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Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.
In this week’s parashah, Pekudei, Moses finished the work of setting up the mishkan, the movable sanctuary in the desert. The mishkan was designed to be the central structure of relationship between God and God’s people. It was also the center of the human community, the location of all religious activity and the site where civil disputes were heard and settled. It housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the core document that declares the principles of human-Divine and human-human interactions.
The mishkan in many ways exemplifies the relationship between holiness and community. The root of the Hebrew word, sh-ch-n, is related to the root of the words Shechinah–God’s presence on earth–and shachen–neighbor.
The physical placement of the mishkan was also significant: once constructed, the mishkan not only was the spiritual and civil center of the people, but also the physical center of the community as the Israelites arranged their camp around it by tribe (Numbers 1:1-4:20). Through the mishkan, the Israelites were able to structure their community around God and God’s laws. The creation of holy community thus became possible through the shared creation of a structure founded on sacred ethics.
The Torah gives detailed instructions on the design and construction of the communal structure, and names the person responsible for building it. Yet the Israelites were still invited to contribute offerings from their own hearts.
Everyone has a Role
Sforno, a 16th century Italian commentator, wrote that because the Jewish people wholeheartedly donated the materials to build the mishkan, they shared in its actual construction. Even if one was physically unable to do the work of creating the mishkan, he argued, providing support for its construction allowed each individual to share in it completely.
The parashah, too, even while recognizing the leadership of the mishkan’s chief architect, emphatically attributes the project to the entire community. “The Israelites did so,” it says, “just as God had commanded Moses, so they did (Exodus 39:42).”
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