The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 35:6) relates that when God showed Moshe how the Mishkan should look, Moshe was startled. He turned to God and asked, “Master of the universe! Am I a God, that I can make something like this?” God ambiguously responded by telling Moshe that the Mishkan and its furnishings should be built “be-tavnitam” (Shemot 25:40) – “in their structure”). To explain God’s response, the Midrash draws a comparison to a king who ordered one of his servants to paint a portrait of his – the king’s – face. The king had an especially striking appearance, and so the servant felt incapable of accepting such a task. “How,” he asked the king, “do you expect me to make a precise replica of your majestic appearance?”
The king replied “Ata be-samemanekha va-ani bi-khvodi” – “You have your ingredients [for the paint], and I have My honor.”
In short, the king told the servant to do the best he could with his “samemanim,” with the tools at his disposal. The king wasn’t expecting anything more precise than that which the servant’s paints were capable of producing. And this, according to the Midrash, was God response to Moshe’s question, “Am I a God, that I can make something like this?” No, Moshe was not a “God,” and so what was demanded of him was a human Mishkan. It was not expected that he and his team of artisans produce precisely what was shown to him; it was expected only that they use the “samemanim” at their disposal, that they do the best with what they’ve been given.
Chazal’s analogy is instructive with regard to religious life generally. When we consider the kind of “Mishkan” that we are to build, the range and extent of obligations we are to fulfill, and the kind of standards we are to maintain, we can easily feel intimidated, and wonder, as Moshe did, “Can I make something like that?” The Midrash here teaches us, very simply, that we just need to do our best. We’ve all been given our unique set of “samemanim,” of skills, strengths and circumstances with which to work, and we all have our limitations and our weaknesses with which we need to struggle. As long as we use our “semamanim” to the best of our ability, and try to build the best “Mishkan” was can, then we doing exactly what is expected of us.