The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Terumah and is found in Exodus 25:1 – 27:19. God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to bring gifts – precious metals, fine fabrics, skins, wood, oil, spices, and jewels – for the building of the mishkan–the portable sanctuary– and its furnishings. God says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” God then provides detailed instructions for the ark and its cover, the table, and the menorah. Next, there are the instructions for making the mishkan’s coverings – layers of cloth, goats’ hair, and skins, from inside to outside. Next, the wooden structure of planks and silver and gold fittings is described. The mishkan also was to have a curtain to partition off the Holy of Holies and a screen for its entrance. The altar of wood overlaid with bronze was to be placed outside the screen. The entire mishkan was to be surrounded by an enclosure made of linen curtains supported by wooden planks with bronze and silver fittings.
The sanctuary was particularly important to the Israelites because, having just received the “10 Words” from Sinai, the people very much felt God’s presence in that place (at least for a while). The gods of Egypt (and for that matter, the surrounding nations) were gods that were limited to territory. It was important for the people to have a traveling sanctuary that captured a bit of the glory of Sinai so that they would feel secure that the God who led them out of Egypt transcended territory and would be with them in their journey to the Promised Land. God, of course, did not need a dwelling place. God made the request because we need a place, we need a way to connect to God. Being human, we connect to places, spaces, and time. We don’t need to search for God. God is already with us; however, it is only when we open our minds and make a place and time to meet God that we actually are able to realize this.