Be all you can be
Beginning with chapter 25 through the end of Exodus, with the exception of chapters 32–34, the Torah describes the construction of the mobile dessert sanctuary called the Mishkan, Tabernacle in English. The narration of the construction of the Tabernacle and its utensils follows the story of the revelation of the Decalogue (called Ten Commandments, even though it has more than ten commands), highlighting its significance for the Israelite nation. The recital repeatedly mentions that the construction followed divine instructions. In 25:8 and 9, for example, God commands, “Let them make a Mishkan [a dwelling] for me so that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you – the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of the utensils – this is how you should make it.”
There are close parallels between the wording and description of the creation of the Tabernacle in Exodus and the world in Genesis.
1. Both narrations concern the making of something significant with God being involved and expressing approval.
2. Creation concerns the building of the physical world and the Tabernacle the spiritual.
3. Creation ends with the bringing of humans to the earth, and the Tabernacle with a sense of bringing the divine “among them.”
4. There are seven sections in the Tabernacle story introduced by God speaking, paralleling the words of God during the seven days of the formation of the world (Exodus 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12).
5. Six of the seven sections concern acts of creativity, like the initial six days. The seventh concerns the Sabbath laws, corresponding to the first Sabbath.
6. The erection of the Tabernacle was finalized on the first day of the first month, as indicated in 40:17, just as the world, according to a talmudic sage, was fully fashioned on this day.
7. The wording of 39:42, 43, describing the completion of the Tabernacle is strikingly similar to those in Genesis 1:31 to describe the finishing of creating the world.
8. The verb vayechal, “finished,” is used in both 40:33 and Genesis 2:2 to describe the conclusion of the two constructions.
9. Moses made a blessing in 39:43 when he put the final touches on the Tabernacle and so does God in Genesis 2:3.
God created the world, but humans made the Tabernacle. In 35:4 and other sections, Moses instructs the people that God commanded that they must participate in creating the Tabernacle. He told men and women to bring the best of their goods for the Tabernacle and its utensils. He was informing the Israelites that the only way to cause God to “dwell among” them is if they make a contribution, an active effort.
The human duty to be all you can be
The comparison of the stories teaches two lessons. First, God created the world and ceased creating, and it is now the duty of humans to continue what God started. Second, human must create with the best that they have.
People have two options. They can live a life of passivity, thinking that as long as they do no wrong, they are pious and are fulfilling what God expects of them. As long as they wear religious clothing and decorate their dwellings with religious symbols, as long as they don’t use improper language and if they mention God frequently in their conversations, they are doing what is proper. These people don’t realize that they are acting like cows chewing contentedly on meadow grass, cows that do no wrong. This was not what God intended. If this was God’s desire, God wouldn’t have made humans, only cows.
The second option, certainly more difficult, is to live an active and creative life. Like the building of the Tabernacle, it requires, as the psychologist Erich Fromm wrote to “be all that you can be.” It means using our reasoning to improve ourselves and society, joining God and other people in making a better world. Some call this duty tikkun haolam, “fixing the world.” The world, created by God, needs no repair, but it does require maintenance, the need to continue what God started.
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There is a Chassidic legend about the Seer of Lublin. A distraught woman and her husband came to the rabbi for help. “We have been trying for years to have a child, but weren’t successful. We came to you for your prayer.”
“I will be happy to pray for you,” said the rabbi, “if you give me half of what you earn in a year.”
“Please rabbi, we can’t afford so much money! We are poor people. As it is, we don’t have enough to live on,” said the husband. “Please help us without pay.”
“The best I can do,” said the rabbi, “is to pray for you for a quarter of your income.”
The husband turned to his wife and said, “What choice do we have. Let’s pay the rabbi what he demands so that we can have our child.”
“We do have a choice,” said the wife. “We can leave and pray on our own.”
As the couple was leaving, the rabbi said, “This is what I wanted to teach you. Don’t rely on others. Do things yourself.”
The story ends with the announcement that the couple had a child within a year. Whether they did or not, what is certain is that after they left they had a sense of dignity.
 This essay appeared with small differences in my “A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah Commentary,” published by Urim Publications.