Exodus 38:21 – 40:38
Rabbi Gary Pokras
This is it. The end of the book. The mishkan, the holy sanctuary, has finally been completed.
I don’t have to tell you that it hasn’t been easy. Just two Torah portions ago we worshipped the Golden Calf – while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Commandments. That was then, this week things are completely different. After an effort that required all of Israel to participate, there is finally a place for God to dwell in our midst.
The Golden Calf was a product of our collective fear, which stemmed from our collective lack of faith. The mishkan, literally, is a physical construction of our faith.
It almost feels like a game of Biblical ping pong.
Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein notes that while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, and our tradition concurs. Just consider how Torah and Talmud study train our mind for critical thinking. Yet scholarship itself is not enough; we become untethered without faith. She writes:
“… ours is … an age in which information and misinformation are both readily available and even marketed to us; we struggle to discern truth from lie and fact from opinion. We ‘believe’ whatever sources are most comfortable or conform to our worldview, even if doing so requires disregarding science or logic.”1
Volumes have been written about how social media and other online sources have exacerbated the challenges we face. It’s not just the bubbles they create, it’s the constant barrage of information (and disinformation), it’s the clickbait, the rapid rate of exchange, and limits like 128 characters per posting, and so much more.
Who could possibly figure it all out?
As it turns out, we can. It all comes down to what we choose to believe, and Whom we choose to follow. If we want to just go with the flow, then that is easy enough. However, if we wish to be intentional with our choices, then we need to step away from the noise and create a little space for ourselves.
According to the kabbalists, this is exactly how God created: through the act of tzimtum, of making space for Creation before creating any things. Rabbi Rosenstein reminds us that in this week’s Torah portion, God requires all of Israel to perform an act of tzimtzum, creating a holy space for God in our midst – the mishkan.
Our tradition has survived for millennia in part because we have consistently found ways to create space for God in our lives. However, today it feels different. Today we are bombarded alternative “faiths,” and it is easy to get sucked into the churn of propaganda.
I choose to believe that we are better than this, that we are created in the Divine image, capable of creating almost anything ourselves (although on a smaller scale than God). What we create is determined not only by what we think and how we reason, but by what we believe. Rabbi Rosenstein wonders if we build our faith little by little with every act of faith, small or large. I think she is right. Similarly, we build our lack of faith or our faith in falsehoods one act at a time, slowly, day by day.
We need a new mishkan, I think, and perhaps more than one – a new space for God in our lives, so that we can direct our faith towards building the world as it should be instead of accepting the world as it is, or worse, blindly following the agenda(s) of those who wish us or our world harm.
And it all starts with just one small act of faith. Step back from the noise. Make a little room. Keep it separate from the rest. See what happens next.