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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: Making G'd's sanctuary
"And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst … and so you shall do." The purpose 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 "met" G'd when they entered the Tabernacle. G'd instructed that 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 has the potential to be a miniature sanctuary. Just like a sanctuary is a place for "meeting" G'd, so are Shabbos and Yom Tov times when we have the opportunity to "meet" G'd. We shall turn our homes into mini sanctuaries. We can look forward to the erection of the Great Sanctuary with the coming of Mashiach.
In the beginning of this week's parasha (Shemos 25:8-9) it says: "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I shall 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 must first try and identify the purpose of the sanctuary.
Dwell in their midst
In next week's parasha 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" since 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 parasha that the experience the Jewish people had at the revelation at Mount Sinai somewhat continued in the Tabernacle. When the Jews stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, they did not just receive the Ten Commandments. At that point, G'd elevated them to a state of prophecy where they experienced G'd's presence and the glory of His 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 the presence of G'd on a daily basis. The Clouds of 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, as 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.
That generation rose from being slaves in Egypt to experience the revelation at Mount Sinai, and they continued to see G'd's presence on a daily basis. This taught them that everything in life is a blessing from G'd.
Such closeness to 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 area, 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 through miracles. The land was divided among the tribes and most people cultivated their piece of land to provide for their daily needs. To keep them in contact with 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. They all traveled to Jerusalem with their families to join in the Temple service. On these occasions they saw the constant miracles taking place in the Temple (see Pirkei Avos 5:7). This reinforced their awareness of G'd's presence in the land of Israel and their closeness to Him.
This continued throughout the Temple era. However, G'd promised that even after the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation was exiled, G'd would still 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 we have gathered to pray and study in these miniature sanctuaries. Right up till today, we have the opportunity to "meet" the presence of G'd in these places of worship.
Nowadays, we do not experience open miracles, neither in our daily lives, nor when we enter our places of worship. However, as Rabbi Yacov Emden points out (in his introduction to his commentary of the Siddur), the greatest of all miracles is the mere 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 an important factor. However, it is not the complete answer to the secret of our survival. The Talmud teaches (Sotah 17a) that every Jewish couple can merit Divine presence in their home. The real foundation of Judaism is the Jewish home which has the potential to be a miniature sanctuary. It can be a place of Divine service where the table symbolizes the Temple Altar, and where every activity is elevated to a higher level. The Midrash Tanchuma (Parashas Tetzaveh 13) states that the food and drink that a person consumes can be elevated to a high level of holiness, as if it was offered on the altar. Although most of us do not live on such a high level, we still have the ability to turn our mundane activities into a service of G'd. Just like in the Temple a guard of honour was patrolling, so must we guard our homes from foreign ideals and influences. The media and the internet invade our homes with all kinds of lifestyles and 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. The Torah refers to Shabbos and Yom Tov as "moadim", which literally means "meeting times" (see Vayikra 23:2-3). Just like the sanctuary is a place for "meeting" G'd, so are Shabbos and Yom Tov times when we have the opportunity to "meet" G'd. The famous Kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz is the author of Lecha Dodi, the hymn sung in every shul during the Friday night service. In the first two stanzas he describes the special time when we greet the "Shabbos Bride." In the third stanza, he seems to go off topic and refers to the sanctuary of the King, expressing his longing for the Temple. However, on a deeper level the Temple and Shabbos are closely inter-connected. This is why we find the commandment of Shabbos mentioned many 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." We can utilize both to connect with G'd.
After the Friday night service, we take some kosher wine and make Kiddush. The kosher wine segregates us from the gentile world around us and the Kiddush is an act of sanctification. However, we do not just sanctify the day of Shabbos. When we eat our kosher meal, prepared especially for Shabbos, sing the Shabbos songs and discuss the weekly parasha and other Torah thoughts, we sanctify ourselves and our families as well. This sanctuary is the real secret of Jewish survival. A modern Hebrew poet, who went by the pen name Ahad Ha-Am once wrote: "More than the people of Israel has kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the people of Israel."
Now we can go back to our original question. When it says at the beginning of this week's parasha: "You should make for Me a sanctuary … and so you shall do", Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b) that explains that this additional command is referring to later generations. One way to understand the Talmud's explanation is that we shall turn our homes into mini sanctuaries. In this way we will be able to ensure 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 notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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