Building My Own Mishkan

March 1, 2009

So inspired was I by last week’s Torah portion that I decided to build my own tabernacle.  Well, when I say inspired, what I really mean is confused.  Reading the text, it is virtually impossible to understand the instructions to make, let’s face it, a few bits of simple furniture.  For the first time I appreciated those wordless IKEA instructions that at least allow one to believe they are succeeding in building whatever useless object it is they have queued for 3 days to purchase.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try IKEA first, and trotted round to Brent Park to see if they sold flat pack arks.  As it turns out they do (they’re called Fleemg I think, or is it Kllurm?) but unfortunately, as with all IKEA products, they only come in a non-standard size and as everyone knows, the Torah is very clear about the size of the tabernacle and all its contents.

I therefore decided I would have to study the text carefully and try to make my own from scratch.  Which brings me to the first of God’s little teases.  The almighty knows full well how useless we Jews are at DIY.  He must have been having a joke, right?  All those miracles just a few weeks ago, and yet he couldn’t just give the Israelites the Mishkan.  He had to send them into a sweat fuelled frenzy of panic while they tried to create this thing.  I can hear the arguments even now, passing down through the centuries.  “No! you said you’d collect the gold, I said I’d get the wood!” and “What on earth are you doing?  How are we supposed to put the cherubs on now, we haven’t finished gilding it yet!”

After several hours of translating and note taking, I took myself off, with trepidation, to Homebase.

“Can I help you?”
“Yes, I need 11 cubits of acacia wood, a cubit and a half wide, plus some acacia wood poles as well, two, about 8 cubits each”.
“How much?”
“What do you mean?  I just told you how much.  About 11 cubits”.
“What’s a cubit?”
I hesitated and then unconfidently placed my hands in front of me, flat palms facing each other, about shoulder width apart.  “About this much?”
“Right, well we don’t have acacia wood.  Will MDF do?”
“Not really”.
“Pine? Contiboard?”
“Oh give me the MDF then.  It’s got to be covered with gold anyway so no-one will know”.
“To cover the MDF?”
“We don’t sell gold”.
“I was aware.  I was thinking gold spray”.
“Aisle four”.
“Thanks.  And four gold rings?”
“What is this, the 12 days of Christmas?”
“They’re to hold the MDF poles”.
“Try the curtain section”.

For the crown and cherubs I spent hours sifting through tat at Camden Market and even then the angels were a bit too big.  Still, I did it, and now I feel truly connected to my ancestors as they traipsed through the desert.  In fact, I know exactly how my own antecedents must have felt:

“What kind of God is this?  He takes us into the desert and then gets us to play Changing Rooms.  When we get out of this mess I’m never going to do a single DIY job again for as long as I live.  I’ll find some goy to do it for me instead.”

And that’s why all you’ll ever find in a Jew’s tool kit is a butter knife and an old hammer with a loose head.