And there I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all the commands regarding the children of Israel.
Section One (Parsha Debrief):
This week’s parsha (Exodus 25:1-27:19) contained: a portion of the detailed instructions God gives Moses regarding the Tabernacle. The instructions outline the building of The Ark of the Covenant, the Shulchan (i.e. table for showbread), the Menorah, the Tabernacle framing and coverings, the Altar, and the courtyard. Next week we read about instructions for additional elements like the Altar of Incense.
In the Midweek Reading Guide, we invited readers to ask bigger, forest-level questions in hopes of experiencing the Tabernacle in new ways. We’ll offer some answers to those questions.
This section of Text is so detailed it can be hard to visualize. We’ve listed out the major elements of the Tabernacle above; now, let’s ensure there’s a common image in our collective minds before moving forward to unpack the Text. Clipped below are amazing images from Aleph Beta’s graphic designers…
This whole section of Text has echoes of early Genesis woven throughout. It takes us back to the days of Creation, to the Garden of Eden, and even to the Flood. The Rabbis at Aleph Beta make the case for all of these connections, but we’ll only address each briefly.
Back to the Garden of Eden: God instructs two cherubim of gold to be made and set on top of the Ark. Where else did we encounter cherubim? The only other place prior to this was the cherubim that God had guard the Tree of Life with flaming swords. Moreover, what Moses receives atop Mount Sinai and ends up in the Ark, is later referred to as the way of life (Proverbs 6:23) and the fountain of life (Proverbs 13:14).
Back to the Days of Creation: The cherubim reference in the Tabernacle instructions doesn’t stop with those set atop the ark of the Testimony… two further instructions include the cherubim. They are: the veil (Exodus 26:31-35) and the curtain covering the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1). What do the covering, the veil, and the curtain have in common? They’re all partitions, they separate things. And wouldn’t you know it… Creation had three types of separation. In Genesis 1, God separated between light and darkness, between waters above and below, and between day and night using luminaries in the heavens.
Back to the Flood: The Ark of the Covenant is made of wood and covered inside and outside. Interestingly, so is Noah’s ark. One’s covered inside and out with gold, the other with pitch. These two arks have similar, yet opposite functions too.
To help answer that, let’s add another piece to the puzzle. Rabbis like Ramban (i.e. Nachmanides), Haim Sabato, and Emmanuel Shalev all point out that the very first thing God instructs regarding the building of the whole Tabernacle is — the Ark. Despite this, when the Tabernacle is actually constructed, after the sin of the golden calf, the structural components of the Tabernacle are built first. Which makes sense, build the envelope before building the furniture. But, that’s not what God focused on first.
There’s something more paramount than the building itself.
Let’s pull all this together.
When we examine the physical layout of the tabernacle, we note that it is organized in increasing levels of holiness, from the exterior inward. This arrangement demonstrates that the location of the Ark and the cherubim, where the meeting with the Divine Presence takes place, is the center [of gravity] of the Tabernacle — not the Altar, which is the site of service.
-Haim Sabato, Rest for the Dove
It’s all about the Ark and what happens above it. This is where God shows up and speaks. God even says as much, “make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).” And, “I will meet with you… between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 25:22).”
What’s more, the Tabernacle gets referred to as the Tent of Meeting. As if the Torah is actually defining for us the entire function of the Tabernacle — to meet God.
Or, maybe even for God to meet us, in our world.
Let’s return to the Genesis connections.
Could it be that creating the Tabernacle reciprocates what God created?
God made a world for us, a universe for us. God carved out a little bit of everything and made [a space] just for us. We, in turn, reciprocate by creating an environment for Him [to reside]. We take our world of space and time, and we carve out a little space for Him, and we call it a Tabernacle.
-Rabbi Fohrman, The Keruvim In The Garden: Part I/2
There’s one unmistakable, common theme among Rabbinic commentaries… the Tabernacle is a space we intentionally create for God to enter our world!
Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):
Now, fast forward to the connected Text in Luke (5:27-39)… Jesus (i.e. God) is fully present in our world again. And, we witness another intentional invitation. This time we read about a man, Levi, creating the space in his home for God to dwell and dine. The Luke Text emphasizes who gets to meet God in this intentional space. It’s not just the righteous. We are told people historically lacking access to the presence of God get to be a part of this carved out space.
Interestingly, ancient Rabbis named our Torah portion — Terumah. Which means, donation or offering. Because, God asks for an offering from “everyone whose heart stirs them (Exodus 25:2).” The offering God asked for went to building the Tabernacle. Maybe it’s not coincidence then that Levi is a professional collector of donations (used liberally) for the Roman Empire. Levi decides to leave all that behind and invite God into his space.
Also, like the people God reclines with in Levi’s house… it just so happens that the Priestly service part of the Tabernacle is for confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins.
It’s as if the author is broadening the Tent of Meeting context.
Section Three (missing the mark):
Too many pastors I encounter or witness succumb to focusing on getting butts in seats and growing. Consequently, they become hyper-focused on getting people to flock to their church.
Unfortunately, what God’s up to has never really been about a building. The Tabernacle helps us understand that truth.
Eventually the tabernacle becomes a Temple which adds complexity to the conversation. When we get there we’ll need to ask an important question about who decided to confine God to a beautiful Temple.
Yet, initially, God’s original design, is mobile. The Nation of Israel carries the Ark, pitches the Tabernacle, and camps around it. Like them, we are to bring and carry God’s presence with us — making a space for God everywhere we go.
God designed His presence to be mobile — both in the original wrapping of the Tabernacle and in the latter wrapping of flesh (i.e. Jesus). Moreover, a voice from Heaven revealed it further to John… God’s tabernacle is with mankind, He will live with them.
Subsequently, leaders of the church should be equipping followers of Jesus to go find God dwelling among humanity.
Section Four (real-world applications):
So, do we create space for God to encounter us in our world?
It is only with the indwelling wisdom of God that we might be able to separate light from darkness, holy from common.
Carve out the space. Carry it with you.
Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 27:20-30:10; Luke 6:1-5
- From Aleph Beta’s Is God Talking To Me Through The Laws Of The Mishkan?
- From Aleph Beta’s Angels in the Tabernacle? Part I.
- From Aleph Beta’s Can We See God’s Face In The Mishkan?