God’s Dwelling in Community
This week we conclude the reading of the book of Exodus and as the final lines are read, we all shout “chazak chazak ve nitchazek!” “May we all go from strength to strength!” It has been a long journey through the book of Exodus as we have read of our ancestors journey from being a slave nation to a free people, a true community. One of the final acts in the book is the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness. If we look closely at the language used for the construction of the tabernacle, we find that it shares great parallels with the process by which God created the world in the opening of the book of Genesis.
There it says that “On the seventh day God finished the work of creation.” In our parashah Moses finished the work of creating the tabernacle. The Hebrew words used for “finished” and for “work” in each instance is the same. Just as God blessed creation, Moses blesses the people. Further, the phrase “just as God commanded Moses” is repeated seven times as part of the description. Seven, echoing the number of days of creation, seven, reflecting the number of wholeness, holiness and completeness. Finally, the order of theconstruction of the tabernacle and of the creation are in parallel. When God created the world, God first created the environment and then filled it: the heavens, the earth, the seas first, followed by the creatures in that environment – three days on the environment and three on the creatures. Similarly, the tabernacle has three areas, the outer chamber, the holy chamber and the holy of holies, each filled by different representatives of the people, until the holy of holies is filled with the spirit of God.
In a beautiful explanation Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that when God created the world, God created a place for humanity to dwell and when we created the tabernacle, we created a place for God among us. But our creation was different from that undertaken by God. God worked alone to make the world and all that is within it. But when we came to create for God, the community worked together, each one contributing what they could, each one offering gifts from their hearts. That is the essence of community, working together to bring God and godliness into the world. This act of cooperation shows how far the Israelite community has traveled through their wanderings in the Book of Exodus. They are no longer a disparate group of individuals; instead they are a community, and only as a community commanded to build a tabernacle.
We cannot bring God’s presence into the world alone, we must work together, each one giving what we can, each one contributing from our hearts. We no longer have a tabernacle but the presence of God is with us each time we reach out to one another, when we embrace and welcome, when we join together for a higher purpose. That is the lesson of the tabernacle and the lesson the Israelites came to learn from their years in the desert.
May we all feel the warmth and beauty of community and celebrate a Shabbat filled with goodness and peace and then God will truly dwell amongst us.