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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: From Sinai to the Tabernacle, from Synagogues to the Temple
What would be the purpose to bring the Jewish people to Mount Sinai if G'd did not give us the Torah? The awesome experience that revealed G'd as the omnipotent ruler of the universe would have been sufficient reason to bring the Jewish people to Mount Sinai. Prior to the Revelation, G'd instructed Moses to warn the Jewish people not to ascend the mountain. The Divine presence that originally appeared at Mount Sinai continued to dwell with the Jewish people. Most people who visit the Western Wall, the remnant of the outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount, experience a special sense of spirituality. Every synagogue that is built according to the laws of the Torah is a direct continuation of the Divine presence at the time of the giving of the Torah. We are obligated to treat our synagogues with utmost respect. Whenever we gather in a place to pray and study the Torah, G'd will let His Divine presence dwell there. Before G'd will give something major, He will check how the potential recipients are doing already.
On the night of Pesach, shortly before the festive meal is served, there is a custom to sing the paragraph known as "Dayeinu". The literal translation of the word "Dayeinu" is "it would have been sufficient for us." In this paragraph we enumerate the numerous acts of goodness G'd bestowed upon us from the time of the exodus from Egypt. We state that each of these acts would have given us sufficient reason to thank G'd. In this context we say "had He brought us before Mount Sinai, but had not given us the Torah, Dayeinu [it would have been sufficient]." This sounds strange. What would be the purpose to bring the Jewish people to Mount Sinai if G'd did not give us the Torah?
The commentaries explain that the revelation at Mount Sinai was much more than just the time when G'd gave us the Torah. We refer to it as the revelation at Mount Sinai. G'd revealed Himself to His chosen people, and for a short time He elevated every person present to a state of prophecy. Everyone experienced this revelation according to their personal level and ability. Rashi (Devarim 4:35) quotes from our sages that G'd opened up the upper and lower worlds and showed the Jewish people that He is the sovereign ruler over the entire universe. It would have been sufficient to bring the Jewish people to Mount Sinai to have this experience.
Not ascend the mountain
Prior to the Revelation, G'd said to Moses (Shemos 19:12): "And you shall set boundaries for the people roundabout [the mountain] saying 'beware of ascending the mountain and touching its edge'". After the Revelation, it says (ibid 13): "When the shofar is blown they may ascend the mountain." This seems strange. If we look at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it has maintained its holiness after the destruction of the Temple and even today, we cannot step upon its holy soil. We would expect that Mount Sinai also would be a holy site even after the Revelation had finished.
The truth is that there is a continuation of the holiness from the Revelation at Mount Sinai right up till today; however, it is not connected to the actual site of the Revelation. The Ramban explains, at the beginning of this week's parasha, that the purpose of the Tabernacle was to erect an edifice where the Divine presence would continue to dwell. At the Revelation of Mount Sinai, it says (Shemos 24:16) "And the Honour of G'd dwelled upon Mount Sinai." We find a very similar expression in regards to the Tabernacle, as it says (ibid 40:34): "And the Honour of G'd filled the Tabernacle." This, says the Ramban, indicates that the Divine presence that originally appeared at Mount Sinai continued to dwell in the Tabernacle. The Divine presence stayed upon Mount Sinai till the Tabernacle was erected. At that point, it transferred to the Tabernacle. It was then that the shofar was blown to indicate that the Jewish people was now permitted to ascend the mountain (see Rashi's commentary on the Talmud, Beitzah 5b).
Special sense of spirituality
When the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, they established the Tabernacle in Shiloh. After Shiloh was destroyed, the Holy Ark was taken from one place to another throughout the land of Israel. Wherever the Ark was, the Divine presence hovered over it. Eventually, King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem where the Divine presence has been present ever since. Even nowadays, most people who visit the Western Wall, the remnant of the outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount, experience a special sense of spirituality. Some have an urge to put on tefillin. Others pour out their hearts in prayer. And many have reconnected with their Jewish heritage as they stood at this holy place. Little do they know that this is due to the Divine presence hovering there. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni ibid) explains that when King Solomon says (Shir HaShirim 2:9) "Behold, He is standing behind our wall", he refers to the Western Wall. The Midrash states, "For the Divine presence has never departed from the Western Wall."
The Talmud (Sukkah 52a) teaches how important it is to keep the genders segregated at the Temple at all times. It is very sad that a group of women recently have tampered with the holiness of the Western Wall. This is not just an offence to observant Jews but to the Divine Presence. It is very scary to think about what consequences this may have.
After the destruction of the Temple, the Divine Presence did not only stay at the Western Wall. When the Jewish people were exiled among the nations of the world, this Divine Presence also came along. The Prophet Ezekiel (11:16) says, "So says HASHEM, G'd, I have distanced them to the nations and I have spread them out in the countries. But I will be to them a miniature sanctuary in the countries that they came to." The Talmud (Megillah 29a) explains that this refers to the houses of prayer and study in the Diaspora. Every synagogue that is built according to the laws of the Torah is a direct continuation of the Divine Presence at Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah.
This is why we are obligated to treat our synagogues with utmost respect as outlined in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (Chapter 151). The Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not enter a synagogue merely to seek shelter from heat or rain. One may not engage in idle chatter in a synagogue, even when there is no service going on. How much more does this apply during prayer, especially throughout the repetition of the Shemona Esrei. In this regard, the Shulchan Aruch states (ibid 124:7): "If someone talks during the repetition of Shemona Esrei, he is a sinner and his sin is more severe than he can bear. If anyone does talk, the other congregants are obligated to chastise him." The Chofetz Chaim quotes in Mishnah Berurah (ibid 27) from one of the early Halachic authorities, the Kol Bo, who wrote, "Woe onto the people who talk during prayer, for we have seen many synagogues that were destroyed because of this sin." He further quotes that every synagogue should appoint respectable people to oversee this matter. We find a hint of this in the Torah itself. In the end of Parashas Behar it says, "You shall observe My Sabbaths, and you shall respect My Sanctuary, I am G'd." On this, the Sforno comments that just as we are obligated to observe the Shabbat, even in exile, so must we respect our synagogues and study halls, throughout our exile.
In the beginning of this week's parasha (Shemos 25:8-9), it says "And you shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst … And so you shall do." Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b) that this last instruction "And so you shall do" seems redundant. The Talmud explains that this refers to future generations. One way to understand the words of our sages could be that G'd here instructs us to build synagogues and study halls. Accordingly, G'd promises that whenever we come to pray and study Torah, He will let His Divine presence dwell there.
In last week's Torah Attitude, we discussed how G'd observed all the nations of the world, at the time of the Revelation at Mount Sinai, to see who was keeping the seven Noachide commandments. On this basis, G'd decided that only the Jewish people, who had kept these commandments, were ready and worthy to receive the Torah. This teaches us that, before G'd will give something major, He will check how the potential recipients are doing already. For example, G'd may bless an individual with a sum of money, and watch how this person deals with the entrusted funds. If G'd sees that the person separates a tenth to charity and otherwise spends the money wisely, G'd may bestow this person with wealth and trust him to be one of G'd's "agents" to distribute funds to needy individuals and institutions.
Every day we pray to G'd that we shall merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, when the full glory of G'd will rest upon the Great Sanctuary. We must always keep in mind that G'd will check to see how we conduct ourselves in our miniature sanctuaries. Only if we show proper respect to our synagogues can we expect to be worthy to experience the future Temple. If we internalize this, it will be much easier for us not to turn our synagogues into social halls but conduct ourselves as fitting for a house of worship. In this merit may we soon speedily in our days see the fulfillment of G'd's promise to restore His glory to Zion.
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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