, in the scene of the giving of the Law at Sinai. And now God tells the people that if they will make a tabernacle, a portable sanctuary, then God will dwell among them. Has God not already shown the people time after time that God’s presence is everywhere?
Apparently, it’s a bit more complicated than that and as often is the case, the passage above has much to teach us about a relationship with God.
Sometimes, people need to be reassured, again and again, that they are not alone and will not be abandoned. Here, that reminder of God’s enduring presence is the tabernacle.
Sometimes, people need help to identify their own needs. God doesn’t need to give this help; God doesn’t need it. Rather, the people need to see some tangible proof of God’s enduring presence: here
again, the tabernacle.
Sometimes, people need to be reminded that living on a higher spiritual plane does not come by itself. They need to be reminded that the first step to that higher plane is making room, making space, for God—the tabernacle.
And sometimes, people need something very concrete and direct to hold on to, something through which they can connect to the lofty intellectual or spiritual aspects of life. They often need a place to
actually go to in body, in order to reach another “place” in mind and soul.
Let’s go back to the exact wording of the text: “And they shall make Me a Tabernacle, that I may abide in their midst…” The earthly abode of God described here is actually not in the Tabernacle; rather, as the verse states, “in their midst”—that is, among the people themselves and not really in the people-made structure.
So I often read this text not as much about our relationship with God, as about our relationships with other people. Love – all sorts of loving relationships – is very much about one person not being alone or abandoned. And in that interpersonal connection, we are able to better understand our own needs. But we must also create spaces for this connection to occur, and in those spaces allow for action in which love may grow and be expressed among us, one to one and all together.
At Or Hamidbar, our emphasis has been and will continue to be on creating those sacred spaces among the people themselves, regardless of the building in which we pray, study, or work for social justice. Our goal is consciously to clear space for God’s presence in our midst while concentrating on love, respect, and responsibility toward one another, regardless of any purpose-built structure’s design or history.
Sometimes, the tabernacle is us.