This week’s Torah reading is about the commandment to build the Tabernacle, our traveling Temple and main vehicle for connecting to G‑d during the time we were in the desert (and our first four centuries in Israel). There are three different opinions about when the commandment to build the Tabernacle was given:

  1. Zohar (2:224a): the commandment (as well as the bringing of the contributions to the Tabernacle) was immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments, before the sin of the Golden Calf (40 days later).
  2. Midrash (Tanchuma, Terumah 8): the commandment and contributions were at the time of the first Yom Kippur, after the sin of the Golden Calf, to make it known to all of the nations that we had been forgiven.
  3. Zohar (2:195a): G‑d commanded Moses before the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, but Moses did not instruct the people until after Yom Kippur.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that each opinion presents us with a radically different image of the stance of the Jewish nation at the time of the making of the Tabernacle. According to the opinion that the command was before the sin of the Golden Calf (the first opinion), the Jews were totally righteous, since the process involved in the escape from Egypt and the giving of the Torah totally cleansed them from any impurity acquired during their sojourn in Egypt. According to the opinion that it was after Yom Kippur (the second opinion), the Jewish people had atoned for the sin and were baalei teshuvah (literally, “masters of return”); a baal teshuvah is someone who has “tasted the world” and chosen to return to a greater all-encompassing connection to G‑d. The opinion that the giving of the command was before the sin, yet the fulfillment was after the atonement (the third opinion), means that even during the interim, when the Jews were in an evil and disgraceful state, the commandment to build a dwelling place for G‑d was in force.

Each of these opinions teaches us something unique regarding our own journey to serve G‑d . . .

Each of these opinions teaches us something unique regarding our own journey to serve G‑d:

  1. When a person is on the level of a tzaddik, a totally righteous person (or even someone who simply feels well established in Judaism), it might be presumed that a Tabernacle, something to help him serve G‑d on this plane, is not needed. Such a person might assume that it is possible to be divorced from the physical, involved only in spiritual matters like prayer, contemplation and Torah study. But, think again! The Torah commands, “Make Me a Tabernacle, so that I can dwell among you.” Even a tzaddik needs to take the physical and transform it into a vehicle to serve G‑d.
  2. On the other hand, a baal teshuvah could think that since the world already tripped her up, it would be best to disconnect for some amount of time anyway, throwing oneself totally into spiritual actions so as not to fail again. Instead, we are told that even a baal teshuvah has to transform the physical into a spiritual environment. In fact, this makes her return to G‑d even more secure and powerful!
  3. But what about the wicked person, someone still grounded in negative behavior. We would think that certainly he has no right to build G‑d a sanctuary until after repenting. For this reason, the third opinion comes to teach us that the command and need to build a Sanctuary was not nullified even at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf. The obligation and the ability to take the physical and transform it into something spiritual existed even during the darkest time, before the Jews repented.

    Is a person so absolutely distant from G‑d still commanded to do the most sublime divine act, to build a sanctuary for G‑d? The answer is that even a Jew enmeshed in evil, if he or she will turn, even a bit, towards the truth that is accessible to each of us with just a little effort, G‑d helps him or her to complete the personal transformation.

Shabbat Shalom,

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