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


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. 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 parasha, 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 Rabbah (34:1) relates that 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." This dialogue teaches us that man could never make a fitting abode for G'd. But G'd, in His infinite love and kindness to the Jewish people is ready to confine His presence in the smallest of spaces.

Serving G'd

With this Midrash we can gain a better understanding of the purpose of our service to G'd. A human king is dependent on his servants to take care of the needs of his kingdom and to provide for his subjects. But G'd takes care of our every need and 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 us to serve Him. Our service to G'd is only for our benefit, to remind us that we are totally dependent on Him and help us get closer to Him.

Sinai continued

The Ramban points out at the beginning of this week's parasha, that after the Jewish nation received the Torah at Sinai, G'd said that now they were worthy to have Him dwell amongst them. In this way the relationship established at Mount Sinai could continue. Just as everyone felt the presence of the Divine Revelation at Sinai, so when a Jew entered the sanctuary, he experienced a similar clarity of the Divine Presence dwelling there. This already happened in the Tabernacle throughout the sojourn of the Jewish people in the wilderness as well as after they arrived in the land of Israel. And it also took place later in the Temples in Jerusalem.

Getting closer to G'd

It says in Pirkei Avos (5:7) that there were ten miracles performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple. Many of these miracles were performed on a constant basis. One can well imagine that anyone who entered this holy place, and experienced the miracles, would immediately be elevated and feel closer to G'd. The offerings in the Temple also brought the Jewish people close to G'd and His service. This is apparent from the Hebrew word for offering, "korban". The root of korban is "karov" which means to be close. Whenever people would go up to Jerusalem, they would feel this closeness and would pray to G'd on a higher level. At the three festivals, when everyone would gather in unity, they would return home as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (see Shemos 19:6).

Inauguration of the Temple

At the inauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon poured out his heart beseeching G'd that He should dwell amongst them in this structure built in His honour. He asked G'd to listen to their prayers, forgive their sins, and accept their repentance. He further asked that G'd should accept the prayers of the gentiles who would come to the Temple as well (see Kings I 8:27 etc.).

Instant clarity

After the destruction of the Temple, it is related that Plato, one of the prominent Greek philosophers, came to Israel and requested 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 said, "I don't understand. You are an intellectual and spiritual person. How can you mourn over a materialistic building that was destroyed?" He further 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 countered and said to 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 has been able to 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 my 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. But now all this has gone. That is why I am mourning. And as far as your second question, I cannot answer you, as the answer is beyond your comprehension."

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 when they stand there.

Divine Presence never left

What is so special about this place? The answer may be found in a verse in the Song of Songs (2:9): "Behold He is standing behind our wall". The Yalkut explains this to mean that the Divine Presence never left the Western Wall. This in itself is an amazing statement, and is clear 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 chance of the Western Wall surviving after all these years is close to zero. This is nothing but a hidden miracle. And it is only possible because the Wall is under special Divine protection, and G'd wanted it to retain some of the holiness of the Temple.

Miniature sanctuary

For 2000 years, the Jewish people 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 and Kedushah. Even when a lone voice of a single person pours out his heart in prayer, G'd says (Shemos 20:21): "Every place that you mention My name I will come and bless you."

Only G'd

Both the service in the Temple and our prayers are directed to G'd and G'd only. As we mentioned last week, no other powers can make a real difference. We do not need intermediates between G'd and us. Neither spiritual nor human powers can do anything on their own. The prophet Hoshea already said (Hoshea 14:4): "Assyria cannot save us. We cannot trust in the power of horses." We must constantly keep in mind that also today no nation or group of nations can save us from our enemies. We cannot put our trust in the ability or power of even the most sophisticated weapons. Everything is in the hands of the Almighty and empowered by Him. Only what He allows will be. But our prayers have the power to beseech G'd, and the day will yet come when He will send Moshiach and redeem us from this long exile.

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

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

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel