I hate moving. The process of taking all the items in a room and fitting them nice and tidy into a box, agitates me like nothing else. I don’t like having to fit into any kind of box literally or figuratively. Nothing about my life feels rectangular or square; nothing I care about ever looks comfortable in a cardboard box.
There is something about the process of deconstructing a living space into its separate parts that feels difficult and depressing. Standing in an empty bunk at the end of a summer at camp always made me cry. Striking the set after the run of a fun show makes my blood pressure rise and my heart sink to my stomach.
So, why does the book of Exodus close with a tedious inventory of all the items used to build the Tabernacle as if packing and ready to travel? Why do we need to hear the inventory?
According to the Midrash, Moses demonstrated his accountability to all the Israelite donors and made it clear that all donations had been used properly and dealt with honestly. I appreciate the characterization of Moses and the ethical lessons he taught. But, the part inside me that screams at the idea of having to inventory my home and pack ever again wonders is there more to learn here? Is there something that can we learn from this accounting, from this deconstruction of sacred space into the specific non-sacred items used to create it?
Perhaps the answer is in the presence of the final words of the book of Exodus. Immediately following the inventory and closing the last chapter of Exodus is a description of God’s presence leading the Israelites as cloud resting in the Tabernacle by day and as fire by night. This description of how God’s presence traveled with the people and was always among them follows a list of objects that have no sacred meaning in of themselves.
Perhaps itemizing the metals and yarns that were used to beautify the sacred space reminds us that objects are just objects. It is we who endow those objects with meaning. The artistic and beautiful decorations, the objects that people donated and were crafted did not sanctify the space. It was the heartfelt intentions of the community, the collective action towards a common good that invited and created a sacred space.
Perhaps it is also to remind us that it is not the objects that give our life meaning. That those objects serve us as we pursue work, relationships, and experiences that are meaningful to us. That it is through those experiences that we connect with the divine.
Perhaps we close the chapters about building sacred space with a reminder of the difference between our material and spiritual worlds and when they blend harmoniously together, the divine presence can dwell among us.