The Torah Portion for Sunday 6th February is called “Terumah” meaning “Heave Offering” and is from Exodus 25:1–27:19 A description of the construction Tabernacle.
In a nutshell, The people of Israel are called upon to contribute thirteen materials—gold, silver and copper; blue-, purple- and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices and gems—out of which, God says to Moses, “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amidst them.”
On the summit of Mount Sinai, Moses is given detailed instructions on how to construct this dwelling for God so that it could be readily dismantled, transported and reassembled as the people journeyed in the desert.
In the Sanctuary’s inner chamber, behind an artistically woven curtain, was the ark containing the tablets of the testimony engraved with the Ten Commandments; A jar of the Manna from heaven and Aaron’s budding rod. On the ark’s cover stood two winged cherubim hammered out of pure gold. In the outer chamber stood the seven-branched menorah, and the table upon which the “showbread” was arranged.
The Sanctuary’s three walls were fitted together from 48 upright wooden boards, each of which was overlaid with gold and held up by a pair of silver foundation sockets. The roof was formed of three layers of coverings: (a) tapestries of multicolored wool and linen; (b) a covering made of goat hair; (c) a covering of ram and tachash skins. (Something like water buffalo) Across the front of the Sanctuary was an embroidered screen held up by five posts.
Surrounding the Sanctuary and the copper-plated altar which fronted it was an enclosure of linen hangings, supported by 60 wooden posts with silver hooks and trimmings, and reinforced by copper stakes. (i)
For us, the Tabernacle becomes three studies. Firstly, the Tabernacle as it is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the Gate of Thanksgiving and we praise His name. Jesus is the Altar of sacrifice, He is the Light of the World reflected in the Menorah and He is the Bread of Life represented by the Table of Showbread and He is the Holy of Holies, He is the Arc of the Covenant containing the 2 Tablets of Stone – The 10 Words – The Way we live. He is the Manna from Heaven- the Truth of His Word (Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God – and He is the Budding Rod of Aaron- the Life. So contained in the Arc of the Covenant was The Way, The Truth and the Life which travels with them in the desert.
Secondly, how it is fulfilled in Church history. The Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, The Synagogue, The Ekklesia – The Bride.
And finally, how it must be fulfilled in the individual Christian believer. (ii)
It represents Jesus: The Church and you.
As soon as we open this week’s Torah portion, we begin with the massive shift from the intensive drama of the Exodus, with its signs and wonders and epic events to the long detailed exhaustive narrative of how the Israelites constructed the Tabernacle – The Tent of Meeting - the portable sanctuary that they carried with them through the desert.
By any standard, it cries out for an explanation. A lengthy explanation interrupted by the story of the Golden Calf.
It was specifically designed to be carried through the desert and then in the times of King Solomon, it would have been replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem. What enduring message are we supposed to learn from a construction that was not designed to endure.
The transition from Genesis to Exodus is from family to nation.
When the Israelites entered Egypt, they were a single extended family – 70 in all. By the time they left 400 years later they had become a sizeable people, divided into 12 tribes plus a collection of fellow travelers, called the mixed multitude.
The thing that united them was their shared past. They had a common enemy, were enslaved and had a memory of the patriarchs and their God. What was difficult was to give them a shared sense of responsibility for the future.
As so often is the case, as a people long deprived of their freedom, they were passive and prone to complaining. They expected somebody else, Moses or God, to free them from slavery, to provide them with food and water and take them to the Promised Land and expected somebody else to do it for them, and if not, they complained.
At every setback they complained. They complained when Moses’ first intervention failed. I quote, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hands to kill us”. Ex 5:21
At the Red Sea they complained again. Exodus 14:11-12 11 “They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
After the division of the Red Sea,, it says when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed in Him and Moses His servant. But after a mere 3 days, they complained again. There was no water and then there was water but it was bitter. Then there was no food. The Israelites said to him, “Ex 16:3 3 “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Soon, Moses himself is saying to God, “What am I to do with this people – they are almost ready to stone me.”
Now by then, God had already performed signs and wonders on the people’s behalf, taken them out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea, given them water from the rock, manna from heaven and still they are not cohesive as a nation . They are still a group of individuals unwilling or unable to take responsibility, to act collectively rather than to complain.
And now God does the single greatest act in the history of religious experience, He appears on Mount Sinai. The only time in history that God has appeared to an entire people and the people tremble. There was never anything like this happen before and there will never be anything like it happen again until Jesus returns. How long does it last? 40 days and then the people start making the Golden Calf.
If miracles, the division of the Red Sea and the revelation at Mount Sinai fails to transform the Israelites, what will? There are no greater miracles than these.
That is when God does the single most unexpected thing. He says to Moses, speak to the people and get them to contribute – to give something of their own. Be it gold, silver or bronze, wool, animal skin, oil or incense, or their skill or their time.
Get them to build something together. A symbolic home for My presence. A Tabernacle. It doesn’t have to be large or grand or permanent. Get them to make something. Get them to become builders. Get them to give.
Moses does and the people respond. They respond so generously that Moses says, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord has commanded to be done. And Moses has to say “Stop!”.
During the whole time the Tabernacle was being constructed, there were no complaints, no rebellions, and no dissentions. What all the signs and wonders failed to do, the construction of the Tabernacle succeeded in doing. It transformed the people. It turned them into a cohesive group. It gave them a sense of responsibility and achievement – an identity.
Seen in this context the story of the Tabernacle was the essential, crucial element in the birth of a nation. No wonder it is told at length. The Tabernacle of Moses constructed in the desert didn’t last forever but the lesson it taught really did. It is not what God does for us that transforms us but what we do for God. The construction of the Sanctuary was fundamentally important because it gave the people the chance to give back to God. Later Jewish law recognized that giving is an integral part of human dignity when they made the remarkable ruling that even a poor person completely dependent on charity is still encouraged to give to charity. To be in a situation where you can only receive, not give, is to lack human dignity. The Tabernacle became the home of the Divine Presence because God specified that it be built only out of voluntary contributions. Giving creates a gracious society by enabling each of us to make our contribution to the public good. (iii)
This reminds me of the famous speech by President John Kennedy, where he said "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." - a call to action for the public to do what is right for the greater good. (v) The truckers who have traveled to Ottawa, those who contributed and those who cheered them on responded to a call for action to set Canada free. They are doing what they believe to be right for the greater good of Canada and iy will impact the world.
A free society is best symbolized by the Tabernacle. It is the home we build together. It is only by becoming builders that we turn from subjects to citizens. We must earn our freedom by what we give, by what we build. It cannot be given to us as an unearned gift. It is what we do, not what is done for us that makes us free. That is a lesson as true today here in Canada as it was then.
The very idea of giving to God sounds absurd. How can we, God’s creation, give back to the God who made us? All we have is His. As David said, at the gathering he convened at the end of his life to initiate the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. “Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things… Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give so generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand”.
1 Chronicles 29:12,29:14.
God’s greatest gift to us is the ability to give to Him. (iv)
Are we ready to build something wonderful for God in Canada to reclaim our freedom in Jesus for “If the Son has set us free, we are free indeed”.
Are we ready to build something wonderful for God together in the Church – the Tabernacle of God.
Are we personally ready to hold the very presence of God in this Tabernacle made of skin – baptized with the Holy Spirit – our Water Baptism, filled with Jesus becoming our Salvation, and our Sanctification, our Healing by the laying on of hands and finally and lastly the outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Himself. So perfectly ordered, beautifully adorned, burnished in the fire of affliction to expose the gold and the silver with a heart of love as the Mercy Seat of God?
I bring this word in February (the second month) 2022 and read from Ephesians 2: 20-22 “You can’t make this stuff up! And I read, “ 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Holy Spirit”. (vi)
1. Chabad Terumah in a Nutshell
2. The Path of the Just Vol: 1. By Maureen Gaglardi
3. Rabbi Sacks “Covenant and Conversation”
4. Rabbi Sacks “The Labour of Gratitude”
5. John F. Kennedy “Inauguration speech” 1961.
6. Ephesians 2:20-22