Our world is filled with microcosms. Walk into a school or an office building, and you’ll observe a fully functioning miniature community with its own rules, operational procedures, and social norms. Airports are another example; I’m always awed by what it takes to operate the world of the airport, from the flight crews to the maintenance workers to the airport employees. These microcosms exist all around us, and we float in and out of them all day, every day.
We already know that the Israelites also had such a world within a world, but in this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we learn that God had one too. It seems strange to think of God needing a world within a world. Isn’t the whole universe God’s creation? Would it really benefit God to have a separate, more Godly space?
Terumah recounts for us the building of the Tabernacle, and we receive instructions for the beautification of the space. Each vessel, covering, light fixture, and costume piece is listed so that the space is constructed to God’s exact specifications. The Torah lists each piece individually in order to state the exact purpose of each individual item. Assembled together, this will become the dwelling place of God.
So I’ll pose the question again: why does God need a separate dwelling? The fashioning of this sacred space is essentially to create a separate world within God’s universe, but is that necessary? Perhaps the Tabernacle represents not just physical space, but time as well. Consider the construction of Noah’s ark in parshat Noach. The ark was a means of survival, but also represented the new beginning of humanity, a new beginning in time. So too the construction of the Tabernacle represents a new beginning of the Israelite nation, both a physical and symbolic separation of the past and the future.
Take a look at our own microcosm of Congregation Neveh Shalom. Our community – from the building itself to Foundation School to morning minyan to ALIYAH – is without a doubt both a physical and symbolic manifestation of a separate, holy place. We continue to create this sacred space, not to draw God closer to us, but to draw us, together, closer to God.