Shemot (Ex) 38:21-40:38
This weeks Parasha is the culmination of the second half of Shemot. Much of what we have read over the last several week had to do with the construction of the articles and implements of the Mishkan. Finally, all the construction has been completed and Moshe goes out and inspects everything (Ex 39:43). Moshe sees that they had done everything as the Lord had commanded, and then he blessed them.
There is much we can learn as a community by studying our fathers as they wandered in the desert. In fact, in his letter to the Corinthians, Rabbi Sha'ul instructs them (and us) to learn from the Israelites (I Cor 10). In this instance, as they fashioned the things for the Mishkan, and the Mishkan itself, they did everything as G-d had commanded. There is a pattern and a process described in this last parasha that we can learn from as we mold the community we have labeled Nazarene Judaism.
First, they fashioned everything, just as YHVH has commanded. There are individuals with great knowledge and understanding in Nazarene Judaism that are fashioning from the Scriptures and from history the truth of G-d. They are like the craftsman who molded the ark of the lampstand or the women who sewed the curtains. Each had a skill or ability (or knowledge) they used for the glory of G-d and the blessing of the people.
Next, Moshe blessed the people. Traditionally, Moshe is believed to have said 'May it be YHVH's will that the Shechinah rest upon your handiwork' and also Psalm 90:17-'May the pleasantness of My Lord, our G-d be upon us, may He establish our handiwork for us, our handiwork may He establish.' This stresses the importance of prayer in our endeavor. Without the Ruach haKodesh at work in our midst, our history, our study, our practice of the commandments will be just dry information and ritual. But with prayer and the Spirit of the Living G-d infusing what we do it will have life and be able to impart life to others. We must constantly seek YHVH's blessing on that which we do. And if we diligently apply step one, doing everything as He commanded it, He will be happy to impart blessing upon us.
Finally, step three. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan (which happens to be this week!) they set up the Mishkan. All the implements were beautiful works of art but it is only when they are brought together that they serve their purpose. Chapter 40 goes into great detail as to how each article was placed in the Mishkan and how the Mishkan was put together. Until all the pieces were brought together, it was not the tabernacle. This is a picture of community. When we all come together and bring the 'pieces' we have fashioned, the whole of Natzrim Judaism fulfills it's function. The Biet Din, the leadership consortium, the Natzrim Conference, the discussion groups, and other functions of the larger community are examples of this in practice. On the local level, it is the celebrations and studies we have together that begin to fulfill this idea.
When all that happens, then something wonderful and amazing happens. In the desert, the Mishkan assumed it's holiness. This community of former slaves had accomplished something truely great and from then on they would see their Mishkan enveloped in holiness; the Mishkan that was built by their hands, erected by their prophet, made possible by their repentance and they would now have a constant reminder of YHVH's presence if they would continue to make Him welcome. Our experience will be similar if we remain diligent in our efforts, both individually and as a community.
This week we conclude the book of Shemot. This parasha details the construction of the Mishkan and the wonderful result. After they had done everything YHVH had commanded, He blessed them with an awesome revelation of His presence that was too glorious even for Moshe to approach.
“These are the accounts of the tabernacle, even the tabernacle or testimony” Shemot 38:21
Why the repetitive nature of this passage? The Zohar teaches us that the first is a reference to the one below and the second to the Mishkan above. (221a) This agrees with the writer of Hebrews who teaches that all the things of the tabernacle are copies of the things in the heavenlies (Heb 8:5). Moshe was shown the pattern for the Mishkan on the mountain and they made it just as YHVH had commanded.
The Zohar goes even further in identifying the testimony of the Mishkan as being that of the Name of G-d. Therefore the Mishkan is a symbol of the Name of G-d. Israel has the revelation of the name of G-d and the Mishkan was a testimony to that fact. G-d has placed his name of His people. And what was the result? The Shekinah dwelt among them above the ark of the covenant, they had the privilege of experiencing the unique presence of G-d on a regular, intimate basis.
There is an important lesson in the construction of the Mishkan. Since it was a copy of the heavenly Tabernacle, and not something Moshe and the other leaders dreamed up, it had to be built exactly as the original. If it was not, if Moshe had ‘cut corners’ or taken some ‘creative liberties’ or decided that such a structure was a little too passe and changed a few things in the name of ‘progress’, is there any doubt that the Shekinah would have decided not to show up on dedication day? Make an analogy with a computer chip. If everything is not made exactly to specifications, it will not work properly, if at all.
Rav Sha’ul teaches us that we are individual Mishkans of the Ruach, the unique, personal presence of G-d. We have the name of G-d and Messiah written on us as a testimony. We too construct our ‘Mishkans’ in accordance with the pattern on the mountain-Torah. We need to have our lives constructed according to the pattern of Torah with the same exact attention to detail that Israel used in constructing the Mishkan. If we do not, if we are not seeking precision in our observance as the means to the end of having the presence of G-d (Ruach haKodesh) dwell within us, He will not feel welcome.
Throughout the book of Shemot, Moshe has been the main character. He was the one who led Israel from Mitzraim, he was the one who was their judge and leader, and in this parasha, he is the one who assembles the Mishkan. There have, however, been very important men and women who have formed his ‘supporting cast’ throughout these events, without whom Moshe could not have accomplished what he did. His father in law Jethro’s advice, Aaron's work as the high priest, Miriam's support, the work of the seventy elders, it was all essential to the success of the ‘mission’. This week we are going to look at two more characters in this grand drama, Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab of the tribe of Dan.
Bezalel did everything as God commanded Moshe (38:22). As far as the construction of the Tabernacle is concerned, he was Moshe’s right hand man. He was filled with the ruach of Elohim, with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge and with every craft.....to perform every craft. (Ex 31:2-5). We know the Mishkan was not just any place of worship, it was unique among all the buildings of the world. It was a copy of the Temple in Heaven, a physical representation of spiritual reality. As such, it needed to be constructed in the same way that YHVH created the world according to His heavenly pattern. “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” (Proverbs 3:19, 20) The man who did the actual construction of the pieces of the Mishkan needed have the mind of God.
Bezalel was such a man. His name means ‘in the shadow of God’ and we can almost see God hovering over him as he worked on all the implements of the Mishkan, smiling in approval. It was also proper that a man from the tribe of Judah would be the lead in such an important task. He was not, however, alone. Oholiab was assigned to him and given wisdom with carving, weaving and embroidery, essential for almost all of the implements of the Mishkan and the priestly garments. These two men gave leadership to all the other wise hearted men and women among the people and accomplished this great feat. Moshe was a man of vision but he needed men like Bezalel and Oholiab to turn that vision into reality. The body of God’s people is made up of many different people endowed with a variety of gifts and talents, some are innate and some are God given. Every one of them is essential in carrying out His will in the world. Some, like Moshe and Bezalel, are front and center leadership roles and others, like Joshua and Oholiab are supportive roles. That does not make them any less, just different. It also does not make them any less essential. The foot soldier is just as crucial as the general, it is a difference in role, not importance. Wars are not won if either is lacking. God’s spiritual wars for the hearts and minds of men in this world will not be won if either is lacking as well. Some of us are foot soldiers and wish we were generals. Some are generals who should be foot soldiers. What everyone needs to do is humbly find their proper place within the army of God and fulfil that role with excellence. Then the work gets done and wonderful and mighty things happen, just as the end of our parasha describes.
Chazak, Chazak, Venischazeik!!