The Mishkan and Divine Omnipresence
Parshat Teruma introduces us, in detail, to the portable Mishkan (Tabernacle) that the Jewish nation constructed and brought with them throughout their 40-year sojourn in the Sinai desert. The importance of the Tabernacle cannot be underestimated, as its detailed description takes up most of the last five chapters of the Book of Exodus in the Torah. Furthermore, the structure of the Tabernacle and its utensils were replicated in both the First and Second Temples, which stood for more than 800 years. Abarbanel devotes a great many pages to the deeper meanings and symbolism of all aspects of the Tabernacle.
His first, and most obvious, question is: Why did G-d command the construction of a Tabernacle in the first place? And, especially, why did He issue this command with the expressions, “I will dwell within it” and “Make me a Sanctuary that I should dwell amongst you”? Does G-d have a physical dimension that can be contained in such a place? As the Prophet Isaiah states in reference to G-d, “The Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; what house could you build for Me, and what place could be My resting place?” Additionally, King Solomon says, “Would G-d truly dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You, and surely not the Temple that I have built.”
Abarbanel answers that the main reason G-d commanded the building of the Tabernacle was to instill among the people a sense that the Divine presence and providence never abandons them. An actual physical structure gave the people a tangible sense that G-d “dwelt among them” in the same sense that He was providing for them and protecting them directly. This was in direct contrast to other religious beliefs that completely separated a supreme spiritual being from the physical world. Such a being, according to their mistaken belief, has no control or influence over the details of Man or his physical environment on a daily basis. In order to remove the possibility of this errant belief from the hearts of the people, G-d commanded the construction of a holy Sanctuary which would strengthen their faith in G-d whose presence, influence and protection is tangible and eternal.
All the components of the Tabernacle were designed to reinforce this fundamental truth. They became the means through which the nation could serve the King of the Universe, not because G-d needed their service, but rather because the people needed to connect with G-d through that service. This fundamental idea that G-d is always with us is expressed beautifully and poetically by Solomon in Song of Songs, “I thought I would be forever alone, but, behold, He was standing behind our wall, observing through the windows, peering through the lattices.” Similarly, in describing the concept of G-d’s constant presence, the Prophet Isaiah states in reference to G-d, “My hand created all these things” — i.e. the nation should build the Tabernacle in order to be reminded that G-d is the Creator and Sustainer of all existence.