It was a great building campaign; "All the wise people came and said to Moses, 'The people are bringing more than enough for the work that God has commanded us to perform.' Moses commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, 'Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary!' And the people had to be restrained from bringing." (Exodus 36:5-6) Although it is often described as the most successful building campaign in history, perhaps it was not.
There was another such campaign in which materials were gathered before the people knew the purpose: "They said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire.' And the brick served them as stone, and the bitumen served them as mortar. And they said, 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens.'" (Genesis 11:3-4) They must have made a huge pile of bricks if they had enough to build a city and a tower reaching to heaven. They didn't decide to build the Tower of Babel until after they made the bricks!
Two incredibly successful building campaigns, both achieved without a clear idea of what they would build. Both building projects began with a sense of plenty, not need. Neither project, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) or the Tower, was an emergency campaign. Neither was a response to a crisis. Both were a celebration of plenty; what the people had, and could do.
Why did one fail and the other succeed? The Tower was intended to reach heaven. The Mishkan was intended to bring heaven down to earth. People with plenty may reach for the stars or attempt to bring the stars down to earth. It is the latter who succeed. The foundation of the "City and Tower," was weak. Everyone was looking up before solidifying what was below. The Mishkan focused on building a solid foundation on this world. It brought Heaven down to earth, and it lasted.
A life of meaning begins with a celebration of plenty, promise, and potential. The celebration allows us to lay a foundation sufficiently secure for Heaven to come down to us. When we use religion as a response to a crisis or need, and reach up to the Heavens to escape this world, we teeter on a weak base, only to tumble back to earth.
I've been stuck inside for a few days because of the cold, ice, and snow. But, I have plenty: heat, a roof over my head, and food on the table. I could reach for more; a nice warm vacation in Punta del Este, or, I can bring heaven down to earth by paying attention to those who are stuck at home in the cold, without sufficient heat or food. I can share my plenty with a senior who is alone in her home, with no one to bring her food or check that she is OK. I can see how much I have and celebrate my plenty by bringing a small slice of heaven to others who have even less.
I'll take the Mishkan approach. I'll make some calls and check in on people who do not have as much. I'll make sure that they have what they will consider in their current situation to be a slice of heaven; food and heat. I think I'll find my own piece of heaven right here by sharing my plenty.
I wish you a plentiful Shabbat that will give you a taste of heaven right here in your own private Mishkan.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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