This week, as we approach the end of the book of Exodus, there is another gathering of the people and a reiteration of the rules of Shabbat. Last time the Israelites heard about the shabbat, they gathered and built a golden calf, an idol to worship. This time, they gather again, not to build an object to worship but rather a place where they could meet and connect with the Divine. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his powerful book “The Sabbath” reminds us that the significance of the Shabbat is that we sanctify time. And this week, with the building of the mishkan, we also sanctify space. But how do we make each of these holy? What do we do to transform time and space into holiness? The answer comes in this week’s portion and it is not about time or space, it is about each of us.
Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn has a very interesting rendering of the passage of the Torah about the construction of the tabernacle. He says that instead of reading the verse where God asks for gifts from the Israelites to build the mishkan, as: “take from among you gifts for God, everyone whose heart moves them, bring gifts to Adonai,” we should read that the gift that people bring, to construct the tabernacle for God, is the gift of their hearts. He argues, that God was less concerned about the physical objects and more about the hearts of those who brought them. He notes, the previous week’s portion the Israelites also brought gifts, but their hearts were afraid, they were led astray and they created an idol. This week, their hearts turned to God, they construct a holy space. And that was not about the physical gifts they brought, the gifts were within each of their hearts. (Reform Judaism “The Tabernacle of the Wise-Hearted)
And just as we do with space, so too, we do with time. We sanctify time when we celebrate shabbat, when we move our hearts and our intention away from work and dominating the world, and instead seek to live in harmon, to appreciate the beauty around us, to rest and just be. Time and space are neutral, it is what we do which creates holiness, beauty and blessing. Rabbi Knoble writes “once we have offered our hearts to the Holy One, they are given right back to us. Don’t give your heart to me, says God. Make a space for me inside! Construct the tabernacle within. Those who are “wise hearted” do not go to God but rather take God in.”
We take God in and transform space and time into holy places when our hearts move us and we are turned towards the goodness in ourselves and our purpose. When we lift our hearts to the shabbat, when we create space in our hearts for holiness, then we truly have a mishkan.
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio