The description presented in the previous and next number of Torah portions is quite puzzling. It elaborates the specific items, measurements and requirements for their construction, and also gives us instructions for the procedures in the service that the Cohanim and Leviim must
follow. The Torah even tells us about the clothing that they must wear.
Why do I, as a layman, need to know so much detail? I am not going to build another Tabernacle (Mishkan)! I will not be officiating in the Tabernacle service; it’s only permitted to the Cohen. I will present my offering to the Cohen; he will perform the proper mitzvah and the Cohen will tell me what I need to do.
The Torah is an open book that every Jew is required and encouraged to study. This highlights its very democratic nature. However, I believe that there may be another lesson contained in the lack of secrecy surrounding the construction of the “house of G-d.”
I do not believe that ancient
religions revealed the details of the “rites and rituals” to their public like our Torah does. They emphasized and heightened the sense of the mysterious and the unknown to stimulate the religious emotions of man. They catered to the most subjective elements of the human personality and produced systems of worship that are an outgrowth of human feelings. A spiritual system created by human beings according to the rabbis is the primary basis for idolatry. (See Meiri intoduction to Avos, Maimonides Yesodei Hatorah.)
By presenting the details of the construction process we are all privy to the “secrets” and we have the realization that the Mishkan is just a building constructed like any other physical building; no secrets nor magic.
What makes it special is that the people — Bnai Yisroel — participated in the many aspects of the Mishkan construction, and are serving G-d in accordance with His Instruction. Using the “place” where G-d has chosen to manifest His presence as the vehicle to teach and make known His Mitzvot, in accordance with G-d’s Instruction — His Torah — “you will know that G-d is your G-d … and He will be dwelling in their midst” (Rabbi Recanti — Exodus 29:46).
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)