It's because, as significant as Israel building a dwelling place for the spirit of G-d is, the order of operations is equally as important.
The Talmud tells us that, when the first set of instructions (for the capital campaign and the design of the Ark of the Covenant and other holy accoutrements) were received, Betzalel (the artisan who would oversee the project) asked Moshe, “How can you build what will go on the inside before you have built the place where it will reside?” Moses agreed. Here in Vayakhel, the order is changed. In the report of how construction proceeded, the enclosure is built first, the holy objects which are crucial to its operation second, and the finishing touches on their surroundings third. The last bit, the fashioning of the Kohanim’s garb and the final assembly of the Mishkan, will be read next week. So why the repetition, and why the change of order?
The repetition of the steps of the construction process makes sense. The building of the Mishkan was a one of a kind, never to be repeated event. Never before or since has a nation, giving of their own largesse, talent, and labor, partnered with G-d to build a spiritual dwelling place for the Divine Spirit according to Heavenly specifications. Each and every Israelite has a stake in the Mishkan, and the combined efforts of the entire nation will be reflected in the final product. The Rabbis consider the Mishkan unique in this regard; the Temples in Jerusalem were constructed using non-Jewish labor. That, we are taught, is why they could possibly and tragically have been destroyed, while the Mishkan quietly faded from use and history without having been destroyed, violated, or trashed. I don’t know about you, but if I have an important project to complete, I’ll notate and repeat the various steps necessary for its completion to ensure that they are done correctly and in a timely fashion. Israel, similarly, needed to make certain that they had all the necessary materials on hand, a construction plan, an organized work force, and an efficient schedule. Once the groundwork was laid, the project could proceed. The revised order of operations reflects both a practical and spiritual twist. In construction, the plans and permits must be produced and approved, and the site and its infrastructure must be prepared before the edifice can be started. Here, too, the overall vessel which will contain the holiness must be prepared before the instruments of holiness, most notably the Ark and the Tablets, can be properly contained within. Only then can the whole package be buttoned up and completed. Israel learns, as do we, that Torah without an appropriate home is a spiritual orphan. We must be prepared to accept it, incorporate it with all due respect, then complete the project by securing and finalizing its place in our midst. This lesson, so important to our ancestors, has a resonance for us as well. In our secular lives, as well as in our spiritual endeavors, we can have the tendency to focus on the endgame without savoring the process. Doing so is akin to removing a hot dish from the oven, and then realizing that you have no free space in the kitchen to set it down. The changes to the process in Vayakhel teach us that our partnership with G-d requires that the process proceed in its proper order. That way we avoid being burned.Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen