וכל ענין המנורה והשלחן והמזבח והקרשים והאהל והיריעות וכל כלי המשכן מפני מה, אמרו ישראל לפני הקב"ה רבונו של עולם מלכי הגוים יש להם אהל ושלחן ומנורה ומקטר קטורת, וכן הוא תכסיסי המלוכה, כי כל מלך צריך לכך, ואתה הוא מלכנו גואלינו מושיענו לא יהיה לפניך תכסיסי המלוכה, עד שיודע לכל באי העולם כי אתה הוא המלך, אמר להם בני אותם בשר ודם צריכים לכל זה, אבל אני איני צריך…אמר להם הקב"ה אם כן עשו מה שאתם חפצים, אלא עשו אותם כאשר אני מצווה אתכם
All all this with the Menorah, and the Table, and the Altar, and the pillars, and the tent, and the curtains, and all the vessels, what is the purpose of it all? Israel said to Gd, “Master of the Universe, the kings of nations have a tent and table and lamp and burn incense in their halls, and they have all the trappings of kingship. You are our king and redeemer and savior, shouldn’t you certainly have the trappings of kingship so that all the people of the world know that you are the King? He told them “They are flesh and blood; they need all that, but I don’t need… Gd said to them, if this is your wish do what you desire, but make only as I command you. — Midrash Aggada Terumah
The rabbis are conflicted over the commandment to build a Tabernacle. The temples to idols house an image of the “god” in question, and physical objects can be offered to the image, which they believe was sustained in some way by the offerings. But the Creator of the Universe has no physical image to house and certainly needs nothing. As the Midrash Aggada puts it, Gd’s servants, the celestial bodies light up the entire world without humanly input, and they are only tools channeling Gd’s light. Gd himself certainly requires nothing from man. So how is He supposed to dwell in a house?
This question was already asked in the Book of Isaiah. “The Heaven is my throne, and the Earth is my footstool. What house could be built for Me, and what place could be My rest?” Obviously no house could, and Gd does not actually need one. Gd chooses to have a house specifically because he wants to turn to the “poor, lowly of spirit, and the one who trembles at His word”. His only interest in a house is to turn to the prayers of the humble and righteous who come to beseech Him there.
So then the design of the house is influenced by the need of the people. Gd needs a house to turn favor towards the poor and the righteous, and that house needs to resemble what people would expect a royal dwelling to look like, so they pay it proper respect. The Mishkan has a Table and Menora because that’s what palaces have. The community brings sacrifices and libations there even though Gd has no use for them because that is what kings have, servants to bring them delicacies. The place where Gd manifests His presence needs to inspire awe in visitors, so the entire edifice and the service inside is built to conform to human ideas of glory and honor. We wish to serve Gd, and he longs for a connection with us, so he humors us, so to speak.
But there is still a question that is unaddressed by Isaiah. Why is all this necessary? Why should we require a house for Gd in order to beseech Him at all? Let Him forge a relationship with His people without a house. Here, there are several possible answers. The first is what was already alluded to, that a place that inspires awe increases reverence for Gd when worshipping there. But it’s not just that. Having a home for Gd and ultimately a holy city around it, full of torah and righteousness, sets a focus point for for all Jews. When they visit, as they are required to do, they are inspired to deepen their relationship with Gd to become the people He turns to. Also, as Midrash Aggada mentions, the mishkan is not solely a tool for Jews to connect with Gd. By building a palace, ultimately the whole world would come to recognize Gd as the King.
Now, alas, we have been without this house for longer than we have been with it. But the image of it still remains with us as an inspiration. When we pray every day, we still direct our thoughts there and envision it. May it still inspire us to become the the kind of people Gd wishes to turn to with favor.