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Parashat Terumah 5778 — 02/17/2018

Parashat Terumah 5778 — 02/17/2018

Dedicated to the memory of Shai Perelson’s mom, Noa Perelson bat Avraham, who passed away this week in Israel.

Shemot 25:1-27:19

They shall make me a sanctuary [Mishkan] and I shall dwell in their midst. (25:8)

Why does Gd instruct us to build the Mishkan? First, we note that the Mishkan was not for Gd to dwell in. Rather, the purpose of the Mishkan was so that Gd should dwell in the midst of the people. Gd of course transcends time and space, as our Sages say, “He is the Place of Creation, Creation is not His Place.” Gd is called haMakom, the Omnipresent, but literally, The Place. Would Gd truly dwell on earth? Behold the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You, and surely not the Temple that I [i.e. King Solomon] have built! (I Kings 8:27)

Abarbanel tells us that “Gd commanded the building of the Mishkan in order to instill in the people a sense that the Divine Presence and divine providence never abandons them. An actual physical structure gave the people a tangible reminder that Gd dwelt among them, providing for them and protecting them.” He goes on to contrast this with other faiths: “This is in direct contrast to other religious beliefs that completely separate a supreme spiritual being from the physical world. Such a being has no control over the details of man or his physical environment on a daily basis.”

Thus Abarbanel has recast the question of the Mishkan into one about the nature of Gd, and one that has been argued for a long, long time: is Gd transcendent or is He immanent?  Now I don’t think that anyone argues that Gd is not transcendental to the creation.  If Gd is the creator, He certainly cannot be part of creation, or He would have had to have created Himself.  The real question is, can and does a transcendental creator remain active in the affairs of the creation? To this question Abarbanel gives an unqualified “Yes!”  The existence of prophecy, where Gd communicates with and commands certain actions of his creatures is one piece of evidence.  At the Revelation Gd told Moses that He was going to communicate with the whole people so that they would experience the truth of this assertion.  The purpose of the Mishkan was to create a concrete form of this truth, so that as we got farther from the Revelation in time and space, it would remain lively in our awareness.

How might this work?  Our Sages tell us that “Gd looked into the Torah and created.”  Obviously Torah here does not refer to a Torah scroll as we have it on the physical plane, but the “supernal Torah” which is the “blueprint of Creation.”  This Torah must also be uncreated and eternal, or it wouldn’t have been available to Gd when He went to create!  So in some way Torah must be there along with Gd.  Since there can’t be two infinite, omnipresent, eternal beings, it must be that in some way Torah and Gd are one, as in the expression (Zohar) Yisrael, v’Oraisa, v’Kudsha B’rich Hu, Chad Hu / The Jewish people, the Torah, and the Holy One (Gd) are One.  So although Gd is an indivisible Unity, in some way there is some virtual structure there, at least according to our esoteric tradition.

Where might this virtual structure come from? Let me start with an example from physics. In classical physics – the physics of macroscopic objects – an object has a well-defined position at every time, and a well-defined velocity as well. On a deeper level, quantum mechanics describes objects as waves. Now a wave is spread out over space – it doesn’t have a well-defined position. The wave, for arcane reasons I won’t go into here, also doesn’t have a defined velocity. This lack of ability to specify the position and velocity (actually, momentum) is the basis of the famous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Now consider a particle sitting at rest at some point in space. We would know its position, and we would know its momentum (zero, because it’s not moving), and this would violate the Uncertainty Principle. Thus, the Uncertainty Principle implies that there is an irreducible dynamism in every system, even when the system appears to be completely silent.

At a deeper level of consideration, physics tells us that all the particles that make up creation are nothing other than modes of vibration of a single Unified Field. All matter and its interactions are nothing other than expressions of this single, underlying field. If we consider a region of space that is a perfect vacuum, then there are no real vibrations of the Unified Field in that region.

However, it turns out that the Unified Field itself is subject to the Uncertainty Principle.  Therefore it cannot be zero and remain zero everywhere, for those are the analogs of position (being zero) and momentum (remaining zero – i.e. not changing) for a field.  Therefore, the field always has an infinite range of dynamic fluctuations going on all the time, even in a total vacuum.  These fluctuations are, by definition, virtual, as they are too small ever to be measured.  Nonetheless they provide a virtual structure within the structure-less underlying unity.

I think this gives us an insight into the relationship among Gd, Torah and Creation. The virtual dynamics we have been discussing are all vibrations.  These vibrations, according to our tradition, can be expressed as the sounds of human speech, and their structure is the structure of the Hebrew language.  The Torah, then is an expression of the virtual structure within Gd’s Unified nature, and it is through this virtual structure that Gd interacts with the manifest creation (perhaps symbolized by Israel?).  In fact, just as in physics everything we see is nothing more than the Unified Field vibrating (but in a manifest way, as opposed to a virtual way), so all of Creation is nothing other than the expression of Gd’s Unity – it is not separate from Gd in any way, it just appears that way to our limited perception and understanding.  Thus, the transcendent vs. immanent conundrum dissolves – Gd is transcendental to creation if we view it from the point of view of creation.  If we take the point of view of Unity, Gd is intimately involved in every bit of Creation, because it is an expression of Gd’s own inner, unified nature. There is no separation, and there never was any!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Terumah

In this parshah, Gd gives detailed instructions for building a Sanctuary so that He “may dwell in their midst.”

Obviously, Gd is Everywhere, Omnipresent – He dwells everywhere so to me this statement means that the harmony created by the Sanctuary will be so great it will resonate with the personalities and physiologies of all who enter, even our ancestors who just a few days before were terrified by the sound of the Lrd’s voice.

Neither modern synagogues – for example, Beth Shalom – nor modern homes seem to be built according to the plan of the Mishkan so what can we do in order to be aware of Gd’s dwelling within our synagogues, our homes, our minds, feelings, egos, bodies?

The key seems to be in Gd’s command to Moses:

“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”

By behaving with generosity to all, we make offerings to Gd because “love thy neighbor as thyself – Self” – is inextricably intertwined with “love the Lrd, thy Gd, with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind.”

Another way to make offerings to Gd and to be aware of Gd’s Presence is through the daily prayers of our religion: waking, morning, afternoon, evening and bedtime. Even snippets of the prayers, which may be all that we have time for, give me a sense of Gd’s Presence, in increased experiences of Wholeness, Healing, Love, Joy, comfort.

A third way is to come to our synagogue: personally, I feel magnetically drawn to our synagogue, especially to the Torah Scrolls and so I come regularly.

Whatever way we can offer to Gd, let us offer and let us be fully aware of Gd’s Presence dwelling within us and around us.

Baruch HaShem