This week’s Torah reading brings us to an important juncture in the Torah and our developing covenantal relationship with God. All of the events in the Book of Sh’mot/Exodus have been a developing process of creating a nation called Israel. The exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the revelation at Mount Sinai – all have been successive steps in forming a particular people who will live and act in covenant with God. After the events at Sinai, Hashem commanded us in last week’s reading a series of statutes that would establish a very real, down to earth justice system to serve as the foundation of a Godly society. Before we can focus on high and holy worship and communion with Hashem, we must firmly realize a society that is just and gracious. The statutes in Mishpatim outlined that for us.
But social justice is only a component of the covenant and culture of Israel. It isn’t Hashem’s plan only for us to be concerned with a civil and just society. This week we move on to the commandment(s) that will take up the rest of the book of Exodus, and essentially define the next book, Vayikra/Leviticus as well. ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם. “They will make for me a holy place, and I will dwell within them.” (Ex. 25:8) The civil and just society of Mishpatim is intended to be the base upon which is built the religious and prophetic society of T’rumah.
At the beginning of the this week’s portion, Ramban writes an introduction characterizing the transition occurring here. “When Hashem spoke with the nation Israel face to face the ten utterances, and he commanded them through Moshe some of the commandments (at Sinai) that are like paradigms for all the commandments of the Torah, similar to how our sages act with converts who become Jews, and Israel accepted upon themselves to carry out all that was commanded through Moshe, and God instituted a covenant for all of this. Now they are a people for Him, and He is their God, as had been previously stipulated…and the secret of the Mishkan/Tabernacle is that the Divine Presence that dwelt on Mt. Sinai (openly) will dwell on the Tabernacle in a hidden manner.” (Ramban to Ex. 25) Ramban is telling us that in a very real sense, the Mishkan is intended to be a portable Mt. Sinai among us; there we will know that God is among us and we will confront and commune with Him there in a very real sense. This will be the role of the Mikdash in its various forms throughout history. This will be the experience that we long to renew during the long dark exile.
As for the contiguity of Mishpatim and T’rumah, I would like to suggest that they are connected in order to teach us that our Divinely commanded religious culture requires a complement and integration of intellect and passion. Rav Soloveitchik (as characterized by Rav R. Zeigler) spoke of Judaism as ‘both a discipline and a romance.’ The discipline of Judaism, I suggest, can most clearly be seen in the rigorous study and application of the laws of civil society as we see in parshat Mishpatim (and in seder Nezikin in the Talmud); and the passion and romance may be clearly expressed in our confrontation with the Divine Presence in our worship in the holy place designated by Hashem in parshat T’rumah, ‘they will build for Me a holy place, and I will dwell within them.’
May Hashem bless us with success in the discipline and passion of studying and implementing His Torah; and may we speedily see the rebuilding and renewal of the holy place that He designated in Jerusalem, there the nation Israel and all nations will approach Him with love and awe.