Guest Post – Parshat Teruma
I was away for Shabbat Teruma and the sermon was delivered by a most able congregant who kindly allowed me to post his words on this forum.
A Place for Hashem in our Lives – Parashat Terumah
After the 53 Mitzvot of Mishpatim last week, we have a change this week – three Mitzvot and a building project. As Rabbi Mizrahi noted last week it is hard to digest dense philosophical works or densely Mitzvah packed Parashiot. We need a break. Not only do we need a break, but after sitting down studying for long periods, it is good to get up and do something. We learn about the abstract from the concrete. This week’s Parasha gets us up from our study seats to make a structure. We don’t need to proceed far into the Parasha before we find something interesting.
Hashem tells us to build for Him a sanctuary (Mikdash) and he will show us how to do it – he will give us the design of the Mishkan.
8. And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst
9. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its vessels; and so shall you do.
Rav Dessler (1892 – 1953) notes the use of the two words – Mikdash and Mishkan. He asks the obvious question – why two different words for the structure? And he provides a less obvious, insightful answer. Each word seems to be used interchangeably, yet each has a clear meaning. Their usage and consequent meanings are not accidental. A Mikdash is a sanctuary – a holy place. Holiness reminds us of Hashem’s transcendence – the very great gulf between Hashem and us. He occupies the upper realm and we the lower realm. Hashem wishes to have a dwelling place in the lower realm, and it is our job to build it. Why does He want a dwelling place down here?
Why doesn’t he remain above the mundane as George Bush did flying over the devastation of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina? Perhaps He wants to dwell down here to see creation from our vantage point – a Heavenly tourist, perhaps.
Perhaps it is for us. If we experience the very great gulf between Hashem and ourselves we will come to realise the extent of our defilement – our lowliness before the grandeur of Hashem. Certainly it should spur us to do something to improve ourselves – to grow closer to Hashem’s holiness.
After the Mitzvot of those who sell themselves into the service of others from last week’s Parasha, Hashem reminds us who our Master is and elicits from us the appropriate response, which is service, offerings and prayer. It is easier for us if we experience the gulf between Hashem and us, rather than studying it or undertaking a Lord of the Rings-style trip where we are asked to imagine how it would be if Hashem lived here.
After all, G-D does not say – build a structure and I will dwell in it. He says I will dwell among you. He does not want to live in a large house on a hill, but rather to experience life among us. By seeing Him walk the streets and parks we will gain an appreciation for his Holiness among us. If He is able to remain Holy down here – why can’t we?
The Midrash comments that it is an honour for children to have their father living with them and it is an honour for a father to dwell with his children (and grandchildren!)
This is Mikdash.
But, what of Mishkan. According to Rav Dessler this refers to the tent of meeting. This is the place that Hashem and Israel come together for the purpose of learning Torah. In Parashat Tetzaveh (Shemot 29:42) the tent of meeting is described as the place where I will meet you (pl), when I will speak to you (sing). Speaking, here, means transmitting Torah.
Torah learning is the means by which we grow closer to Hashem and create a sense of joy and satisfaction. What an honour. The teacher of Torah rather than remaining on high comes down to see how it is with us and to arrange His teaching to fit our circumstances. At the same time embodying the standards that we should strive to reach. Would that all teachers should emulate this. Mikdash and Mishkan belong together. Mikdash represents the awe and transcendence of Hashem. Mishkan represents joy in the presence of Hashem. They form a whole together. As we read in Tehillim (2:11) Serve Hashem with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Finally, the Sefer HaChinuch notes that this is a Mitzvah for all time. It notes that it will occur when the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisroel and the Temple will be rebuilt, B”H, speedily in our time. Until then – the Mitzvah applies to each of us. We need to create a place where Hashem can dwell with us where-ever we are – even New Zealand. We do this through Torah study and living the Mitzvot – the 53 that we learned last week and the other 560 in the Torah. The Midrash puts it like this:
There was once a king who had an only daughter, and another king came and married her. When her husband wished to return to his country, her father said to him: “My daughter, whose hand I have given you, is my only child; I cannot part with her. Neither can I say to you, ‘Do not take her,’ for she is your wife. This one favour, however, I ask of you: wherever you go to live, prepare a chamber for me that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter.”
In the same way, G-D said to Israel: “I have given you the Torah. I cannot part with her, and I also cannot tell you not to take her. But this I request of you: wherever you go, make for Me a house wherein I may dwell.