The Torah Text
After chapters of describing the building of the Mishkan, the design of holy instruments such as the menorah and the altar, and the erection of the Tent of Meeting, Exodus 29 concludes with an inspiring statement of God’s purpose.
“I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests. I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I יהוה am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I יהוה their God” (Exodus 29:44-46).
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
וידעו. הטעם אז ידעו כי לא הוצאתי אותם ממצרים רק בעבור שיעשו לי משכן ושכנתי בתוכם. וזהו תעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה
Exodus 29:46 AND THEY SHALL KNOW. Its meaning is, then they shall know that the only reason that I took them out of Egypt was so that they would make a sanctuary for Me that I may dwell among them. This is what Scripture means by “you shall serve God upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).
Reflections for the Path
Ibn Ezra solves two problems in his comment. First, what does this purpose statement have to do with all the building that has just been commanded? God sanctifies all that work, but then God says “I will dwell among them and they will know that I am God.” Based on Exodus 25:2 (“build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”), Ibn Ezra weaves those closer together, implying that through the act of building a ritual center, the people sense God’s presence more explicitly in their midst. God doesn’t need the project, but rather we need it in order to perceive God more clearly and consistently.
Second, Ibn Ezra recalls that at the outset of the liberation from Egypt, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, God told Moses that after the people are free, they are to serve God at this mountain. Building a place to serve through sacrificial ritual is the fulfillment of this request. Phase 1 of the Exodus really culminates with this step; after freedom comes the construction of a new paradigm, and the new service that marks a complete transformation. Phase 2 will begin in Numbers and comprise the growth of military confidence and civil governance, until the people are ready to fully reside in the new land.