One third of the book of Exodus is devoted to the construction of the tabernacle, God's mobile dwelling in the wilderness. The large amount of text devoted to this subject is a result of twice-telling of this tale, first God's instructions to Moses (Exodus 25-31) and then his execution of them (Exodus 35-40).

In fact, a close reading of Moses' "Song at the Sea" (Exodus 15:1-18) implies clearly that there was to be no dwelling place for God in the wilderness. Exalted by the destruction of Pharaoh's pride, Moses envisions a rapid journey through the wilderness to Canaan, where God would personally erect a sanctuary from which to rule forever. "You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, the place You made, Your abode, O God, the sanctuary, O God, which Your hands established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever!" (Exodus 15:17-18) The text seems to exclude any man-made interim arrangement and certainly does not prepare us for the Torah's time and space consuming absorption with the tabernacle.

In other words, there is nothing self-evident about the Torah's abrupt transition in chapter 25 from Parashat Mishpatim to Terumah, from sacred law to sacred space. Nevertheless, most commentators take the sequence as natural and chronological. They ignore the contradiction and argue for continuity. The tabernacle is a portable Sinai intended to perpetuate God's presence wherever Israel may be. The experience of revelation is not to slip into memory but to be transformed into a daily, lived experience. "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8) Rabbinic Hebrew would turn the verb Ve-Shakhanti ("that I may dwell") into the proper noun Shekhinah, signifying God's close and caring presence. "Wherever Israel was exiled," the rabbis declared, "the Shekhinah went into exile with them." Or in the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, "God dwells wherever we are ready to let God in." The tabernacle arose out of the angst not to lose touch with Sinai.