The name of the Torah portion is Terumah, which means an offering. This name is obviously based on the second verse where Hashem instructs Moshe to "Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering".
We use names to be able to differentiate between things. We usually choose a name that reflects that what the name is connected with. In the case of the names of the different Torah portions this is particularly so. In the past we have tried to explain how several names of Torah portions reflect the content of the entire parsha. By Noach, for instance, this is very simple. The entire portion speaks about Noach. This week it is not so simple.
Almost the entire parsha discusses the instructions on how to build the mishkan. It is only in the very beginning that Moshe is told to take donations from the Jewish people.
Over the years there have been many publications with illustrated guides on how the mishkan looked. These books usually have names such as `the Mishkan and its vessels'. After al, that is what they discuss. It would seemingly have been befitting for our parsha to have a similar name.
When we hear the word Terumah, many different offerings mentioned in the Torah come to mind. First and foremost the word Terumah reminds us of the portion of the harvest we have to give to the priests. In Halacha this is what the word Terumah always refers to. The laws of this type of Terumah are discussed (at greater length than the Terumah of the mishkan is being discussed in this week's portion) in the portion `Korach' which we will be reading in the summer. Yet it is only this week's portion that received the name Terumah.
After Hashem tells Moshe to collect donations from the Jewish people He tells him to instruct them to make a sanctuary in which He can dwell. This in itself has to be understood. Why didn't Hashem first say he wanted the tabernacle to be built and then, in order to fund the building, ask for donations? Then we would be able to call the parsha "Ve'asu li mikdash"- make me a sanctuary, which would reflect the content of the entire portion.
All this seems to indicate that the most important thing is the offering only to be followed by the actual building. When we start reading however, it appears that the main thing was the building.
When we take a closer look we might even say that Mishkan and Terumah are two opposites!
Mishkan means a dwelling, a resting place. Hashem's presence did not enter the tabernacle untill all the work was done and HE decided the time had come to enter. This `entering' of the divine presence is something that Even Moshe and king Shlomo had a hard time understanding. IF G-d's presence is everywhere and all the heavens can't house Him, how is it possible for a small physical structure to be a dwelling for the entire being of Hashem? Although there are different explanations, the question remains a question. The only answer is that since Hashem decided it to be so, it so happened. Terumah on the other hand is MAN's offering. Not only doesn't it speak about G-d's presence coming down into this world, it doesn't even indicate that the offering has been accepted by Hashem. It speaks only about man's attempt to do something for G-d, as opposed to the meaning of the word mishkan, which is connected to HASHEM's action.
The Torah is not a history book. Torah comes from the word hora'ah which means instruction. Everything the Torah tells us has a direct message to all of us today.
The mishkan was only a temporary dwelling for Hashem. We all know that the main dwelling would be the two temples that were later built in the Jewish land. The commandment to build the Mishkan is not a mitzvah that applied in later times. Why then do we have to read about it in the Torah?
We understand why we learn about the two temples although they were destroyed. Since the third temple, which will be built when Moshiach comes, speedily in our days, will be very similar to the first two, it is important to know how the first two looked so we'll be able to know how to build the third one. The mishkan however was a much smaller building that looked very different.
There are certain commandments we cannot fulfill exactly the way they were given because we are lacking a temple. There are some substitutes though. Instead of bringing the daily sacrifices we have daily prayers, sacrificing our own being in a way. The mitzvah of building a temple we can fulfill by studying the laws and the measurements of the temple. This too, applies only to the laws of the two temples which we were commanded to build. The laws of the mishkan do not fall into this category since the commandment to build it applied only in the days the Jewish people were wandering in the desert.
Since this `substitute' building isn't a physical process but rather a spiritual one, we may find the solution to our problem by only looking at the spiritual aspect of it. The reason why Hashem asked for a temporary dwelling in the desert was not only because technically speaking a stone building wouldn't be practical for a traveling nation. Maybe, just like historically the mishkan preceded the two stone temples, it is necessary to study the laws of the mishkan before we study the laws of the temples in order to fulfill the mitzvah in the spiritual realm.
This is not a sufficient explanation as to why the Torah tells us about the mishkan. Everything that is mentioned in the Torah is eternal. Since at that point a Jew was able to fulfill his obligation of building a house for Hashem by being involved in the construction of the mishkan, it must be that even today there is a significance in knowing about the mishkan for its own sake. (Not only as a preparation to the study of the temples). Especially when we take into consideration that the mishkan was never destroyed, but only HIDDEN, we must conclude that studying about the mishkan has a message for us today.
In the Midrash we find two apparently conflicting opinions concerning the exact time when Hashem's presence entered this world. One opinion maintains that this happened when the Torah was given. It is compared to two countries that did not allow each other to cross their resp. borders. When they nullified this decree it became permissible for both people to travel freely in both countries. Similarly, before the Torah was given the earth had no contact with heaven. When Hashem gave the Torah he nullified this decree and ever since we can connect ourselves and the world around us to something more spiritual and G- dly. The first one to cross the newly opened border was Hashem, as it says: "And Hashem descended upon Mt. Sinai", and only after that he told Moshe: "Go up to Hashem".
Another opinion maintains that Hashem's presence entered this world the day the mishkan was erected. These two opinions do not contradict each other; they rather speak about two different stages in the process of making the connection with the higher worlds.
Before Hashem came down to Mt. Sinai he warned the Jewish people not to touch the mountain till the all-clear sign was given after His presence would return heavenwards. Although during the giving of the Torah the entire universe was permeated with a revealed presence of G-d (which is why there was no echo; nothing was able to stop the sound of Hashem's `voice'.) this was not of lasting effect. After the `show' was over the mountain became a regular mountain again. The advantage of the divine presence in the mishkan is that it was drawn down as a result of OUR actions. "YOU shall make me a sanctuary". In other words, although the world was filled with Hashem's presence by the giving of the Torah as well, it was only because of the overwhelming radiance from ABOVE, but when Hashem entered the mishkan, he did so because of the actions of man down BELOW.
The word Terumah has two meanings. Rashi explains it like this" Terumah-separation. They shall set apart from their property an offering for Me".
Another interpretation is that it means `to lift up'. (le'ha'rim). Terumah is teaching us the process of transforming worldly matter into holy matter. As opposed to what happened by the giving of the Torah, our work can not transform the entire world in one moment. All we can do is lift up piece by piece. We only set apart one offering at a time. That is why the Torah goes into detail about all 13 (or 15 according to a second opinion) different materials that were used for the building of the mishkan. Each item had its own way it had to be dealt with.
Now we understand why the name of the parsha is Terumah and not mishkan. We are learning how to make a dwelling by transforming the world to be a better place piece by piece. That is indicated in the word Terumah –lifting up. But only thing at a time. Only when we finish with that, we can have a mishkan, a divine presence among us. A name like `mishkan' would have indicated that Hashem came down by himself the same way He descended when the Torah was given.
This is also the significance of the study of the laws of the mishkan as a purpose in itself. The main difference between the temple and the tabernacle was that the tabernacle was in the desert as opposed to the temple that was located in the `real' world. A desert is a place full of snakes and scorpions where people can't live. Jerusalem, where the temple stood, was a city in the civilized world. Besides for the physical advantage it had, it also had a spiritual advantage over the desert. The entire country of Israel is "the land that Hashem watches from beginning of the year till the end of the year." Yerushalayim was the place that Hashem had CHOSEN to be his main dwelling. It is the place where heaven and earth connect. The gates of heaven through which our prayers go up are located at that spot.
The Torah included the description of all the details of the mishkan in it to teach us that even when we find ourselves in a spiritual desert, when we are far away from Yerushalayim in physical and/or spiritual sense, when we feel surrounded by (human) snakes and scorpions, we still have the ability and the obligation to build a sanctuary for Hashem.