TERUMAH (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19)   5766 (2006)

Near the beginning of this Parashah [Ex 25:8] God says to Moses: Let them [the Israelites] make for Me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.

The people have just witnessed God's appearance on Mt. Sinai; why does there now need to be a Sanctuary for God to "dwell" among the people?

Some reasons given:

  1. Despite the wonders of Revelation and the manifestations of God that the people have witnessed, such as the pillar of fire and of cloud, they still need a concrete symbol.  The people's memories of these miracles will fade, and the abstract notion of monotheism will not sustain their faith for many years without a tangible structure.  God realizes that this concession must be made, like other concessions like allowing humans to eat meat after the Flood.
  2. We have the saying that In the Torah there is no before or after [Pesachim 6b].  An important example of this is the story of the Golden Calf, which appears in Exodus 32 but according to most of the commentators actually occurs just after the time of the Ten Commandments back in Exodus 20.  So the order to make the Sanctuary comes after the sin of the Calf, and the Sanctuary becomes a tangible reminder that God has forgiven the people for that sin.  The calculators among the ancient Rabbis figure out that Make for Me a Sanctuary is said by God on Yom Kippur, which supports the forgiveness theme. A view that reinforces this idea: When God says: Make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them - God's "dwelling" means in their hearts, not in a physical space.  The people's commitment to build the Sanctuary shows their reconciliation with God in their hearts after the estrangement brought on by the Golden Calf.
  3. There is another view of why making the Sanctuary appears in the Torah before the sin of the Golden Calf - [Bachya ibn Pakuda]: The Sanctuary, which is reconciliation, comes before the estranging sin of the Calf because of the principle that God prepares the cure before the disease.  This is meant to be comforting - whatever suffering we encounter, we can be assured that God has already planned for a remedy.

The ancient Israelites had the Sanctuary as a tangible Presence of God.  Today, we don't have the Sanctuary, and we don't have the Temple either which replaced it.  So how do we have a sense of God's Presence? 

Here are some ideas:

In place of asking "Where is God?" we should ask "When is God?"  Being in God's presence is not a matter of being in the right place, but of doing the right things.

Securing justice is a divine act, a manifestation of God's presence in human activity.  So is feeding the hungry, supporting the poor, comforting the sick and the lonely.  They are not things that God does; they are things that we do, and when we do them, God is present in our lives.

In congregational worship...the congregating is more important than the words we speak.  Something miraculous happens....In our coming together, we create the mood and the moment in which God is present.

            -            Rabbi Harold Kushner [~1935 -      ]

God is more immediately found in the Bible as well as acts of kindness and worship than in the mountains and forests.  It is more meaningful for us to believe in the immanence of God in deeds than in the immanence of God in nature.  Indeed, the concern of Judaism is primarily not how to find the presence of God in the world of things but how to let Him enter the ways in which we deal with things; how to be with Him in time, not only in space.

When we turn to the Bible with an empty spirit, moved by intellectual vanity...we discover the shells but miss the core....To sense the presence of God in the Bible, one must learn to be present to God in the Bible.

Just as clairvoyants may see the future, the religious man comes to sense the present moment.  And this is an extreme achievement.  For the present is the presence of God.

The world is an open house in which the presence of the owner is so well concealed that we usually mistake His discretion for nonexistence.

            -            Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel [1907 - 1972]

How great is work, for even God (who is everywhere) will not bring the Divine Presence to rest on the Jewish people until they have done work. As the Torah says, "[They must] make for me a tabernacle and [then] I will dwell among them."   [Or perhaps God can be found in our work.]

          -            Rabbi Tarfon [1st Century]          

Where is God?  God is wherever we allow Him to enter.            

           -            R. Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha [1767 - 1827]

Sinai represents a revelation thrust upon the people from above.  God initiated and activated that encounter...the Jewish people were somewhat passive.  The Sanctuary, however, had to be built by the Jews themselves...everyone rolled up their sleeves...it took months of hard labor...And thereby, it was the people who brought God down to earth....It is not good enough to sit around waiting for God's extraordinary revelations....Are we waiting for God, or is God waiting for us?

            -            Rabbi Yossy Goldman [~1950 -     ], Chabad


"Make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell within them."  Each individual should make himself a Sanctuary in which the Divine Presence can rest.

            -            R. Chaim Soloveitchik [1853 - 1918]        

He commanded that each individual should build him a sanctuary in the recesses of his heart, that he should prepare himself to be a dwelling place for the Lord and a stronghold for the excellency of His Presence, as well as an altar on which to offer up every portion of his soul to the Lord, until he gives himself for His glory at all times.

            -            Malbim [Meir Yehuda Leibush ben Yehiel Michal, 1809 - 1880]

A place to "dwell among them" means: Make a "home" for God in the material world.  God is already in our material world; but God can be in the world without being at home in it.  Being at home means being in a place receptive to your presence, a place devoted to serving your needs and desires.  It means being in a place where you are your true, private self, as opposed to your public self you assume in other environments.  The material world, in its natural state, has an intrinsic egotism.  The stone, the tree, the animal, the human, all proclaim: "I am."  So to make our world a home for God, we must transform its very nature.  Every time we take a material object or resource and enlist it in the service of God, we are effecting such a transformation.  When we take a piece of leather and make tefillin, or give a dollar bill to charity, or employ our minds to study Torah - we are transforming a self-oriented material object to something greater than itself, to a spiritual purpose.  God could have created a spiritual world; but God prefers to give us the job of transforming the world from material to spiritual.

            -            Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi [1745 - 1813]

Three heathens came before Shammai and Hillel, each with an impertinent question.  Shammai drove each of them away; Hillel answered them kindly, in a way which demonstrated to each of them their folly of their questions,  The three heathens said: "Shammai's severity nearly drove us from the world (-to-come); but Hillel's gentleness brought us under the wings of the Presence."  

            -            Talmud: Shabbat 31a

If relationship with God is more like breaking down a wall (or seeing through a veil) than it is like building a bridge across a chasm, covenant, too, becomes a commitment to keeping faith with the  deepest Self that is manifest within us.  It is a decision to live in such a way that allows this One to be revealed to others through usCovenant is our willingness to be a channel, to serve as a conduit of God's presence to those with whom we live.

            -            Rabbi Arthur Green [~1950 -     ]

 This is what I attained in the Land of Israel.  When I see a bundle of straw lying in the street, it seems to me a sign of the presence of God that it lies there lengthwise and not crosswise.

                -            Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk [1730 - 1788]

The act of sexual union is holy and pure.... When a man is in union with his wife in a spirit of holiness and purity, the Divine Presence is with them.

            -            Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman)  [1194 - 1270]


Copyright Congregation Etz Chayim, All Rights Reserved

Website Design by TIM