The opening verse of Parashat Pekudei refers to the Mishkan with the phrase “mishkan ha-eidut,” indicating that it functioned as a type of “testimony” (“eidut”). The simple explanation of this term, as explained by Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni, is that the Mishkan contained in its midst – in the ark situated in its innermost chamber – the stone tablets given to Moshe at Sinai. The tablets are referred to as “testimony” earlier in Sefer Shemot, likely because they represent – and thus testify to – the covenant forged between God and Benei Yisrael at Mount Sinai (see, for example, the Rashbam to 25:16).
Rashi, however, citing the Midrash Tanchuma, offers a different explanation of the term “mishkan ha-eidut,” writing that the Mishkan testified to God’s having forgiven Benei Yisrael for the sin of the golden calf. The fact that God’s presence resided in the Mishkan among Benei Yisrael clearly demonstrated that they were forgiven for this grave transgression and were again deemed worthy of His presence.
This approach to the “testimony” provided by the Mishkan is developed somewhat differently by the Sefat Emet (Pekudei, 5635). He writes that the “testimony” came from the people’s faithful fulfillment of God’s detailed commands regarding the Mishkan’s construction. The fact that the people obeyed every instruction and built the Mishkan in precise accordance with God’s will testified to their having been loyal to God all along, notwithstanding the grave mistake of the golden calf. This sin did not reflect a breakdown of their core religious essence, which remained firmly and passionately devoted to the Almighty. This devotion was on full display when Benei Yisrael enthusiastically parted with their possessions for the purpose of constructing the Mishkan and completing the project in precise accordance with God’s commands.
The concept of the Mishkan “testifying” to Benei Yisrael’s devotion to God perhaps applies to us on an individual level, as well. We are all well aware of the numerous “testimonies” to our faults and flaws. We all have uncomfortable memories of mistakes and failures that remind us of our frailty, our limitations and our weaknesses. The Torah’s use of the term “mishkan ha-eidut” perhaps teaches us to be also mindful of the other “testimonies” – our successes, achievements and positive traits that “testify” to our inner goodness and potential. We all have our share of “golden calves” – past mistakes which we regret – but we can also all point to many “Mishkans” – significant achievements that “testify” to all the good within us. Just as the Torah emphasizes the “testimony” to Benei Yisrael’s inner goodness provided by the Mishkan, so must we be mindful not only of our mistakes and failures, but also of our achievements and successes which testify to our potential and which should thus encourage us to achieve even more.