The two Torah portions we are going to read over the next two Shabbatot – Teruma and Tetzaveh – describe the Divine instructions given for the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle – the temporary temple that accompanied the Children of Israel in their wanderings until the permanent Temple was built in Jerusalem. These instructions were given in great detail. Instructions for every piece of the Mishkan and its ritual utensils were given with great precision. In a few weeks from now, we will read two portions – Vayakhel and Pekudei – that describe the actual building of the Mishkan and its utensils, again with great detail and precision.
Actually, the description of the building of the Mishkan and its utensils is spread out over about 400 verses, over ten times the number of verses used to detail of Creation! In the Talmud, it says that the first description deals with the “First Mishkan” and the second deals with the “Second Mishkan.” But that doesn’t make sense since there was only one Mishkan!
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that what was being referred to was the gap between the plan and the implementation. The “First Mishkan” is the one that was planned, when it was just an idea. The “Second Mishkan” is the one that was realized. There will always be a gap between a plan and its implementation, and as an acknowledgment of this gap, the Torah repeats for us the exact directions for building the Mishkan.
This gap also explains the words of the Mishna in the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel would say: By three things is the world sustained: law, truth and peace” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:18).
At first glance, these seem like conflicting positions. Law and truth demand precision, while peace can only be realized through compromise and concession. How can one uphold both truth and peace, and then go so far as to claim that the world can only exist when both truth and peace exist?
Rabban Gamliel’s intention was regarding the gap we are discussing between an idea and its implementation. The idea must be pure and truthful; the implementation will always have to involve compromise and concessions.
If so, perhaps God is disappointed with the implementation? Maybe imperfect human performance is unworthy in His eyes? How can we know this?
In the description of the actual building of the Mishkan, there is a constant repetition of the phrase, “as God commanded Moses.” Were things actually done precisely? Was there no gap between the commandment and its fulfillment? Our sages discussed this in the Talmud (Tractate Bechorot 17) and wondered: How was it possible to be completely precise with the measurements of the Mishkan and the altar if absolute precision is impossible? They answered this question and said that God does not demand the impossible of man. If God commanded something to be done, He took into account human imperfection and this was what He wanted.
God wants humans’ imperfect deeds. If God had wanted perfect deeds, He would have created us with such wondrous capabilities. We are taught to appreciate partial, imperfect, and imprecise work. It is true regarding worship of God and it is true regarding interpersonal relationships. If we succeed in being better to others, we are worthy of admiration, even if this success is partial and temporary. If people can manage to overcome their egos and see others – even if on a limited scope – it is a fantastic accomplishment.
Imperfection and incompleteness accompany us in every aspect of life, but nevertheless, they do not negate our accomplishments. Human progress is attained when we learn to value even those accomplishments that are partial and imprecise, and through those, to move forward toward the next imperfect accomplishment.
The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.