21.3. The Tabernacle as the Continuation of the Revelation at Sinai
After the giving of the Torah, Moses climbs the mountain and receives the commandment to build the Tabernacle. As the people cannot ascend Mount Sinai with him, Moses must bring down to them the great vision that is revealed to him there.
There is fire on that mountain. And there is a cloud. Building the Temple means that both that fire and that cloud must be brought down from heaven to earth.
The Divine revelation on Mount Sinai was an utterly unique event in world history. It was therefore necessary to create some kind of structure that would serve as a constant reminder of that experience. The Torah devotes no less than five weekly portions to perpetuating the Revelation at Sinai through the building of the Tabernacle and establishing the Temple service and its rites as permanent institutions.
The importance of the Temple in Jewish tradition is so enormous that it is almost impossible to overstate it. So much is written in the Torah about the Temple, so much attention and emphasis are centered on it, that an unbiased reading of the Torah almost gives one the impression that everything that came before the Temple happened only for its sake:
God created the world in order to create man, in order to make Israel the Chosen People among all of mankind, in order to liberate them from Egypt, in order to give them the Torah and bring them to the Land of Israel, so that they could build the Temple there.
Simply put, we can formulate all of the preceding as: “The very essence of the Torah is that God commands His people Israel to build the Temple and worship Him in it.”
But why does God need a Temple? What does this Temple add to the world, and what does its existence actually mean?
The Temple is of course not an end in itself; it is only the means to an end. But that does not make it any less important.
The Temple is a unique place in which a meeting of the Creator and His creation becomes possible. God wants such a direct encounter with mankind, because He wants to maintain a dialogue with His creatures. It is the very purpose underlying the creation of the world.
At the current level of human development, however, an overt meeting of God and man as such is not yet possible. The Almighty has therefore made known His wish that a special place on earth be created where a more limited form of such a meeting can take place – a “meeting” that is nonetheless to some extent plainly evident and manifest.
That place is the Temple, and in this does the very meaning and essence of the Temple and its service consist.
The Temple is a “Mount Sinai in miniature,” and the Tabernacle that the Israelites are about to build is a portable version of the same. The initial meeting of God and man, which took place on Mount Sinai, could not end there. In order that what had happened at Sinai could continue onward, God commanded Israel to build the Tabernacle – a portable Temple.