June 2, 2024
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If You Build It, He Will Come

Let’s say that the previous chapter convinced you. Your focus is on building a Godly abode in this world. What are you supposed to do now? Does the Torah give guidance on how to actualize this perspective, beyond learning Torah and keeping mitzvos?

To be sure, a significant section seems to address exactly this point. Even more striking, that significant section is exactly where it should be, based on the idea developed above.

Last week, we demonstrated that the introduction to Matan Torah, described in parshas Yisro, conveyed Bnei Yisrael’s mission statement, to be a “mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh,” as the purpose of their selection as the chosen nation. The rest of parshas Yisro describes the Kabbalas HaTorah experience, and parshas Mishpatim follows with a selection of laws taught at Sinai. At this point, Moshe returns to the peak of the mountain for another 40 days. What comes next?

 

Build Me a House

The subsequent parsha, Terumah, introduces a new project, one of monumental scope and significance: Hashem directs Moshe to collect terumot, donations from Bnei Yisrael; from any person “whose heart moves him to contribute.” What was the purpose of these contributions? “Veasu li Mikdash veshachanti besocham—to build a place dedicated to Hashem, through which He would dwell among you, among the people.”

Two striking questions emerge from a cursory reading of these pesukim: First of all, for what purpose is Hashem asking for a Mishkan, a physical structure? Seeing as the Mishkan will never house Hashem, why is He asking us to build it? (1) Second, reading carefully, the Torah never even said that God would inhabit this “home” that He’s asking us to build for Him—rather, “Build for Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell besocham—among you!” Why not dwell with us immediately? What’s the point of the building?

 

Great Is Work

Rabbi Tarfon addresses these questions with an astonishing comment in Avos de Rabi Nosson: “Great is melacha, work, for Hashem did not cause His Shechina to rest with the Jewish people until they performed melacha, as it says, ‘Veasu li Mikdash veshachanti besocham.’” (2) Only after Bnei Yisrael invested time and effort into this most ambitious project would it be the proper time for Hashem to dwell among them. Beyond the symbolic or spiritual significance that was going to be invested in each component of the Mishkan and the associated avodah, Rabbi Tarfon teaches that the act of engaging ourselves in a project on behalf of the Borei Olam served as the “matir” for Him dwelling among us.

 

Camp Yagilu: Dirt Equals Happiness

It has become less and less common for people to experience the pleasure of working hard to accomplish a goal. Most of my summers were spent in a wilderness camp called “Camp Yagilu.” So many aspects of the camp played crucial roles in my self-development; an oversized one was the focus on working hard and accomplishing amazing things. On the first day of the program, the director, Rabbi Tani Prero, presents a formula: “Dirt Equals Happiness.” “If you finish the day sweaty, with your hands dirty and your clothes streaked with mud,” he says, “I can guarantee that you’ll be smiling.” Campers don’t really get what that means until they get the chance to feel it for real.

Have you ever stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a friend and shared the burden of a handsaw, rotating as your grip starts to slip and your forearms begin to burn? Have you ever felt the satisfaction of watching sawdust stream from a burning hot blade, making twin piles at the base of the trunk? Or experienced the exultation of a tree finally giving in after hours of holding itself up, falling to the ground in respect of man’s command to dominate the land? And then bending down with your friends to raise that treeon which you worked so hardto bring it to the building site, lowering it down to await its placement in the structure slowly taking shape in your minds? Your body hurts—all over—but your soul sings. There is something uniquely gratifying about working hard on something and seeing it through to completion.

Other aspects of camp, like the miles—and days—long hikes, daily workouts and leather and coal burning workshops, incorporated this truth, as well.

As the pasuk proclaims, “Yegia kapecha ki tochal, ashrecha vetov lach,” (3) there is a unique joy—almost euphoria—that flows from eating the fruits of your own labor. How many people nowadays have had the opportunity to taste this simcha? Rabbi Tarfon identified this experience of striving to accomplish a challenging task—as that which facilitates Hashem joining us in this world—when we direct it towards His objectives.

 

Building a Home for God

Rabbi Tarfon’s comment yields a totally different perspective on the function of the Mishkan: the goal was never for Hashem to “inhabit” the Mishkan, as that is obviously impossible. Rather, it was an opportunity Hashem granted us to engage in melacha, for His sake and in response to His command, and earn the opportunity to bring the Shechina into our world. What an inspiring portrayal of the significance of this project! Symbolically, that coheres perfectly with the attitude developed above. Hashem’s intention for humanity and the Jewish people was for us to work hard and “build” the world; (4) the Mishkan was an expression of that original commandment.

Next week, we’ll continue with our survey of the Torah’s storyline to uncover the next stage in building this home for God.


Tzvi Goldstein graduated from Yeshiva University with a semicha and a degree in Psychology. After making aliyah, he taught in Yeshivat Hakotel for five years and now edits sefarim for a number of publishers. He recently published a sefer with Mosaica Press called “Halachic Worldviews,” exploring Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to developing hashkafa from halacha, and writes at tgb613.substack.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

1) See “Halachic Man,” page 47-48, for the Rav’s presentation of a similar idea, also relating to Hashem’s command to build a Mishkan.

(2) Avos de Rabi Nosson 11:1.

(3) Tehillim 128:2.

(4) The symbolism is even stronger when connected to the Midrash Tanchuma’s idea of Hashem desiring a “dirah betachtonim,” quoted below.

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