July 13, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 13, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From the opening lines of Parshat Terumah, we immediately realize that an important shift has taken place in the biblical narrative. Shemot began with the enslavement of the Jewish people, continued with our liberation from Egypt and then moved on to the moment we all stood at Har Sinai, as we said “Na’aseh v’Nishma,” we will fulfill the precepts of the Torah and understand what our commitment means. Yet, here in Terumah, stories of family drama, back breaking labor and plagues, heart-stopping sea crossing and the spiritual moment at Sinai are absent. Instead the focus of this week’s parsha and what will take up the bulk of the rest of the parshiot in Shemot will be the design and construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that that will accompany Bnei Yisrael throughout their years of wandering on the way to Israel.

In fact, with the exception of the story of the Golden Calf, the Book of Exodus going forward is truly dedicated to the nuts and bolts of Judaism—the construction of this Tabernacle and the involvement of the people in building it. But as any seasoned fundraiser will tell you, you don’t begin construction without funds in hand! And so, here we see Hashem telling Moshe that Bnei Yisrael needs to contribute to the building of this place for Hashem’s presence, the Mishkan. But one question that immediately pops out is: Why would Hashem want to encourage Bnei Yisrael to see Hashem as dwelling in one singular place? And one would think that just having stood at Sinai—that would be enough to sustain the Jewish people to feel and remain connected to God along their travels on the way to Eretz Yisrael. And yet HaKadosh Baruch Hu understands human nature. Hashem recognizes that that moment at Sinai, a spiritual high, the absolute pinnacle for the Jewish people, would not be enough to sustain their level of connection. Even the most spiritually special moments may not last, and God understood that a place, something hands on, was needed to remind the Jewish people of their being a nation of priests and a holy people with a singular place to connect to the Divine. The commentators also provide another way to understand Terumah. They explain that the Torah is not written in linear fashion and it appears that this parsha was really a response to the incident of the Golden Calf.

When Moshe in Ki Tisa will be late in coming back with the two tablets, Bnei Yisrael thinks that he has abandoned them. They are not yet fully formed Jewish adults who are filled with faith and instead they fall back on a pagan symbol to strive for their closeness to God in the absence of Moshe. Those responsible for the Cheit Haegel, the sin of the Golden Calf, will be punished but here in Terumah what we encounter is Hashem’s understanding that the Jewish people need reassurance that God has not forsaken them and is with them, that the Shechinah is ever present. In fact, the parsha opens within a few verses with the words that “they shall make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them.” This line provides among the most famous rabbinic interpretations of a Torah verse. The rabbis note the use of the word “b’tocham, among them,” as opposed to saying dwell “within it,” i.e. the Tabernacle. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the verse by noting that the Jewish people’s obligation is to sanctify itself in its personal life. When that happens, he explains, God will dwell among us. Here then is one of the most central ideas of Judaism. It isn’t enough just to build beautiful edifices and meet Hashem there. We have to become holy, we have the obligation to behave in a certain fashion when we are outside the formal “resting place” of Hashem’s presence. This then puts upon us the opportunity to strive for holy living and the ability to act b’Tzelem Elokim, as we have been created in the Divine image. It was Rabbeinu Bachya, 13th-14th century Kabbalist and biblical commentator, who summed up how that concept of acting holy really can come to pass. He pointed out that the acronym for the word shittim, the acacia wood, that was used to construct the Table, the Altar and the Ark, is made up of the words shalom, tova, yeshua and mechilah—peace, goodness, salvation and forgiveness. He explained that the good things that occurred to the Jewish people came to them through the conduit of the holy vessels and furnishings of the Tabernacle. He asked, but what about now, the time when the Beit Hamikdash, the successor to the Mishkan, no longer stands? He explained by citing to the Talmud in Chagiga 27a, “Now that the Temple is no longer standing, a person receives atonement through their own table.” What then will “atone” for us and bring us the blessings we wish to have bestowed on us? Our dining or kitchen tables! Because if we welcome in those who are hungry, those in need of hachnasat orchim, those in need of home hospitality, those in need of friendship, protection and community, then our “tables” truly do become the personal altars that bring us blessing. We have certainly seen the example set by our brothers and sisters now in Israel, during this difficult time. It is a model to us that by behaving in this manner, we not only find the blessing of welcoming those in need, but we exhibit the hope expressed by Hashem: Construct a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst. As we continue to pray for the restoration of the Temple, at this moment we also have the opportunity to construct personal “sanctuaries” in our homes by doing acts of chesed. And by so doing, we will be inviting Hashem in to dwell among us.


Rabbanit Dr. Adena Berkowitz, a practicing therapist, is scholar in residence at Kol HaNeshamah NYC and the author of the best selling The Jewish Journey Haggadah. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles