Bnei Yisrael just finished one of the most miraculous series of events in ancient history. They survived the ten plagues with barely a scratch; left Egypt; had a cloud and a pillar of fire protecting them on their travels; walked through the sea on dry land, with the very sea forming walls to their left and right; received the Torah, the most famous set of laws ever given, in an awe-inspiring manner; and they just received their first set of civil laws. At this point, we would expect Bnei Yisrael to be filled with such gratitude and awe that they would unwaveringly follow Hashem wherever He would lead them. What, then, is Hashem asking us to do when he says that we should build a Mikdash, where Hashem can rest amongst us? Presumably he already dwells among us! Why on earth would we have to build the Mishkan for this reason?!
Seforno explains that, in light of this question, the Mishkan was not needed at the end of this string of events leading from Yetzi’at Mitzrayim to Matan Torah. It would be needed later, for Cheit HaEigel and the people’s descent into idolatry. He argues that after Ma’amad Har Sinai, there should have been no need for a central location for spirituality, since at Har Sinai the Jewish people were at the highest level of spirituality they had ever achieved thus far in history. Everyone could have had the power of Nevu’ah and the ability to be in the presence of the Shechinah at all times! It was only after the Cheit HaEigel happened that the Mishkan was needed.
It is for this reason that Rashi, using the principle that the Torah is not bound to a chronological sequence (Ein Mukdam UMe’uchar BaTorah), states in Parashat Ki Tisa that the directions for building the Mishkan were first given after Cheit HaEigel. The instructions may have been placed here to show the relationship between civil and spiritual laws in Judaism. The Sanhedrin, the high court for both spiritual and civil law, was located on Har HaBayit, spiritually the highest place on earth. It is here that Rashi suggests that the reason that the instructions for the construction of the Mishkan were placed next to Parashat Mishpatim, the first set of civil laws, was to show that in Hashem’s eyes, one is just as important as the other.
Ramban, in his introduction to his commentary on Sefer Shemot, states that the goal the Ge'ulah of the Jewish people did not end at Yetzi’at Mitzrayim or Matan Torah, but rather when Bnei Yisrael built the Mishkan; when they made the temporary spiritual atmosphere into something that would be a permanent part of their existence, the Mishkan. The purpose of the Mishkan was to exist as a place where every Jew would come to elevate himself spiritually and to bask in and be uplifted by Hashem’s presence. This idea was subsequently expanded in the Beit HaMikdash. As the famous Pasuk in Yeshayahu states, “VaHavi’otim El Har Kodshi VeSimachtim BeVeit Tefilati Oloteihem VeZivcheihem LeRatzon Al Mizbechi Ki Veiti Beit Tefilah Yikarei LeChol HaAmim,” “I will bring them to my holy mountain, and they will be happy in my place of prayer. Their Korbanot will find pleasure on my Mizbei’ach, for my Mikdash will be a place of worship for all nations” (Yeshayahu 56:7). Once the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, Shuls and Batei Midrash continued this idea throughout the centuries of exile that we are still experiencing.
The true purpose of the Mishkan can be seen as far back as when Yosef was instructing his brothers how to go back to Eretz Kena’an to inform Ya’akov that Yosef was still alive. He said to his brothers, “Al Tirgezu BaDarech,” “Do not get agitated on the way back” (BeReishit 45:24). One of the ways that Rashi translates this is, “Al Tafsi’u Pesi’ah Gasah VeHichnisu Chamah LeIr,” “Do not be so impatient to go back to Ya’akov, [to the point when you will travel the entire night to get home. Stop and rest for the night] so you may enter the city when the sun is shining in the morning.” There is a very obvious question on this explanation. Yosef had not left the Egyptian palace in over seventeen years, whereas the brothers traveled between Eretz Kena’an and Mitzrayim at least three times by this point. Who was Yosef to give traveling advice to his brothers?! The brothers surely traveled far more than Yosef did! Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel explains that the point Rashi is trying to make would apply throughout all of Jewish History. Yosef was trying to tell the Jewish People that just like the brothers should take advantage and enter the city while the sun is still shining, so too we should learn as much as we can then, for when the sun begins to set on the Jewish people, it is at that time when they will need to have what they had learned and treasured for centuries, stored in their hearts and in their minds in order to survive.
Hashem wanted us to build the Mishkan with the following warning. Bnei Yisrael just experienced one of the most incredible experiences of all time. They were all on a high spiritual level and they were all committed, but it was only in their hearts. As long as these experiences remained just in their hearts, the only thing that this particular generation could do was to tell these stories over to the next generation, repeating to as many generations as possible. As shown with Rabi Yehudah HaNasi’s decision to commit the Mishnah to writing, keeping something in one’s heart may be very valuable, but in less than ideal times for the Jews, Mesorah could be crippled by lack of dedication or knowledge. Hashem wanted to tell Moshe when he gave the instructions to the Mishkan that Bnei Yisrael will undoubtedly keep the Torah in their hearts, but there was also a need for permanence. The Jewish people, hundreds and thousands of years from Matan Torah, were going to need something that would keep them committed Jews in the physical world. In the good times, the people will take advantage of the Mishkan by coming and going out of them, so that even if the sun sets for a while and things are not ideal for the Jews, regardless of whether we are talking in a spiritual sense or physical sense, the Jews millennia away from Ma’amad Har Sinai and the original generation of Jews could have the Torah in their hearts forever.