Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Terumah

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To Build and Be Built

By Michael Chessen

The slogan of modern Israeli pioneers, "to build and be built" actually has its antecedents in the teachings of Moses. In our weekly Torah portion, Terumah, Moses and Aaron receive and pass along the first commandments concerning the construction of the Holy Tabernacle, a structure which served as something of a forerunner of the Holy Temple and even of our modern synagogues. Certainly there are many differences between the portable Tabernacle and the stationary Temple, but a common denominator between the two is, as in the less "mystical" commandments, ends and means form a common unity of purpose.

The Torah has previously introduced the concept of symbolic character development being achieved through divinely ordained physical construction in the portion of Noah. God there instructed Noah to cover the ark "from within and without with pitch"(Genesis 5). Both the verb "to cover" and the noun "pitch" allude to the Hebrew for "atonement". The instructions for the building of the Tabernacle echo this concept of exterior and interior oneness when God commands that the holy ark (which contains the tablets) be covered with gold, inside as well as out. A part of our daily prayer liturgy gives further resonance to this concept with the rabbinical statement that a person should always be God-fearing in private (as well as in public). To do otherwise would be to emulate the pig, the animal which merits special repulsion not because of its hygienic habits, but because while it lacks the internal sign of kashrut (the chewing of its cud), it nevertheless flaunts its outer kosher sign (its cleft hoof).

While the Tabernacle has much symbolism which is relevant to the character of the individual, its actual purpose of existence is for the service of the people as a whole. Rabbi Sholom Gold links the imminent minor festival of Purim with the Tabernacle by virtue of their demonstration of the principle that for every ailment(be it one of spiritual origin or physical threats from without) God always prepares the remedy in advance. In the Book of Esther, Mordechai's early unrewarded good deed comes to later serve as the catalyst for God's complex plan for the Jewish people's physical salvation. Similarly, when the Jewish people commit the terrible sin of constructing and serving the golden calf, in having previously ordained the construction of the Tabernacle, God has already placed the means of atonement at their disposal. The Tabernacle's many details and intricacies of construction form a means of sanctifying the physical with holiness. May we all strive to emulate this concept in our day to day lives.


Becoming a Sanctuary

by Avi Lazerson

In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people are instructed in the building of the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary was the dwelling place of G-d as the Jewish people wandered through the desert. It accompanied them in the Land of Israel and remained in use in various locations until King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In this week's portion, G-d tells us to build a Sanctuary and he will dwell in our midst. The Rabbi's tell us that this does not only refer to the physical Sanctuary, but a promise that G-d will dwell within each and every one, if he/she makes himself a Holy Sanctuary too.

Now this is obviously a wonderful thing. But the question is: is not the entire universe filled with the glory of G-d? Is there really a need for us to make a special area in the world for G-d? Is He not the owner of the world? Can He not do as He pleases? What does He need us to build a Sanctuary for?

To answer these questions, we must first understand why did G-d create this lowly world? We go about our lives, trying to accomplish all that there is to accomplish, yet we see little, if any, G-dliness in this world. It seems as if those philosophers that claimed that G-d created the world and then left it to run on it's own, were correct.

This is just the way it seems.

G-d wants us to want him in the world. He has concealed himself, like a father who hides from his young son, yet delights in being revealed. G-d delights in our not just looking for him, but actually seeing him in this world. True, He fills the entire world with his glory. Yet the seeing it is our task.

Even more than seeing G-d, he delights in our setting aside a place that His presence may be revealed not only to the searchers, but to the entire world as well. This is the chore of the Jew; to first see the G-dliness in the world in the every day occurrences in our lives. Then to purify ourselves that G-d may dwell within us.

Next will be the collective building of the Holy Temple, soon, in Jerusalem, together with the revelation of the Messiah.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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