Parshat Terumah focuses on the details of the construction of the Mishkan. God tells Moshe, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell in them” (25:8). Commentaries question the use of the word “bitocham”—“in them.” If it is referring to God dwelling in the Mishkan shouldn’t it say “bitocha,” “in it”?
The Alshich answers that the intent is not that God will dwell in the Mishkan but that all Jews should turn their own bodies into a dwelling place for God’s presence. Hence the words “in them.” This message is repeated in the very next verse. The Torah says “v’chein ta’asu,” “and so shall you do.” Rashi quotes the Gemara in Sanhedrin 16b explaining this to mean “for all generations.” The Malbim teaches that this means that no matter whether or not there is a Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash, we have ability to create a dwelling place for God within ourselves.
This is not the first time this message appears in the Torah. During their shira following the splitting of the Yam Suf, the Jews sang “Zeh keili v’anveihu.” “Zeh keili” means “this is my God.” But what does “v’anveihu” mean? Rav Hirsch and the Kotzker Rebbe teach that it comes from the word “naveh,” which means a “home.” The Jews saw God clearly and said, “I am going to make a home for God within me.”
This message was captured in the “Bilvavi” poem written by Elazar Azikri: “In my heart I will build a Mishkan for God’s glory.”
Every single Jew has the capacity to purify the body through Torah, tefillah, and mitzvah observance and to have God dwell inside of them and to truly be with them wherever they go.
If one takes this command seriously and seeks to find a way to feel and experience God’s Presence with no Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash, all signs must point toward the Land of Israel. The Gemara (Taanit 10a) teaches that whereas God uses angels to guide what transpires in other lands, God is directly involved with what happens in Israel. The Midrash (Tehillim 113) says that if one wants to see God’s Presence one should study Torah in the Land of Israel. The Kli Yakar (Bereishit 26:3) explains that God instructed Yitzchak to remain in Israel since he would not be able to experience the revelation of God’s Presence outside of Israel. The Malbim understands that when Yitzchak told Yaakov, “May He grant you the blessing of Avraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns that God gave to Avraham” (Bereishit 28:4), he was telling him: “Inheriting the Land of Israel is the condition to enable God’s Presence to dwell among them.”
When people talk about living in Israel, the discussion often revolves around living in a country where we defend ourselves and living in a state that is culturally Jewish. The command in this week’s parsha to create a home for God in our midst and the sources that teach that Israel is the place where one can truly experience God’s Presence add another dimension to the importance of living in Israel: making it easier to fulfill the command to feel and experience God in every aspect of our lives.
Rabbi Dov Lipman is a former MK and the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).