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The World as God’s Mishkan

Dvar Haftarah: The World as God’s Mishkan

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

It is commonly thought that the Sanctuary (Mishkan) and the Temple were human attempts to parallel God’s creation of the world. Just as God provided a home for His creatures, so, too, humans would provide a “home” on earth for their Creator. The strength of this imagery was so strong that we find the Temple described as if it was the world: “He built His Sanctuary like the heavens, like the earth that He established forever.” (Psalms 78:69)

In the haftarah for Shabbat-Rosh Hodesh Iyar, we find the opposite expressed, namely, that the world is God’s Temple and that, perhaps, there is no need for a temporal home for God: “Thus said the Lord: The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool: Where could you build a house for Me, what place could serve as My abode? All this was made by My hand, and thus it came into being, declared the Lord.” (66:1-2)

This idea, more than being simply poetic was actually quite controversial. Expressed at the time of the return from Babylonian exile, it seems to argue that there is no need to rebuild the Temple because God’s world already serves that purpose. Why would this prophet speaking after the return from Babylonian exile, want to explore the beautiful idea that humans would want a dwelling place for God in their midst, a “house” built as an act of imitation of God’s having created the world?

The prophet understands the events of his day as having world-changing consequences. The return from exile was for him like the creation of the world anew. And with this “new” creation came a change in priorities. It is not that this prophecy denies the significance of the Temple, rather the prophet wants to route God’s priorities and, as a consequence, the people’s energies, elsewhere: “But to this do I look, to the poor man and to the broken of spirit who trembles at My word” (66:2).

The prophet wants to remind us that God’s ultimate responsibilities are not to be found in majestic and august buildings but rather in caring for others, in benevolence, in bringing God’s love into the world. These are the kinds of things that make the world God’s “Temple” and this is where we should put our energies in these troubling times.

 

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