Parashat Terumah

The Mishkan as Model

This portion's attention to detail speaks to the kind of vigilance we need in creating a just society.

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The Mishkan as Model

Though the tablets contain only ten laws, they are the symbol of the covenantal relationship that guides Israel's every behavior. The five laws on the right-hand tablet guide us in the realm of ben adam l'Makom--between humans and the Omnipresent--and the five laws on the left-hand tablet guide us in the realm of ben adam l'chavero--

between humans and their brethren. In that sense, the core of the mishkan is a monument to Divine ethical vigilance.

The Ark, then, is not a platform for God crowned by two idols, but a complex model for Divine relationship. God dwells among us when we build relationships that are founded on morality and focused on the encounter.

The mishkan, likewise, is a model. The Ark sits at its core, representing righteous relationship, and the mishkan places this relationship in the context of a building, an institution. For the nascent Nation of Israel, the mishkan and its Ark was not only the site of religious service, but also the seat of legislation (Deuteronomy 17:9), of conflict resolution (Exodus 22:10), and even of the military (Numbers 10:35).

It is not enough to strive for correct relationships one-on-one or even within our own homes--the mishkan challenges us to build our most important institutions in this same model. 

To actualize its lesson, we must demand of our own governments an equivalent commitment to both the human encounter and the ethical foundations upon which it must rest. The parashah's attention to detail speaks to the kind of vigilance our own society must have, ensuring that this ethical-relational commitment is present in our governing structures at all levels, in every aspect.

We must use this as our model for the way elections are carried out, the way checks and balances are calculated, the commitment to truthful reports in all public communications, and the way domestic and international policies are developed and implemented. All systems should exemplify this commitment, ensuring the safety, freedom, and dignity of all people.

We invoke the mishkan by studying it, by building our world in its image. By choosing to adopt its particular architectural style and the values that it embodies, we make ourselves in the image of the Master Architect.

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Evan Wolkenstein is the Director of Experiential Education and a Tanach teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.