In the Beginning
As a result of a near mutiny, the overbearing and arrogant Captain was forced to see a Psychiatrist by order of the Commodore.
As soon as the Captain became comfortable on the couch, the Psychiatrist began the session by asking the Captain,
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
The Captain said, “Okay. In the beginning I created heaven and the earth… “
In the beginning of Genesis, the Bible devotes 31 verses to describe how G-d created the entire world. “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.” In striking contrast, the Torah portions of the present weeks devote 371 verses to describe how the Jews created the tabernacle, or Mishkan, in the desert.
This seems profoundly strange.
The universe spans billions of miles and is an awesomely complex structure. After millennia of research, we have not scratched the surface of its untold depth and unbound mysteries. We have not even mastered the secrets embedded in a single atom or cell. The tabernacle, on the other hand, was around 150 feet long and 75 feet wide, and was an impressive but small tent; a little mobile "shteibel."
Why would the Torah be so expansive about the creation of a humble albeit splendorous tent in the desert and yet so terse about the creation of the cosmos with all of its infinite depth, majesty and grandeur? Does it make sense? 31 verses for creation of the world, and almost half the book of Exodus for the creation of a mobile sanctuary!
Mortality into Eternity
This strange contrast conveys something profoundly important about the Torah’s perspective on life. For an infinite G-d to create a home for finite man is not a big deal. But for a finite man to create a home for an infinite G-d—that is a revolutionary notion. It constitutes the essential revolution of Judaism that from the fragmented pieces of our hearts we can construct a home for the Divine; that the ordinary stuff of human life can be carved into a dwelling place for the Almighty; that G-d craves to dwell in the space we designate for Him in the barren desert of human consciousness.
Creation of the universe is G-d's miracle—the miracle of converting energy into matter. Creation of a structure to house the Divine in a desert is man's miracle—the miracle of converting matter into energy; the wonder of a human being surpassing himself, transcending his finite egocentricity and turning his life into a home for the Divine—that story is deserving of close to 400 verses!
This is the essence of the tabernacle story, which occupies almost half the book of Exodus and seems so remote from our present life style: that a human being, through his or her minute and limited deeds, words and thoughts, can create a home for G-d in his or her daily life; that a frail and vulnerable human being is capable of creating a space in his or her heart for the living presence of G-d. This is the miracle of Torah.