"They shall make Me a sanctuary…."(Ex. 25:8)

According to Rashi, G‑d commanded the Jewish people to build the Tabernacle while Moses was on Mt. Sinai for the third period of forty days, i.e. between the 1st of the month of Elul and Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei. Moses communicated this instruction to the people when he descended the mountain on Yom Kippur, and the people spent just over two months building the structure and its implements, finishing the Tabernacle on the 25th of the month of Kislev.

In fact, however, there are three opinions about when the instruction to build the Tabernacle was commanded and when it was built:

  • According to one opinion in the Zohar (II:224a), both the instruction and the construction took place immediately after the giving of the Torah, i.e. before the sin of the Golden Calf. (Hence, the Jews donated only their gold earrings for the Golden Calf, for that is all they had left. They had already given away the rest of their gold for the construction of the Tabernacle.)

  • According to the Midrash [Tanchuma, Teruma 8], the instruction took place after the sin of the Golden Calf, on Yom Kippur. By commanding the Jews to build Him a dwelling, G‑d demonstrated that He had forgiven the sin of the Golden Calf.

  • According to a second opinion in the Zohar (II:195a), Moses heard G‑d's instruction before the sin but transmitted it to the Jewish people only after Yom Kippur.

On a deeper level, these three opinions identify the three types of people….

On the physical plane, only one of these opinions can be correct. But on a deeper level, these three opinions identify the three types of people G‑d desires to build His Tabernacle - to make the world a G‑dly place. The eternal Tabernacle must be the product of all three groups, although each one imagines that it is exempt.

1) The holy mystic: According to the first opinion, the instruction was addressed to Jews who were righteous and pure, having just experienced their rebirth at Sinai. Such a Jew may be unwilling to dirty his hands with gold and silver. He is addressed by the first opinion: "Despite all your holiness, you are still human and physical. You are not exempt from fulfilling G‑d's purpose in putting your soul into its body: to sanctify physicality and transform the physical world into G‑d's dwelling place. Moreover, holy as you are, you still maintain at least a minimal relationship with physicality: you must eat, sleep, and so on. If you refuse to tangle with the world for the purpose of converting it to holiness, that small but unrefined connection that you do have to the world will ultimately entangle you."

The penitent…has been there, done that, and knows better; he is untouchable….

3) The returnee: According to the second opinion, G‑d addresses Jews who have sinned and repented, who have served the Calf and have now returned. Such a Jew agrees that a holy person needs to engage in sanctifying his physical involvement in the world, lest it ensnare him in its material orientation. He, the penitent, however, is immune to this danger. He has been there, done that, and knows better; he is untouchable. The second opinion is addressed to him: "The instruction to build the Tabernacle was given on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, after the Jews had returned to the right path and been forgiven. Know that your return is not complete until you have built Me a Tabernacle. It is not enough to renounce the enticements of materialism; you, especially, must transform the material world into G‑d's dwelling place."

3) The sinner: According to the third opinion, G‑d's command applies even to sinners, to worshippers of a graven image. There is no mention of G‑d rescinding the commandment to build the Tabernacle after the Jews had sinned or re-instructing them to build it after they had been forgiven. Such a Jew is sure that in order to build the Tabernacle you must be perfect; until then, he thinks, he must stay away. He is addressed by the third opinion: although the instruction was given before the sin, it was not voided by it. G‑d's Tabernacle is to be built by every Jew, even those that are idol-worshippers.

Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org
Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 6, pp. 153-6