Becoming a Sanctuary

Pekudei Drash by Rabbi Daniel Lev  – 3/16/2024

In Pekudei, the parsha this week, we learn that Moshe, Oholiav the architect and others finished building the Mishkan – the Moble Temple, also called the Mikdash, the Holy Place, and the Tent of Meeting. Some of you know that Mishkan comes from the Hebrew root Shachan which means “to dwell.” It is the Dwelling Place of HaShem on the earth (at least for the Biblical Yiddin).And now, immediately after it was built, the Presence of the Never Ending One entered and filled it. Before we look at that and its implications for our very lives….let’s look fifteen chapters earlier at the work-order that G-d presented to Moshe for the construction of the Mishkan

In Exodus 25: 8-9 Hashem tasks Moshe in this way:


וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ 

כְּכֹ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ מַרְאֶ֣ה אוֹתְךָ֔ אֵ֚ת תַּבְנִ֣ית הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת תַּבְנִ֣ית כׇּל־כֵּלָ֑יו וְכֵ֖ן תַּעֲשֽׂוּ׃


And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. 

Exactly as I show you — the pattern of the Sanctuary and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.


Over the next fifteen chapters Moshe and his builders focus on building the Mishkan, its sacred furniture and accessories, and even Priestly clothing. How can we possibly apply this piece of Torah to our 21-st Century Jewish lives? I mean, really 🡪 building and using a ritual sanctuary complete with sacrificial alters and incense burning? What Jews are doing this today? Aside from a few extremists in Jerusalem who want to raise up a third Temple, no one is talking about making this stuff anymore….let alone using it. 

Some of you know that one Jewish approach invented by the Talmudic and later rabbis was to interpret what they read in the Torah in order to create practices parallel to many Biblical observances such as Temple sacrifices. 

A different relationship to this ritual was articulated by the first of the minor Prophets, Hoshea, who said in Chapter 14: 2-3

  • שׁ֚וּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֖ד יְ-הֹ-וָ-֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֥י כָשַׁ֖לְתָּ בַּעֲוֺנֶֽךָ׃ 

Return, O Israel, to the Endless One your God,
For you have fallen because of your sin.


קְח֤וּ עִמָּכֶם֙ דְּבָרִ֔ים וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־ יְ-הֹ-וָ-֣ה אִמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כׇּל־תִּשָּׂ֤א עָוֺן֙ וְקַח־ט֔וֹב וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ׃ 

Take words with you, And return to GOD.

Say: “Forgive all guilt And accept what is good;

Instead of bulls we will make an offering from our lips.” 


The rabbis of old drew on Hoshea and simply translated much of the Temple ritual into the that fill our siddurim, our prayerbooks. So today we offer the words of our lips instead of animal sacrifice. 

It might be useful here to consider how the rabbis transformed the burning of bulls in an ornate Temple into our davvening out of prayerbooks the nice little shul that is Sof. One way to understand this comes from a number of contemporary philosophers and psychologists who suggest that we can differentiate between “content and process.” Content tends to remain rigidly set, as we will read in Leviticus regarding the specifics of how to offer animal sacrifices – such as where to dash the blood on the alter. 

The process describes the deep intention of the practices. Thus, the rabbis could echo Hoshea by telling us: “Don’t get stuck on burning bulls!” Instead, we can engage in the inner purpose of the practice. This kind of process comprises two things: First, offering up something that we can direct towards HaShem, that is our words of prayer. Second, we send these up, not with the Olah sacrifice wood-fire on a Temple alter, but with the passionate fire of our Kavvanah, our intention and attention to connect ourselves to the Source of the Universe, 

But how can we offer those words with the same intensity that Biblical Jews carried out the Temple worship?”  One way to do this is to consider a different way to understand the beginning of G-d’s Exodus 25 “work-order.” 

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ 


Rabbi Dov Ber of Meseritch, the great rebbe-master of the Chasidic movement provided a different way to translate this. Usually it reads,

 “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” 

The Maggid, makes alternate usages of the Hebrew and translated it as if G-d were saying:

“And let them make ME into a sanctuary that I may dwell within them.”

So, in a sense, HaShem was telling Moshe and the Jewish people that after the Golden Calf incident, 

“When you separated from Me, I want to get closer to you so that you will know that sometimes “a cigar….ah, a golden calf is just a golden calf – its not G-d.” By imagining that I am a sanctuary within you, you can get close and remain in a deep relationship with me.”

The 19th century Russian Rabbi, the Malbim, in his work Remazei Hamiskan, offered another understanding of the sanctuary. He said that it wasn’t that HaShem needed a physical Mishkan on earth, but that each one of us should turn ourselves into a sanctuary so the Divine Presence can reside in our hearts. Much of our practice as spiritual beings is to prepare or own inner Mikdash so that we may experience HaShem.

When we consider G-d (or nature or Life or Love or whatever name you wish to give the unifying reality that you believe in), we can use our imaginations to either feel Her surrounding and filling us as a Sanctuary where we can take shelter or imagine ourselves as that Sanctuary that welcomes in the Divine Presence. 

Now, let me conclude by turning fifteen chapters later to the end of our parsha today and we can see that Moshe and his designated architects finished building the Mishkan according to G-d’s specifications. And part of Exodus 40:33 and 34 says:


וַיְכַ֥ל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָֽה׃

וַיְכַ֥ס הֶעָנָ֖ן אֶת־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וּכְב֣וֹד יְהֹוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן׃


When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of YHVH filled the Mishkan.….


What does HaShem settling into the Mishkan have to do with us? The medieval commentor Abravanel commented on this verse by saying, 

“As soon as the Mishkan was erected and all its furnishings put in their proper place, the cloud of HaShem immediately covered and filled the Tent of Meeting from all sides. In other words, as soon as they carefully set things up just right, then the Mishkan could become a sanctuary that will receive the Presence of the Creator.

Returning to the idea of process and not just the Biblical content 🡪 Abarbanel is telling us that as soon as its builders completed their great effort and intention in constructing a meeting place for them and G-d, then the Holy One descended upon the Mishkan. So too, we can use the words and songs of the prayerbook, infusing it with our Kavvanah, our deep, spiritual intention, and as soon as we do that, immediately we can receive into our hearts the numenous, Divine Presence. 

This can happen today, even right now. Whether we are praying, studying Torah, serving those in need on the community or engaging in any other mitzvot.

Let me end with the words of one, great Jewish soul, Leah Dineh – my mother – who used to say, 

“How do you know you have really been at shul service? You’ll know when you leave feeling more connected inside than you were before you entered.” 


Shabbat Shalom

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