If I Built a Mishkan – Parshat Vayakhel 5784

If you asked me what I would do if I wasn’t a rabbi, I’d probably say something along the lines of an experience designer or exhibit curator. I love thinking about the user experience of a place, whether that’s a museum, a park, or Costco. A favorite mental exercise of mine is to imagine how I might build something if those decisions were up to me.

There’s a wonderful series of picture books by Chris Van Dusen that imagines what a school, a car, or a house would be like if built by a very creative kid. It’s fun to read these with my children and then ask them, “If you could build a synagogue, what would you make sure to include?” My synagogue would probably include quiet treadmills and bounce pads in the back of the prayer space and multiple types of seating and standing options, as well as multiple rooms for different sensory needs. Of course, their answers are different from mine, and I’m sure all of your answers would be vastly different too. The point is that everyone’s ideal environment is going to be unique, including God’s.

We read Parshat Vayakhel this week, and we are inundated with facts about the Mishkan. The Torah teaches that we are to collect special gifts to build this sacred space and that these gifts are to be given because the giver wants to give them, not because they are being asked to give them. The text then continues to explain that because of this “giving what your heart tells you” mentality, they end up with an abundance of materials to build this sacred space. The reason the Mishkan is a magnificent construction project is because of the generosity of spirit the Israelites were moved to exhibit.

The entire text is full of directions for building a breathtaking holy space for God in which the community will gather. We’re talking gold, bronze, and silver, along with garments of majestic embroidery and so much glitz and glam. We’re led to believe that God clearly has a taste for the ornate.

However, this begs the question, is this space for God to feel at home or for the Israelites to feel safe and present? The text doesn’t provide an obvious answer, but in reading the descriptive details, it appears that the grandeur of the Mishkan is partly because God wanted as many people as possible to contribute to its creation. That way they’d feel connected to the space and proud to be there. While our use of holy spaces has changed, the idea of having everyone contribute remains the same. When you volunteer your time and other resources to Neveh Shalom, that’s how you create a space that’s built for you, one you’re proud to be in. And if that happens to include trampolines in the vestry, you know how to contact me.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: If I Built a Mishkan – Parshat Vayakhel 5784