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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: At Your service, but for what purpose?

This Torah Attitude is dedicated to the memory of Avraham Yosef ben Schmerel. May his neshamah have an alyiah in the merit of these words of Torah and otherwise.


G'd allowed His presence to dwell in the Sanctuary. By serving G'd, we can get closer to Him. The Sanctuary continued the Sinai revelation. It was possible to obtain instant clarity when entering the Temple. One could get closer to G'd by bringing an offering. Ten miracles were performed in the Temple on a constant basis. One could get closer to G'd by bringing an offering. The Western Wall still retains some of the holiness of the Temple. A Minyan or even one person pouring out his heart in prayer can merit the presence of the Divine Spirit. Temple service and our prayers are directed only to G'd.

G'd sanctuary

In this week's portion, the Jewish people are commanded to erect a sanctuary where they will serve G'd. As it says, "(Shemos 25:8) "They shall make a sanctuary for Me, that I shall dwell among them". The Midrash Rabba (34:1) relates, "When Moses heard this commandment from G'd, he exclaimed: How can Your glory, which fills the Heaven and Earth, dwell in a man-made structure. G'd answered, I don't need the whole tabernacle as a place for My residence. My glory will dwell in the space of one square cubit between the rods of the Holy Ark." In other words, man could never make a fitting abode for G'd. But G'd, in His infinite love and kindness to the Jewish people, would confine His presence in the smallest of spaces.

Serving G'd

With this Midrash we can understand the purpose of our service to G'd. Unlike a human king, who is dependent on his servants to fulfill the needs of His kingdom, G'd does not need anything from us. As we say in the famous Adon Olam poem, "The Master of the universe reigned before anyone was created. And when everything will cease to exist, G'd alone will still reign." G'd does not need anything. He certainly does not need us to serve Him. Our service to G'd is only for our benefit. By serving G'd, we get closer to Him which is our reward.

Sinai continued

The Ramban points out at the beginning of this week's portion that after the Jewish nation received the Torah at Sinai, G'd said that this nation is worthy that He should dwell amongst them. This would continue the relationship established at Mount Sinai. Just as everyone felt the presence of the Divine Revelation at Sinai, so also when a Jew entered the sanctuary, he experienced a similar clarity of the Divine Presence dwelling there. This happened in the Tabernacle, the "travelling" sanctuary that was put up at every location throughout the wandering in the desert, and that was subsequently erected for many years after they arrived in the land of Israel. This also took place later in the Temples that were built in Jerusalem.

Getting closer to G'd

The offerings brought in the Temple served as a means to bring one close to G'd and His service. The root of the Hebrew word for offering, "korban", means to bring close. When people would go up to Jerusalem, and feel this closeness, they would pray to G'd in a different way. At the three festivals, when everyone would gather in unity, it would elevate them to the level of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Shemos 19:6). At the inauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon poured out his heart (Kings I 8:27 etc.) beseeching G'd that He should dwell amongst them in this structure built in His honour, to listen to their prayers, and forgive their sins, accept their repentance, and accept the prayers of the gentiles who would come to the Temple as well.

Ten miracles

The Mishna says, (Pirkei Avos 5:7), "There were ten miracles performed for our ancestors in our Holy Temple: (1) No woman miscarried; (2) the sacrificial meat never became putrid; (3) no fly was seen in the place where the meat was butchered; (4) no seminal emission occurred to the High Priest on Yom Kippur; (5) the rains did not extinguish the fire on the altar; (6) the wind did not disperse the vertical column of smoke from the altar; (7) no disqualification was found in the Omer, Two Loaves, or the Showbread; (8) the Jewish people stood crowded together, yet there was room for everyone to prostrate themselves; (9) no serpent or scorpion ever caused injury in Jerusalem; and (10) no one ever said to another that the space was insufficient to stay overnight in Jerusalem. Many of these miracles were performed on a constant basis. One can imagine that anyone entering this holy place would be immediately elevated and feel closer to G'd.

Instant clarity

After the destruction of the Temple, it is related that Plato, one of the prominent Greek philosophers, came to Israel requesting to meet the prophet Jeremiah. The philosopher was told that he could find the prophet at the Temple site. When he arrived, he found Jeremiah sitting, crying and mourning the destruction of the Temple. The philosopher asked, "I don't understand? You are an intellectual and spiritual person. How can you mourn over a materialistic building that was destroyed?" Further he asked, "What is the purpose of your crying? The Temple is already destroyed. It is not fitting for a scholar to cry over the past." Jeremiah answered him, "Have you any philosophical issues that you are not clear about, things that cause you to wonder?"Of course", said the philosopher. "As a student of philosophy there are many things that are not clear to me and no one in the world can solve them." Said Jeremiah, "Please present me with your doubts and questions and I shall solve them for you." Plato readily asked all his questions and immediately was answered by the prophet. The great philosopher was dumbfounded. He stood there wondering whether he was talking to a human person or a higher sort of being. Jeremiah continued and said, "You are surprised, but I can tell you that all this wisdom I drew from these pieces of wood and stone. When this building was standing, the Divine Presence was so strong that when one would enter with the proper state of mind, everything would become clear. This has gone. That is what I am mourning. As far as your second question, I cannot answer you, as it is beyond you to comprehend."

Sudden connection

We find that even today, 2000 years after the destruction of the Temple, with only a part of the outer Western Wall left, anyone visiting this holy place, leaves a different person. People who have been atheists their whole lives feel an urge to pray at the Wall. Many who have never before felt their Jewishness suddenly feel connected to their people.

Divine Presence never left

What is so special about this place? The answer may be found in a verse in the Song of Songs: "Behold He is standing behind our wall" (2:9). Our sages explain this to mean that the Divine Presence never left the Western Wall. This in itself is an amazing statement, a proof of the Divine origin of the Oral Torah. No human being could have allowed themselves to make such a statement, knowing that the Jewish people would be in exile for many years and that the Temple Mount would be under the control of our enemies. The odds of the Western Wall surviving after all these years are staggering. Is there any doubt that the Wall retains some of the holiness of the Temple?

Miniature sanctuary

For 2000 years, the Jewish nation has continuously prayed to G'd to allow us once more to gather in Jerusalem to erect a structure in His Honour where we can serve Him with the full Temple service. But even during this long, difficult exile, we have an opportunity to beseech G'd and pray to Him in our houses of prayer. As G'd has promised, through His prophet Ezekial, (11:16) "And so says HASHEM, your G'd, I distanced you amongst the nations. And I have spread you out in countries. And I will be for you a miniature sanctuary in the countries you are coming to." The Talmud (Megillah 29a) explains that this refers to the houses of worship and study in the exile. Wherever a Minyan gathers to pray, the Divine Spirit is present, and one may say certain special prayers such as Kaddish. Even regarding the lone voice of a single person pouring out his heart in prayer, G'd says that wherever you mention My name I will come and bless you (Shemos 20:21).

Only G'd

Both the service in the Temple and our prayers are directed to G'd and G'd only, with the conviction and understanding that there are no other powers that can make a difference. We do not need any intermediates between G'd and us. Neither spiritual nor human powers can do anything on their own. Everything is in the hands of the Almighty and empowered by Him. Only what He allows will be. There is no other power but G'd Himself.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel