God says to Moses in Terumah, this week’s Torah portion, “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Then follows verse upon verse upon verse of instructions concerning how to build that sanctuary, the Mishkan, which the Israelites carried through the wilderness.
A midrash asks, “When [did G-d] speak this verse about the Mishkan to Moses?” The answer: “On Yom Kippur itself” (Tanhuma Terumah 8).
Why would G-d command the building of the Mishkan on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement? Because the Mishkan itself was atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelites seem to need to build something, so G-d gave them an opportunity to build for holy purpose (the Mishkan) and not for evil (the Golden Calf). (Although the Golden Calf occurs in next week’s Torah portion, the rabbis taught that chronology in Torah is fluid.)
Franz Rosenzweig considered this verse to be the pinnacle of Torah. Truly? Of all the high points in Torah, this verse is the pinnacle?? It is not surprising, for the Mishkan did not “merely” accomplish atonement between G-d and Israel at one moment in time. Rather, it also teaches that there is an ongoing relationship and unity between earth (represented by the Mishkan) and heaven (represented by G-d). The building of that Mishkan – G-d’s “dwelling place” -- illustrates that G-d dwells here, among us, and we in turn may find paths even unto the heavens.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill