Only One True Purpose
Yael Eckstein | March 2, 2022
Then they brought the tabernacle to Moses: the tent and all its furnishings, its clasps, frames, crossbars, posts and bases; the covering of ram skins dyed red and the covering of another durable leather (tachash skins) and the shielding curtain… — Exodus 39:33-34
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is Pekudei, which means “counting,” from Exodus 38:21–40:38.
“Why did God make bananas?” My daughter asked this question out of the blue, to which I replied, “Why did He make bananas? He made them so that we could enjoy them. Why else?” I thought I handled that pretty well, until she asked her next question. “So why did God create mosquitoes?” “Well,” I thought, “I guess He made mosquitoes because sometimes we deserve a mosquito bite.” We both laughed.
As trivial as my daughter’s questions seemed, they got me thinking. The real question is, why did God make anything? Around 2,000 years ago, the Jewish sages answered this question in a book called Pirke Avot, Chapters of the Fathers, a book of ethical, practical, and theological teachings. Pirke Avot says that “everything that God created in His world, He created only for His glory.”
In other words, every single thing in creation is meant to be used as a way to see God and to glorify Him.
The reason that we don’t see God’s glory in everything is that every single thing also serves some worldly purpose. Bananas are nutritious. Trees give shade. Even if it’s true that the highest purpose of everything is to glorify God, we are distracted by the other uses and purposes that we experience. We don’t always see this higher purpose.
Only One True Purpose
In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish people completed the Tabernacle, the portable Temple in the desert. The roof of the Tabernacle was a layer of rams’ skins which was then covered by skins of an animal that is somewhat mysterious. In Hebrew, the animal was called a tachash. The English translations range from dolphin, to badger, to manatee, and more. Nobody seems to know what this word means.
Jewish tradition teaches that the tachash was an animal that was created by God only in the time of Moses. It was used for its skins —the outermost cover of the Tabernacle — and then immediately became extinct.
As we said, everything in creation is meant to give glory to God, but everything in creation also does other things that make us forget this higher purpose. Everything except the tachash. The tachash, whose only purpose seemingly was to cover the Tabernacle, reminded all who saw it that there is only one true purpose for all things: the glory of God.