Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creation of the Mishkan

The Abarbanel has a very long discussion of the significance of the Mishkan. He quotes others -- Rambam, Ralbag, unnamed Christians and unnamed more recent Jewish commentators (more recent to him, in the early 16th century) -- who offer various philosophical interpretations. That the details of the Mishkan teach about different aspects of Aristotelian cosmology and philosophy (spheres, intellects, etc.). Abarbanel rejects all of these explanations because these are, he claims, philosophic truths that people can deduce on their own. God would not have to implant them into the Torah's laws and daily practices of the Mishkan/Temple.

Click here to read moreInstead, Abarbanel explains the meaning of the Mishkan as showing God's presence in the world. The entire edifice as well as all the detailed aspects are meant to teach that God is not a distant philosophical concept but a presence in our daily lives. We can arrive intellectually at the God of the philosophers but the Torah is trying to teach us about the God of the patriarchs.

Modern commentators (Cassutto, Buber, Rosenzweig, Benno Jacob and others) have an entirely different approach to explaining the significance of the Mishkan, explained by Nehama Leibowitz (New Studies in Shemot, pp. 474-482). They note the many literary connections between the Mishkan and Creation. For example, the completion of the Mishkan (Ex. 39:32, 40:33) is remarkably similar to the completion of Creation (Gen. 2:1-2). After almost every day of Creation, God looked at what He had done (e.g. Gen. 1:31). Similarly, after building the Mishkan, Moshe looked at what had been done to evaluate it (Ex. 39:43). God blessed the seventh day after He finished Creation (Ge. 2:2-3) and Moshe blessed the people after finishing the Mishkan (Ex. 39:43).

There are many other correspondences that make this comparison compelling. But what is its message? Nehama Leibowitz writes (p. 481):

The Lord created heaven and earth and all therein for man to dwell in, and created them in six days and rested on the seventh day. Similarly, Moses was summoned on the seventh day to the cloud to see the pattern of the Tabernacle that it was his duty to erect, in order to provide a place on earth for the Divine Presence. It is incumbent on man to imitate his Creator, His ways and attributes and assume the role of being His partner in Creation.
See also R. Jonathan Sacks' thoughts here: link.

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