Parshat Terumah introduces the ambitious project of constructing an edifice to house the presence of God. It is a one-time feat of human craftsmanship and artistry matching the majesty of the Shechina. The activities necessary for construction of the Mishkan are designated as ultimate forms of “creative acts.” Thirty-nine of these activities serve as models for actions that are prohibited on Shabbat. Each of the prohibited 39 melachot correspond to an activity within the manufacture of the Mishkan.
One of the 39 prohibited melachot is the act of kosheir—tying knots and fastening material. When constructing the Mishkan, mesh-like curtains were fastened to the outer structure of the Mishkan. The process of assembling the Mishkan, which includes fastening these meitarim, or mesh curtains, serves as the template for prohibiting any tying or fastening on Shabbat.
An intriguing Yerushalmi in Shabbat (perek 7) poses an interesting question. The assembly of the desert Mishkan was temporary, yet only permanent knots and durable fastening is included within the biblical prohibition of kosheir (while admittedly, many forms of fastening are rabbinically forbidden). To underscore the temporary nature of this construction, the Yerushalmi reminds us that these desert locations merely served as stopovers en route to Israel. As they were transient in nature, the fastening of meitarim cannot possibly serve as the model to prohibit permanent tying. In fact, the Yerushalmi identifies a different activity to serve as the model for the prohibition of permanent tying and knotting.
Since our original desert voyage, Jews have traveled this world and have enjoyed varying stages of permanence and stability. Though we left our homeland we didn’t suffer endless nomadic wandering. This “temporary” durability was already prophesied to our Avot when they were apprised of the prospect of exile. However, no structure outside the Land of Israel can ever be deemed as permanent.
In the modern world we have encountered unprecedented prosperity as the Western world has embraced Jews and offered them unparalleled welfare and even affluence. We are right to capitalize upon this opportunity to regenerate Jewish institutions and families in robust communities. However durable our “structures” become, our attitude must cast them as temporary and fleeting. Though we build “sturdy” we admit “impermanence.” Though we exploit this opportunity for current stability, we recognize it as somewhat distant from a world of permanence and from a region in which the historical process will reach its terminus.
Interestingly enough, the Yerushalmi also cites a dissenting opinion: Since they encamped based on Divine mandate, each juncture was considered permanent. Though the reality of a desert journey entailed a series of temporary stopovers, any assembly dictated by God is considered permanent. Human beings live a temporary life disguised as permanent. All human “towers”—real or symbolic—are limited by human mortality and are as fragile as their human architects. Though they carry the illusion of “lastingness” they are brittle and easily broken. By contrast, any act dictated by God is permanent—even if it appears interim or momentary. Apparently—at least according to this alternate opinion—even structures assembled outside of Israel are deemed permanent if they serve the will of God.
These two positions in the Yerushalmi reflect the duality of Jewish life—if lived outside of the Land of Israel. By fulfilling Divine will we erect lasting structures with profound inherent meaning. Any project on behalf of avodat Hashem contains inherent significance and permanence; God is the only fixed and permanent element of human experience. Yet, our attitude must view these structures as temporary encampments—en route to a final homecoming that has begun to unfold. We have lived through periods during which seemingly “everlasting” structures and achievements have been rapidly demolished, and these events should serve as lessons of caution in a period of seemingly endless opportunities for communal advancement outside of Israel. Until our entire people fully returns home we continue to raise communities and Jewish spirit. If it follows the eternal will of God it possesses integral value and resonates with permanence.
As we continue to fasten the final threads of the historical process we yearn and pray for a full return and the ability to build ultimate towers. On Shabbat we recite the term “migdol yeshuot malko” because on this day we simulate the final period of redemption when these towers, or “migdol,” will be constructed in our homeland.
By Rabbi Moshe Taragin
Rabbi Moshe Taragin is a rebbe at Yeshivat Har Etzion located in Gush Etzion where he resides.