The parasha introduces the idea of a Mishkan, forerunner of the Bet Ha-Mikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem, the structure and reality whose loss we mourn on Tish’a B’Av every year. As Hashem lays out the idea for Moshe, we get to remember why it was valuable, why we mourn it, and maybe begin to imagine how the world would look if it came back [full disclosure: the idea of imagining things so as to make them more real has been rolling around in my head since I wrote Murderer in the Mikdash, a mystery set in the time of a third Temple, the sequel to which, The Making of the Messiah, 2048, is in press.)
Hashem gives the primary reason we should want a Mikdash, that Hashem will house His Presence there in a more actualized way than the general Presence of melo kol ha-aretz kevodo, His glory fills the earth. People who went to the Temple had an experience of Gd they could not have elsewhere.
Just that—greater closeness to Gd– should be a spur to wanting its restoration. I have heard many people quote Berakhot 8a, Gd only has the four amot of halakha, without noting the fuller quote of R. Hiyya bar Ami in the name of Ulla, from the time the Mikdash was destroyed, Hashem only enters the world through halakha. In the times of a Mikdash, Hashem has more entry points, and we are all better off for it.
In addition, ceremonies of the Mikdash helped Jews find their ways closer to Gd. Sefer Ha-Hinukh assumes the Torah obligated Jews to make their way to Jerusalem regularly, such as to eat ma’aser sheni, the second tenth of the harvest in years one, two, four, and five of the shemittah cycle, to be sure they encountered the city, full of Torah (at the Sanhedrin) and Gd’s service (in the Mikdash).
Not least, the Temple offered avenues to atonement for sin. For all we assume/hope repentance and Yom Kippur help, sacrifices and especially the service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, eased our way back into Gd’s fully good graces.
More examples would only flesh out the basic point, Judaism clearly prefers a world with a Temple to one without. Yet when I speak about Murderer, I often meet Jews who are, deep down, not so sure. They worry about issues in all three of the central institutions of a renewed Jewish State, the monarchy, Sanhedrin, and Mikdash. Let’s focus on the latter, the topic of the parasha.
People worry, for example, about the morality of the priests and Levites who would staff the place. Sad contemporary experience tells us it could easily happen we would be checked for entry into the Mikdash by a Levi whose personal distance from perfection we know well. Who would he be to tell me whether I can enter?
Were we to bring a sacrifice, to celebrate an occasion and/or to secure atonement (most often, for a sin committed without full knowledge of what we were doing), we might be helped by a kohen whose all too humanity we knew. We’d be challenged to accept a flawed human being could serve as Gd’s representative.
More than either of those, I sense people chafe under the institutional firmness of the religion in Mikdash times, the idea they have to go to a particular structure for the maximal experience of Gd. Millennia without has let us forget the advantages of the system, given us a sense the individual relationship with Gd is better, to pursue as and how each of us chooses. How often do I go to shul? Up to me. How do I pray, observe the religion, sense my closeness to/distance from Gd? Up to me.
A Mikdash changes all that, sets a framework and rules we must follow if we want to be as close to Gd as possible, an idea I think grates on many of us. When we see the parasha prefer it, it is a call to recalibrate. As Rambam and others pointed out, life is best lived on the shevil ha-zahav, the golden middle path, where we are alert to both sides of all coins. In our case, to make sure we remember the irreplaceable benefits of a Mikdash, make sure to begin to relearn how to accommodate ourselves to a more centralized and institutionalized life than we currently live.
To reap benefits, we have to be prepared to change, because the advantages of full independence cost more than is good for any of us.