Rabbi Menachem Schrader
Founding Director of OU-JLIC
The Mishkan – A National Project
Moshe Rabeinu's gathering of the Jewish people to launch the campaign to build the Mishkan is laden with heavy eternal messages relevant to us today.
Here are a few:
1. The building of a sanctuary through which the Jewish nation will transmit its prayers to God cannot be a personal endeavor. The obligation to build the Mishkan is on the Tzibur, the totality of the Jewish people. While inevitably specific tasks will be performed by individuals, these individuals are agents of the national collective, and they are not mandated to do anything unilaterally or independently. Even Moshe himself could not build the Mishkan without the gathering of the people together for this united activity. While different people will make different contributions to this effort, both financially and actively, equal opportunity to donate is key.
Furthermore, all personal donation must be on top of the standard donation of a half shekel, the donation of uniformity. All of this is implied in the statement of Sefer haChinuch on the commandment to build the Temple, stating that it is a mitzvah incumbent on the Tsibur.
It is for this reason that the Jewish people are required to appoint a king upon entering the land of Israel before building the Temple (Talmud Sanhedrin chapter 2, Rambam beginning of hilchos Melachim) – It is only through a unified national government that the Jewish people could act in solidarity to collectively perform this mitzvah.
Therefore, all discussion and effort towards accomplishing this mitzvah in our own day must be channeled through national authority. Partisan activity in this regard is contrary to both the spirit and letter of the law of this mitzvah, which is steeped in the necessity of collective fulfillment.
2. The a-priori commandment to building the Mishkan is the observance of Shabbat. Therefore Moshe restates the commandment of Shabbat before presenting the Mishkan launch. This requirement is both theologically and spiritually mandated.
Theologically, the Mishkan is a microcosm of the universe. Isaiah (chapter 6) explains that the whole of the universe is full of God's glory. Yet the end of parshat Pikudei tells us that it is the Mishkan that is full of God's glory, to the exclusion of anywhere else. Even Moshe cannot enter the Mishkan due its complete occupation by God's glory's presence.
This seeming contradiction is actually internally resolved. God's glory is indeed implicit everywhere, yet hidden. Were God to explicate His glory without limit we could not handle the openness of His presence. So God "hides" himself in the world He created for us, and represents His universal glory in the limited dimensions of the Mishkan. This microcosm of God's glory becomes representative of the universe itself. It is because of this that the melachot (creative activities) forbidden on Shabbat, the day we remember God's creation of the world by refraining from creative activity, are the creative activities needed to build the Mishkan. For the Mishkan, which is filled with God's explicit glory, is a microcosm of the universe, which is filled with God's implicit glory.
Spiritually, Shabbat sanctifies the Jewish people, and makes them worthy of both building the Mishkan, and having God's glory reside in their midst. It is by being a living sign and symbol of God's creation of the world that enables our creativity to be religiously meaningful. It is the observance of Shabbat that sanctifies our otherwise mundane activities, and allows us to build a Holy building containing an internal Holy space.
The Jewish people will merit rebuilding the Temple when we have attained the Kedushah, the holiness, we internalize through Shabbat observance, on a national level. Then, as a holy nation, we will build the holy Mikdash.