They had known of and worshipped God for centuries, but not until now was there a set place with a regular ritual. They had long been a more or less homogeneous people with shared experiences and hopes, but they had never had a communal rallying point and centre.
This double dimension of the Tabernacle remained the pattern of Israelite and Jewish worship throughout history. We see this in the names for a synagogue – bet t’fillah, house of prayer, and bet am, community centre.
We also see it in the geography of a Jewish community. In the wilderness, the Tabernacle was the centre of the camp with the tribes grouped around it, and wherever Jews lived, the synagogue was the core of the community.
If Jews moved away, the synagogue could not be left high and dry without a community around it, so the synagogue also often moved to the new neighbourhood.
In symbolic terms, too, the Tabernacle, like the Temple and the synagogue, was the symbolic representation of Jewish ideas and ideals.
The Ark was the repository of the tablets of the Revelation, symbolic of the crucial teachings and traditions of the Jewish people. The altar represented the community’s commitment to God and His Word. The eternal light stood for the constant Divine Presence. The kohanim and Levites represented the nation, “a kingdom of kohanim and a holy people”.
Building the Tabernacle could not have been left until the Israelites reached the Promised Land; the foundations of Judaism and the Jewish people had to go with them from the moment they left Egypt.