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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: Making G'd's sanctuary
"And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst … and so you shall do." The significance of the Tabernacle was to be a place where the Jewish nation, so to speak, could "meet" the presence of G'd. The Jews felt they actually "met" G'd when they entered the Tent of Meeting. G'd instructed that three times a year every male should come to Jerusalem for the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuous and Succos. Throughout our exile Jews have gathered to pray and study in the miniature sanctuaries of the houses of prayer and study. G'd's promise to continue to dwell in the midst of the Jewish people, even in the exile is what makes the Jewish people immortal. The real foundation of Judaism is the Jewish home which in itself can be a miniature sanctuary. As a sanctuary is a place for "meeting" G'd, so are Shabbos and Yom Tov the times when we have the opportunity to "meet" G'd. Wherever there is a Jewish home, no matter where we are exiled, we can turn it into a sanctuary. We can look forward to the erection of the Great Sanctuary with the coming of Mashiach.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Shemos 25:8-9) it says: "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst … and so you shall do." The concluding words of the commandment "and so you shall do" seem superfluous. Obviously, if G'd instructs Moses to tell the Jewish people to make a sanctuary they shall do it. In order to answer this question, we will first try and identify the purpose of the sanctuary.
Dwell in their midst
In next week's portion it says (ibid 29:44-46): "And I shall sanctify the tent of meeting [tabernacle] … and I shall dwell in the midst of the children of Israel … and they shall know that I am HASHEM their G'd that took them out of the land of Egypt to dwell in their midst."
Tent of Meeting
The Tabernacle was called the "Tent of Meeting" as it was a structure where the Jewish nation, so to speak, could "meet" the presence of G'd. The Ramban explains in his introduction to this week's portion that the experience of the revelation at Mount Sinai was continued in the Tabernacle. When the Jews stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, they did not just receive the Ten Commandments. Rather, G'd elevated them to a state of prophecy where they somewhat experienced G'd's presence and the glory of His total omnipotence. As it says: (ibid 24:16) "And the glory of G'd dwelled upon the mountain of Sinai."
Presence of G'd
Throughout the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Jews felt this presence of G'd on a daily basis. The Clouds of G'd's Glory, the Mann and the constant provision of water from Miriam's well, clearly showed them that G'd was looking after them in a miraculous way. It was felt even stronger when they entered the Tabernacle where it says (ibid 40:34) "And the Clouds covered the Tent of Meeting [Tabernacle] and the Glory of G'd filled the Tabernacle." The root of the Hebrew word for Tabernacle "mishkan" means "a place of dwelling." This clearly indicates that the purpose of erecting the Tabernacle was to have a physical structure where the Jews could experience G'd's presence in their midst.
This generation that had gone from slavery in Egypt to the revelation at Mount Sinai continued to see G'd's presence on a daily basis. In this way G'd taught them a lesson and established that everything in life is a blessing from G'd.
This closeness to the presence of G'd was only possible as long as they traveled as a group in the near proximity of the Tabernacle. At the end of the forty years, when they entered the Land of Israel, the situation changed. Each tribe lived in their designated part of the land and they were not able to have a daily contact with the Tabernacle, or the Temple which was later built in Jerusalem. G'd no longer sustained the Jewish people with daily miracles. As the land was divided up, they became an agricultural community that cultivated the farm land to provide for their daily needs. To keep the contact between the Jewish nation and their place of worship, G'd instructed that three times a year every male should come to Jerusalem for the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuous and Succos. Everyone would travel to Jerusalem with their family to join in the Temple service. On these occasions when they saw the constant miracles taking place in the Temple (see Pirkei Avos 5:7) they reinforced their awareness of G'd's presence in the land of Israel and their closeness to Him.
Even when the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation was exiled, G'd still promised us that He will dwell in our midst. As it says (Ezekiel 11:16) "So says HASHEM G'd, 'I have distant them amongst the nations and I have scattered them in the countries, and I will be to them a miniature sanctuary in the countries that they came to.'" The Talmud (Megillah 29a) explains that this is a reference to the houses of prayer and the houses of study in Babylon. Throughout our exile Jews have gathered to pray and study in these miniature sanctuaries. In these places of worship we have the opportunity to "meet" the presence of G'd.
Although we do not experience open miracles today, neither in our daily lives, nor when we enter our places of worship, nevertheless our mere existence is the greatest miracle of all. As Rabbi Yacov Emden points out (in his introduction to his commentary of the Siddur) that the greatest of all miracles which has taken place throughout history is the existence of the Jewish people after 2000 years in exile. This phenomenon has not only been noticed by the Jewish people; many gentile philosophers and authors have marveled at this miraculous survival of the Jewish people. The story is told that once, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, asked Voltaire whether he knew any irrefutable and supreme proof of G'd's existence. "The Jews, your Majesty!" was his immediate answer. Leo Tolstoy (Jewish World London 1908) was no less in awe of this abnormality when he wrote: "The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire nor sword nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth … The Jew is as everlasting as is eternity itself." Similarly, in Mark Twain's article entitled "Concerning the Jews" (Harpers 1899) he states: "The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise and they are gone … The Jews saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was … All things are mortal but the Jew …" Mark Twain concludes his article asking: "What is the secret of his immortality?" There is only one answer: G'd's promise to continue to dwell in the midst of the Jewish people, even in the exile (see Rashi Devarim 30:3).
No doubt the emphasis of G'd's presence in the Jewish houses of prayer and study is very important; however, it is not the complete answer to the secret of our survival. The Talmud teaches (Sotah 17a) that every Jewish husband and wife can merit a Divine presence in their home. The real foundation of Judaism is the Jewish home which in itself can be a miniature sanctuary. The home can be a place of Divine service where the table symbolizes the Temple Altar and every activity in the home is elevated to a higher level. On the highest level, the Midrash Tanchuma (Parashas Tetzaveh 13) states that the food and drink that a holy person consumes is elevated as if it was offered on the altar. Although we do not live on such a high level, nevertheless we all have the ability to turn the mundane daily activities into a service of G'd. Just like in the Temple an honour guard was patrolling, so we too must guard our homes from foreign ideals and influences. In today's world, the media and the internet invade our homes with all kinds of ideologies. We must take utmost care to protect ourselves and our children from these influences. The root of the Hebrew word for sanctuary"mikdash" is "kadosh" which has two meanings that blend into one. It means both holy and segregated (see Rashi Devarim 22:9). Only by segregating ourselves in a spiritual sense from the world around us will we be able to preserve our distinction as a holy nation.
Just as we have holy places, we also have holy times. Shabbos and Yom Tov are referred to in the Torah as "moadim", which means literally "meeting times" (see Vayikra 23:2-3). As the sanctuary is a place for "meeting" G'd, so are Shabbos and Yom Tov the times when we have the opportunity to "meet" G'd. The famous Kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, in Lecha Dodi, the hymn sung in every shul in the Friday night service, first describes the special time when we greet the "Shabbos Bride." In the third stanza, he seems to go off the topic when he refers to the sanctuary of the King, expressing his longing for the Temple to rise. The truth is however that on a deeper level the Temple and Shabbos are closely inter-connected. This is why we find the commandment of Shabbos is mentioned five times in the Torah next to the commandment regarding the erection of the sanctuary. In Vayikra (19:30) it further says: "My Sabbaths you shall observe and My Sanctuary you shall revere." Just as the Temple is the holiest place, so is Shabbos the holiest time. As we say in our prayers Friday night: "You sanctified the seventh day … and you sanctified it more than any other time." They can both be utilized to connect with G'd. When a Jew returns home Friday night from the synagogue, he takes kosher wine and makes Kiddush. The kosher wine segregates him from the gentile world around him and the Kiddush is an act of sanctification. He does not just sanctify the day of Shabbos, but also himself and his family. He eats his kosher meal, every part of it prepared especially for Shabbos, sitting with his family, singing the Shabbos songs, and discussing the weekly portion and other Torah thoughts to the best of his ability. This sanctuary is the real secret of Jewish survival. A modern Hebrew poet, who went by the pen name Ahad Ha-Am wrote: "More than the people of Israel has kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the people of Israel."
This is what it says at the beginning of this week's portion: "You should make for Me a sanctuary … and so you shall do." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b), as quoted by Rashi, comments that this additional command is referring to later generations. One way to understand this is that wherever there is a Jewish home, no matter where we are exiled, we shall turn it into a sanctuary. In this way we will be able to preserve the holiness of future generations and we can look forward to the erection of the Great Sanctuary with the coming of Mashiach.
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