Terumah: Build It and Use It!

Copyright 2014  Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Terumah 
Then set up the Mishkan according to the manner of it that you were shown on the mountain. . . (Shmot/Exodus 26:30)
“After you finish it [the Mishkan] then set it up.” {Rashi}
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, is mostly a set of instructions and descriptions for building the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary where offerings were made and the Divine Presence dwelt. The Mishkan is boards, sockets, gold implements, fabric, leather and many other fine materials, all assembled into a portable structure designed to be taken apart and carried from location to location. 
Right in the middle of the instructions for the outer structure- the planks and sockets and such- is the verse above, reminding Moshe to set up the Mishkan as he was shown on the mountain. This raises many questions about when, exactly, Moshe was shown the illustrations or images which would give him a clearer idea of the design and assembly of the Mishkan, but Rashi has the answer, above, to an even simpler question:  why tell Moshe to “set up” or “put up” the Mishkan if there have been verses and verses about how to build it? Isn’t it obvious that the whole point of building it is to put it up and use it? 

Well, as we can see from Rashi’s comment above, he thinks our verse does teach a distinction between building and setting up the Mishkan, and from a purely formal view, of course he’s right. One could assemble all the pieces of any large project and then fail to put them all together, which might still be a technical fulfillment of a command to build the various pieces. Yes this is  sort of silly- of course Moshe knew that the point was not to build a bunch of pieces but a unified structure. 
So what’s the point of Rashi’s comment? Perhaps simply to remind us, the readers, that leaving final steps untaken is a ubiquitous aspect of human life. How many of us have achieved great insights through study or reflection- and then failed to take practical steps to implement them? How many of us have made glorious plans which never reach fruition? Yet I ask these questions not for condemnation but rather to evoke compassion, for the simple reason that “putting all the pieces together” of any new thing can be a great source of anxiety.
 After all, once Moshe finished the Mishkan he and the Israelites would have to embrace a whole new way of encountering the Divine Presence, and what could require more courage and openness than experiencing the Sacred in the very midst of the people? Change is hard; it is only human to avoid it. It’s poignant to think that even Moshe needed encouragement to take these changes as to their conclusion. 
“After you finish it, then set it up”- Rashi’s comment isn’t really about the Mishkanas a set of planks and boards, but about the Mishkan as a new way of being in and experiencing the world.  We have to build, and we have to make what we’ve built into a creative reality.  That was true for Moshe, and it’s true for us. 
Shabbat Shalom, 

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