Commentary for Terumah

31 Jan

This week’s parshah mainly deals with the instructions for building the Tabernacle.  The reason for God’s desire that the Jewish People construct the Tabernacle is given in Ex. 25:8: “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  This phrase is troubling because it seems to go against the idea that God is omnipresent.  If God is everywhere, then isn’t God already in the Israelite camp?  And why does an omnipresent God need a special facility constructed to “house” the Divine Presence?

The answer, of course, is that God doesn’t.  The focus of the verse should not be “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” but rather “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  As we go about our day-to-day lives, God can sometimes be hard to find.  It is difficult to find the divine in the mundane monotony of the office.  God understands this, and so God has us create a holy space; a place where we can leave behind the mundane in order to help us find the Divine.

Holiness in Judaism requires human action.  Something only becomes holy if we designate it as such.  If we separate it from the rest and make an effort to treat it as something different.  The wine in the Kiddush cup is no different from the rest of the wine in the bottle it came out of until we make a blessing over it.  If we don’t abstain from performing melachah (biblically derived categories of creative or destructive work), the Shabbat is no different from any other day of the week.  Similarly, the synagogue, our present-day successor to the Tabernacle, is just a building unless we make an effort to make it something more.

The Gemarah in Berachot 6a asks “From where do we learn that The Holy One, Blessed is He, is found in a synagogue?”  The answer given is a quote from Psalms 82:1, which says “God stands in the Divine assembly.”  Rashi interprets “the Divine assembly” as being wherever Jews come together to pray. “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  A synagogue is only a synagogue if we make it one. We are all obligated to help create and sustain this holy place in our community that helps us bring God into our lives.  Whether we nourish its spirit by adding our voices to our communal prayer, or nourish its soul by organizing charity drives and social action campaigns, or nourish its body by simply making donations of time and money to help keep the light and the heat on, it makes no difference.  The Prayer For Those Who Serve the Community (on page 148 of the Sim Shalom siddur for Shabbat and Holidays) praises them all because they all help to turn four walls and a ceiling into a holy place.

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