Tent of Meeting Golden Calf
I had the privilage of presenting this message in London, at
Beit Sar Shalom Congregation, Golder Green.
Parasha Trumah [Gifts](Exodus 25:1-31:17)
[TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE – WHY A MISHKAN (Tabernacle)? – A DWELLING PLACE FOR GOD; REVELATION AND ENCOUNTER – GOD’S GLORY COVERED THE MISHKAN; SANCTIFICATION AND ENCOUNTER; HALACHAH – HOW WE SHALL LIVE –WE BRING OUR GIFTS (T’RUMAH)]
For us to place today’s Parasha Trumah (Gifts) in its context we must begin with the telling of the events that took place at the foot of Mount Sinai in the second half of the Book of Exodus (Sefer Sh’mot) and the relating of events about how Moshe and all of the B’nei Yisra’el (People of Israel) stood together at the foot of Mount Sinai and hear God’s Ten Commandments (20:1-14).
The People of Israel asked Moshe to approach God out of fear to hear the rest of the commandments, for they were terrified to have a close encounter with the Almighty (20:15-18). Moses enters the cloud at the foot of the mountain and received many more laws and commands (20:18-24:2). God told him to come up to the top of the mountain in order to worship and approach YHWH. (24:1-2). On his return Moses left the cloud and related all of the laws he has received to them; after their acceptance of the laws, he initiated a covenant ceremony to seal their commitment. (24:3-8). Rudolf Otto in his book the Idea of the Holy describes the Numinous (Radiance or Shinning Brightness of God) and when folk come into contact with this, there is terror, danger, trembling caused by a holy fear of the divine presence.
Moshe and his party ascended part way up the mountain to worship God. (24:9-11),
then Moses ascended alone in order to receive the “Tablets of stone, the Torah and the Mitzvoth (Commandments) which I have written in order to instruct them.” After six days of waiting outside of the cloud covering Mount Sinai, Moshe is called in on the seventh day – and stays for forty days and forty nights (24:12-18).
As God was giving Moshe the 2 stone tablets of stone (31:18).The people coerced Aharon into making a golden calf which they worshiped. (32:1-6). God told Moshe to descend on account of this grievous sin. Moshe prayed for God’s forgiveness (32:7-14).
Moshe chastised (and more) the people about the sin – he once more ascended the mountain to gain God’s forgiveness and a reaffirmation of the covenant – including the 13 attributes of compassion. (32:15-34:35). Following that, the command to build the Mishkan and all of the associated details were given not as a response to the sin of the golden calf. The sin of the golden calf although it caused a near disaster and interruption, however, through Moshe’s intervention he saved the people and restored the possibility of God’s presence being made known among them. (see 33:12-16). Moshe had to serve as mediator between Israel and LORD over the sin of the Golden Calf. He becomes a type (symbol) of the Prophet-like-me from among you that God will give (Deut. 18.15-22). From a Messianic perspective Yeshua is seen as that Prophet.
A PLACE FOR GOD TO DWELL – T’RUMAH, EXODUS 25:1−27:19: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (t’rumah); you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved” (Exodus 25:2). The Torah tells us precisely what gifts the people were to bring: gold and silver and copper and blue and purple and crimson and more. These are the gifts. “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham), These are the gifts . . . and this is how you shall make it. “Exactly as I show you . . . (ken ta-asu), so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:8-9).
God commanded Moshe regarding the Mishkan (Tabernacle), it’s vessels, the clothes of the Kohanim and some of the worship-services to be done inside – ending with a reminder about the sanctity of Shabbat.
Moshe told the people about the building of the Mishkan – which is accomplished. All of the details of the Mishkan and its vessels, as presented in Chapters 25-31 (the command), are repeated here (the performance). (35:1-40:33) Moshe received lasting and enduring instructions that would last until 70 CE (AD) when the Second Mishkan /Beit HaMigdash/Temple is destroyed.
GOD’S GLORY COVERED THE MISHKAN (40:34-38) The Pillar of Cloud and the Column of Fire accompanied the Israelites, more specifically the PRESENCE OF GOD is viewed in the SHEKINAH (Shechinah, Shechina, or Schechinah (Hebrew: שכינה). This is the English transliteration of the Hebrew noun meaning dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God that would abide in the Tabernacle.
One possible reason for the building of the Mishkan was as a reaction to the sin of the golden calf, the Midrash (rabbinic commentary) builds on Moses’ concerns that God’s presence should not abandon the people as a result of their sin:
“how will the nations of the world know that You have forgiven them? ‘Make for Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell among them.’ ”
WHY A MISHKAN? Rabbi Rashi a Medieval commentator said the purpose of the Mishkan is abundantly clear – it is, in one way or another, a response to the sin of the golden calf. According to Ramban (Moses Mimomadies), however, what purpose does it serve? Why did the B’nei Yisra’el need to have this moving Tabernacle to house God’s Presence? Ramban answers this question himself, in the introduction to his commentary on Parashat Terumah:
The Mishkan, Ramban explains, serves as a vehicle to perpetuate the Sinai experience. Once B’nei Yisra’el had experienced the great encounter with God at the mountain, it was His desire that they be able to keep this experience – albeit in a more confined manner – with them as they traveled to Eretz Yisra’el.
The Ramban’s approach explains the numerous similarities between the Mishkan and Ma’amad Har Sinai (the encounter at Mount Sinai). Here are a few examples:
Just as God had spoken to the B’nei Yisra’el at Mount Sinai, so too does He continue to speak to them (via Moses and Aaron the High Priest) from the Holy of Holies (Kodesh haKodoshim), through the Cherubim (K’ruvim) atop the Ark (Aron) (25:22); The Tablets of Testimony (Luchot Ha’eidut) which Moses will received (24:12) on Mount Sinai, served as a testimony to the giving of the Torah and thus, will be kept in the Aaron (Covenant Box), the focal point of the Mishkan (25:21); The Cloud created by the Incense Altar (30:1-10) symbolizes the Cloud that covered Mount Sinai (19:9, 24:15-18); The Fire on the Altar (Vayyikra [Leviticus] 6:6) symbolizes the Fire that descended on Mount Sinai (Sh’mot 24:17). The laws of the Altar reflect the Covenant ceremony that took place just before Moshe ascended Mount Sinai (see 24:4-5)
On the one hand, our existence is impossible without God, and we describe God as being omnipresent. While on the other hand, there is no place that could possibly “encompass” God – so He is transcendent. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein points out:
We also understand Godliness as something transcendental, very distant – God lives in “heaven” with no connection to the material, corporeal and loathsome earth. In contrast, we regard God as being immanent, extremely near, like a person’s best friend – God is in the world and the world is [in] God.
For New Covenant believers we explain our belief in the immanence of God in and through the person and work of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah). He is known to us as Emmanuel – Go-with-us. Through his incarnation, life, sacrificial death and resurrection we are enabled to encounter the presence of the living God – Yeshua said, I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. He has opened the Gates of Heaven (Shar HaShamiam).
SANCTIFICATION AND ENCOUNTER – God’s presence is experienced no longer in a tabernacle made by human hands, but through the indwelling Rauch Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit). We are enabled to keep the Mitzvot (Commandments of God) because of the fact that the life of God in Yeshua gives life to our mortal bodies and is reflected a range of human activity through which God’s Presence is made manifest in this world – through ethical interaction, individual moral greatness, the creation and maintenance of a just society and personal sanctification through celebration and restraint.
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) [Following Ramban’s explanation,] just as THE STAND AT SINAI (Ma’amad Har Sinai) was a unique and powerful encounter with the Divine, so the ongoing “meeting” in the Mishkan would continue that encounter. And in addition we may add that we are able to enter into LORD’s presence due to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) which is a Mishkan not made by us, but for us by Yeshua is our expression and acknowledgment God’s Presence, it is not available at our whim (the thinking which generated the frenzy around the golden calf) – but rather, God chooses to meet with us when we meet together in Yeshua’s name. As we contemplate these things… let us think about bringing our gifts in the hope and assurance that God dwells among us. But what gifts do we bring? Ours are not made of colourful yarns or tanned skins or acacia wood. What exactly is expected of us, we whose hearts are so moved? And how do we know what gifts to bring to create a place for God to dwell?
Some of the gifts that we bring are material gifts: the physical things that are needed for living our lives in community. We offer resources and funds to help facilitate the work of God.
Some of the gifts that we bring are our voices: we sing and speak the words of our sacred texts and melodies, as we praise God alone or together. Some of the gifts that we bring are in our minds and hearts: we study and teach, we listen and respond, we laugh and we cry. Each of us brings what we can, “from every person whose heart is so moved.”
God says of the Israelites: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham). In reality, God did not need the sanctuary that was temporary in order to dwell among the people. After all, does the God who created the universe and split the sea need a human-made dwelling place? However, what does God require of us if we want God to be among them?
“The in-dwelling of God among his people cannot take place as long as we are passive and do nothing to help bring the sacred into the world [Ours is a partnership of the weaker and the stronger (God)]. “And let them make me a sanctuary—that I may dwell among them.” My dwelling among them is on the condition that they make the sanctuary of THE BODY OF MESSIAH. . . . though Human kind may start out on the path towards God . . . in order for God to meet, it is God in Yeshua that meets us while we were yet lost in sin and unbelief.
As magnificent as some sacred buildings are, and as inspiring as our places of worship are, we should understand that it is not the place where we find God that is of primary importance. The physical space is but one tool, one means of reaching the sacred. We all know people who claim that they find God in nature rather than within the walls of any building. Did God not promise that, “I will dwell among them” (v’shachanti b’tocham) and “I will dwell within them.” He wrote: “. . . in them, the people, not in it, the sanctuary. We are each to build a Tabernacle in our own heart for God to dwell in.”
May the gifts that we bring indicate that we want to give the offering of our hearts? We understand that we must be active participants in our relationship with God; that we must do something, bring something, in order for God to dwell in our midst. And we know that ultimately the most sacred dwelling place for God is within our own hearts. We offer, from our hearts, to bring God into our hearts. These are the gifts . . . from us and from God.
“ ‘You shall accept gifts for Me from every person. . . . gold, silver and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair’: that each person’s gift was different and special, each person’s gift was that point of goodness unique to that person, special and unique to him or her.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) taught that “Judaism is not a religion of space. To put it sharply,” he wrote, “it is better to have prayer without a synagogue than a synagogue without prayer.”2 . If we are truly engaged in offering our innermost selves to God, only then God will dwell “among us.”