From the famous 10 Declarations two weeks ago to the down-to-earth rules of civility last week, we now move to an area of Judaism that is strange and extremely hard to relate to....the blueprint for the Tabernacle that the former slave nation set up in the wilderness (Exodus 25-27).
Here are a couple interesting facts that can make for a lively table talk.
1. What did the Tabernacle actually look like? Some people (such as yours, truly) process visual information better than written. So you may enjoy printing a picture of the Tabernacle for a little show-and-tell tonight.
Here is a 3-D model you can “walk through” (also of Solomon’s Temple, which replaced the Tabernacle 500 years later) (requires free VTML software to view but even without that you can see some stills)
Here’s a full-size replica someone built in the Negev desert.
Here is another model and description.
2. While we’re on the subject of the Tabernacle, did you know that this portable “temple” was used for about 500 years before Solomon built the permanent Temple in Jerusalem (around 900 BCE)? Every been to Israel? Would you like to go? Here is a gem of a site – an American rabbi has organized and published some of the original photos and drawings made by 19th Century British explorers to Jerusalem – you can take a tour underneath the Temple Mount to see the fabulous sites there (scroll down to “Temple Mount Gallery”).
3. Did you know that the Tabernacle was not part of the original plan for Judaism – it was built as a “fix” for the grave mistake of the Golden Calf. But the Golden Calf incident hasn’t happened yet! This is one of the numerous places where the Torah is written out of chronological order.
4. The weekly portion ends with Ex. 27:19. But Chapter 27 goes on for another 2 verses. That is to say, the next portion begins in the middle (or very near the end) of a chapter. Why is this?
The answer is that the chapter divisions of the Torah are not Jewish. They were created by Christians in late Antiquity attempting to organize their newly-canonized Bible. Jews ignored these artificial divisions until forced to debate Christians in public in Medieval Europe. It’s hard to win debating points when your opponent says “Well, how do you explain Isaiah 53:7?” and you’re fumbling through your Tanach, trying to guess what he is talking about. It turns out that numbering each and every verse is useful, so the habit stuck, but it never over-rode our original weekly episode divisions.