Why were we assigned the Mishkan, why now?


Parashat Terumah focuses on the various raw materials necessary to construct the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) and its holy kalim (vessels). Therein, we find a well-known pasuk that speaks to the general mitzvah of building the Mishkan:

V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham (And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst). Shemot 25:8.

The very next pasuk, however, employs the word, “mishkan,” in place of mikdash: “According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its vessels; and so, shall you do.” Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar (the Or HaChaim Hakadosh) addresses this change in terminology: “It appears to me that when the Torah says, ‘v’asu li mikdash,’ it is referring to the general positive commandment that incorporates all times, whether [the Jewish people were in] the desert or when they entered the land [Eretz Yisrael], as well as the entire period the Jewish people would dwell therein throughout the generations.

“[Moreover,] the Jewish people were obligated to create a mikdash, even in the Diaspora (galiot), [but were prevented from so doing, since] we find that Hashem forbade all other places [outside of Eretz Yisrael] from the point in time of the construction of the Beit HaMikdash, as it says in the Torah: ‘For you have not yet come to the resting place or to the inheritance, which the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you.’ (Sefer Devarim 12:9) This, then, is why the Torah does not declare, ‘v’asu li mishkan,’ in order that we may understand that the creation of the mishkan was a mitzvah solely at that time.”

According to the Or HaChaim, the Torah first utilizes the term, mikdash, and then mishkan, to teach us a crucial lesson: the mitzvah of the mikdash is obligatory at all times in Eretz Yisrael. In contrast, the mitzvah of the mishkan was time-bound, that is, its construction was a commandment to the Dor HaMidbar (Generation of the Desert) to create a temporary stand-in for the yet to be built Beit HaMikdash. As such, the Torah commands us, “v’asu li mikdash,” rather than “v’asu li mishkan.”

A different approach as to why the Mishkan was called mikdash is offered by Rabbeinu Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa in his Commentary on the Torah on our verse: “The Mishkan was called ‘mikdash’ because it was made holy through the indwelling of the Shechinah (b’shriat haShechinah). Then, too, it is possible to say that it was an earthly representation of the heavenly Beit HaMikdash.” In sum, the Mishkan was a makom mekudash (holy place) and called, “mikdash,” because Hashem’s holy presence was manifest therein, and it was a human reflection of the Beit HaMikdash in Shamayim. 

The Rav builds upon these ideas and notes that the ultimate purpose of the Mishkan, and, by extension, the Beit HaMikdash, was to reinstate the original relationship between the Almighty and Adam and Chava:

G-d created the world to reside in it, rather than to reside in transcendence. Man could have continually experienced Him instead of trying to infer His Presence through examining nature. But in the wake of the original sin of Adam and Eve, He retreated. And they heard the voice of the L-rd G-d going in the garden to the direction of the sun, and the man and his wife hid from the L-rd G-d in the midst of the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:8).

These “footsteps” were those of G-d leaving the garden and departing into infinity. Had they not sinned, G-d would always have been close. As a result of Adam’s hiding and fear of communicating with G-d in the wake of his sin, G-d removed His Divine Presence. The purpose of the tabernacle [Mishkan]was to restore the relationship between man and G-d.

May the time come soon and, in our days, when the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people is fully restored and His Shechinah once again dwells in the soon to be rebuilt Beit HaMikdash. V’chane yihi ratzon.