This week’s parasha, Terumah, begins with a vision, a plan, a possibility. That vision is the construction of the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle. This incredible structure is brilliantly designed to be sturdy and beautiful while also engineered for easy dismantling, transportation, and reassembly. This was the ultimate “pop up Shul” for a people making their way through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land.
The vision starts in this parasha and is then fully realized five parshiyot later, at the end of the book of Exodus. It takes a plan, ample time, and deliberate action (the construction itself) in order for the vision to be fully complete.
Commentators throughout the centuries have puzzled over why the construction of the Mishkan receives this much detailed and intricate attention in the Torah. As we hear this incredibly thorough, and seemingly repetitive description each year, in this last half of Exodus, we likely have the same questions. Why is this so important?
One possibility is that Torah teaches us about the difference between planning, visioning, strategizing, and then the actual execution of a plan. For those things in our lives that are central and of the utmost importance, we should consider both phases as equally important (design phase and execution phase). Building a safe and sturdy dwelling requires an architect to first draw up the plan. We can’t realize the final product without the blueprint.
The design of the Mishkan is critical because it must function as a portable structure. Additionally, this is a place for the Divine Presence to dwell.
The Holy One instructs:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
Ve'asu li mikdash veshachanti betocham
“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
The many details that go into the design, how the materials are to be offered, and the action taken to bring this dwelling into existence bring us so much to explore. What strikes me this year is the clear emphasis on the two parts of the endeavor: idea and product.
We can consider this on many levels–obvious projects with a tangible product at the end AND the less obvious processes of the heart and soul. The message from Torah is clear. Start at the level of imagination, and dream big! Consider exactly what it is we want for ourselves. Next, envision the design. Then, make a step by step plan and include all the details. With the plan in place, we can get to work.
In this ancient text, Torah provides an example of what we might today call strategic planning and design thinking methodology. How can we apply the same thinking to Tikkun Olam, repairing this world in so much need or our attention?
Aleinu. It is upon us to transform the world that is into the would that ought to be, that must be. Parashat Terumah reminds us that we start that work by imagining what is possible. As we travel through the rest of the book of Exodus, we understand we cannot stop at the stage of imagination, of mere plans on paper. We must bring ourselves, and our able and loving hand to the challenge. We are commanded to actually get to work. We put in the effort and together we build. When that happens, the Holy One dwells with and among us.