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Parashat Terumah 5776 — 02/13/2016

Parashat Terumah 5776 — 02/13/2016

Shemot 25:1-27:19

Speak to the people of Israel and take for Me an offering, from everyone whose heart moves him shall you take my offering [lit raised-up portion] (25:2)

There were two ways in which the Tabernacle (Mishkan) was financed: there were obligatory contributions (e.g. the half-shekel given as “atonement” money when a census was taken) and there were free-will offerings. The free-will offerings of course varied according to the person’s ability to offer, and of course, the extent to which his “heart moved him.” Some people are more open-handed than others of course; as we see later (parashat Vayakhel, Shemot 36:5), The people are bringing more than enough for the labor of the work that Hashem has commanded to perform, and they were told to please stop bringing!

R. Steinsaltz comments first on the notion that Gd dwells not “in it [the Mishkan]” but “amongst them [the people of Israel].”

The notion that Gd will dwell “in their midst” invests the physical Tabernacle with inner meaning. Its sanctity is not due to its structure or to the materials from which it is built, but to the fact that the Jewish people resides around it.

In essence, this is true of every sacred object. Every holy vessel presents an opportunity to establish a holy connection, but this does not happen automatically; the sanctity exists only when the object is used. The sanctity becomes meaningful only in connection with a member of the Jewish people; if that factor is missing, while the object must still be treated with respect, it has no sanctity.

The same notion can apply to our experience of Gd. We often say that “the Shechinah [the immanent presence of Gd] can be found in …”; in the Temple, in a minyan, at the Western Wall. But if Gd is everywhere, why do we say that He can be found in certain specific places. The answer apparently lies in the words “can be found.” Surely Gd is everywhere, and can presumably be “found” at any place and at any time. But there are places and times when it is apparently more conducive to our establishing a connection with Gd. Why should that be so? I think it mostly depends on the thoughts and activities of the people associated with that place. In the Temple, all the activity is associated with worshiping Gd. At times there would be hundreds of thousands of people at that one place, all with one thought on their minds – Gd, and my relationship with Gd, and Gd’s relationship with the nation. The same is true on a smaller scale in a synagogue where the congregation is praying, or at other holy sites which have become places where one can connect with Gd. The fundamental point is that what is important is not the physical location or structure, but the relationship with Gd that has, over the course of time, gotten imbued into that structure that gives it sanctity. And that sanctity feeds back on those who come to connect with Gd, making the relationship easier than at less-sanctified places.

We see that holy objects are sanctified in their use, but there is something more – there is another aspect of human interaction with the object that (at least potentially) sanctifies it, and that is in its construction.

What is the Tabernacle made of? In the opening of the parashah, Gd commands the people to donate the materials for the Tabernacle – “Let them bring Me a donation” (Ex 25:2) “Every person whose heart moves him” participates in the construction of the Tabernacle, the building of holiness; everyone gives as much as he wants. …

It appears that the reason for the difference between the shekel silver [RAR: which was obligatory] and the donated money is that there is a limit to how far money that is collected and not donated can reach in the realm of holiness. The problem is not that people were unwilling to make the obligatory payments; it is unlikely that the police had to collect the half-shekel against the people’s will. Nevertheless, a service vessel cannot be made from this silver.

Somehow, the quality of the human heart behind the materials (their production, in the case of the goat’s hair, or their acquisition, in the case of the gold and silver) leaves an imprint on the physical materials, making them more or less susceptible to holiness. In addition, the Tabernacle had to serve the entire Jewish people, with all their different levels of consciousness, and it therefore required exactly what each one was willing to give:

Apparently, the Tabernacle was based precisely on the totality of what the people have inside them, on each person’s generosity and capacity for giving: the small and the great, the rich and the generous. From the combination of all of them together, from top to bottom, a sanctuary is made, and in the entirety of what is built, Gd’s glory resides.

There is an intersection between the celestial world and the material world, and it appears to be in the human spirit. It is the human spirit that can take dead matter and turn it into something beautiful, something creative, something life-supporting, or the opposite. The human mind can connect with Gd, and infuse that Gdliness into the world of action. We just have to pick something great to do, and then do it, and Gd will be delighted to help!

Haftarah: I Kings 5:26-6:13

The Haftarah, which relates the construction of Solomon’s Temple, presents some contrasts with the construction of the Mishkan. First, the Temple was constructed with tax money – actually forced labor by tens of thousands of Jews. Second, Solomon concluded a peace treaty with Hiram, King of Tyre (now in southern Lebanon), and Hiram’s people contributed labor towards the building of the Temple. Not only was the Temple not built by free-will contributions from the Jewish people, it wasn’t even 100% made by the Jewish people! Our Sages point to these defects as the ultimate cause of the Temple’s destruction after 410 years. If it didn’t have a Jewish heart, how could it connect the Jewish people to Gd?