According to Rabbi Jacob bar Assi (Tanhuma, Pekudei 2), the Tabernacle parallels the creation of the world. On the first day of creation, God creates the heaven that the psalmist (104:2) describes as “stretched out like a tent.” The Tabernacle itself is a tent. On the second day, God differentiates between heaven and earth. Similarly, a screen is made to separate the two sections of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:33). On the third day, water is gathered together in one location. In the Tabernacle, a bronze wash basin is fashioned (Exodus 30:17).
Celestial bodies illuminating the world are created on the fourth day. In the Tabernacle, the golden menorah is made to illuminate the interior (Exodus 25:37) On the fifth day, beasts and birds are created which were later to become sacrificial offerings in the Tabernacle. Moreover, the cherubs adorning the ark in the Tabernacle were, like birds, winged creatures.
Man, the pinnacle of creation, appeared on the sixth day. The High Priest is the apotheosis of the Tabernacle. It is through him that the people and God are served. The seventh day marks the end of creation introduced with the word “va’yekhulu.” The end of the construction of the Tabernacle is punctuated by the word “va-tekhel” (Exodus 39:32) derived from the same root. Finally, the creation of the world is afforded a blessing from God. A blessing from Moses follows the completion of the Tabernacle (Exodus 39:43).
All of these similarities, concludes, Rabbi Jacob bar Assi, suggest that the Tabernacle is an earthly witness in a double sense. In one sense, it attests to the belief in God as the creator of the universe. In another sense, it attests to the responsibility of Israel to bring the world under divine rule. First the Tabernacle, and later, the two Temples were central symbols of this mission of Israel.
Today, without either Tabernacle or Temple, Jews are left with only a textual image and not a physical manifestation. Nonetheless, the enduring image is powerful indeed.