Exodus 39:32 reads, “All the work of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed; the Children of Israel had done everything that G-d had commanded Moshe to do.” Sound familiar? Compare this verse to Genesis 2:1-2, where the completion of the original Creation is described: “The heaven and the earth were completed, and all their host. And G-d completed on the seventh day all His work which He had done.” The structure and thematic/linguistic structure of these two verses are virtually identical. There is an initial reference to the process being completed, Genesis’ “All their host” is parallel to Exodus’ “The Children of Israel,” and the one who did the work is identified—G-d in Genesis, and Israel via Moses in Exodus. Just as G-d created the universe and populated it with humans to represent, reflect, and reinforce His teachings, we have now come full circle, having created, through our efforts, a uniquely holy place where we can sense and experience the Divine spirit in our midst.
The fact that it was human generosity, willingness, talent, and effort which built the Mishkan (and continue to support its modern iterations), is of the greatest importance, represented in ways other than a simple reading of the text. Rabbeinu Bachya (1263-1340) calculated that from the beginning of the Mishkan process back in Parshat Truma until the end of Shemot, there are 248 instances of verbs which are derivatives of “to make” referring to various aspects of the project. That number is, of course, a significant one in Jewish numerology. 248 is the number of positive commandments in the Torah, and traditionally regarded as the number of organs/limbs in the body (OK; anatomy wasn’t the rabbis’ strong suit, but recognizing the connection between our physical and spiritual selves certainly was!). This magic number is also the number of words in the Shema, and the gematria (numerological value) of Avraham. The significance of 248 being reflected in the Mishkan is as meaningful as the Tabernacle being a recreation of Creation. It is an echo of all that is positive about our faith, like the Mitzvot. It is the holy result of our physical efforts when dedicated to a higher purpose, like the parts of our bodies. It is a symbol of our belief in the one G-d as declared in the Shema, and the current and future embodiment of the covenant with Avraham.
As we prepare to leave the book of Shemot, we see that Israel has completed this phase of their re-creation as a sovereign people in service of the Holy One. The closing parsha of Exodus connects the people to their past, gives meaning to their present, and positions them for the next chapter of their growth and evolution as a timeless and faithful nation.
Shabbat Shalom!Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen