by Rabbi Boruch m Boudilovsky
The detail to which the Torah goes into when outlining the construction of the tabernacle is enormous. What makes this extensive elaboration particularly surprising is that the Torah regularly writes succinctly, leaving the broadening of our knowledge to the oral law.
In the case of the tabernacle, however, the Torah repeatedly goes into almost as much detail as possible. What deepens this enigma is the contrast between the Torah’s depiction of creation to that of the tabernacle. The Torah commits 31 verses to the creation of “heaven, earth, and their entire array”.
Several dozen verses only are dedicated to the creation of the entire universe, in all its breath- taking beauty and remarkable complexity. However, when describing the design and formation of the tabernacle, a structure which extended to a mere 20 by 10 beams, the Torah dedicates more than 300 verses!
To understand the seemingly disproportional devotion of more than 300 verses to the construction of the tabernacle, we need to reflect on the very essence of the Torah. The Torah is mainly concerned with the relationship between human and God.
This relationship is characterised by a command from God, and a human response of deference, best exemplified in the giving of the Torah at Sinai. In a remarkable midrashik text, our sages analogically teach us that the Torah highlights the primary importance of this relationship by reserving the first letter of the alphabet (Alef) to the opening of the first command at Sinai. The account of creation beginning with the second word of the alphabet (Bet) is secondary in importance. Judaism is fundamentally radical in its definition of spirituality. Spirituality, Judaism maintains, is not a product of a subjective emotional feeling but rather the objective discipline of human behaviour.
A relationship with God is not developed by withdrawing into soaring feelings of meditation, but rather by humbly and actively submitting to the will of God. This is precisely the role of Jewish law; to provide a detailed context to which we must discipline ourselves. Successful and consistent observance of Jewish law is what Judaism accepts as spirituality.
The tabernacle was designed to be a place of service to God. Consistent with the Jewish idea of spirituality, the tabernacle did not offer people a place where they could cathartically meditate on their own terms and individually decide what makes oneself feel close to God. Rather, the tabernacle, in its construction and subsequent service, was a place which imposed requirements upon man.
Only by obediently performing the detailed tasks dictated by God, does man serve God. This is why the Torah dedicates more than 300 verses in the book of redemption to the tabernacle. The Torah is teaching us that we serve God by routinely disciplining ourselves to detailed ritual.
• Boruch M Boudilovsky is a rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue