April 21, 2024
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This week’s portion of Terumah introduces a new concept: a sanctuary, a tabernacle, designed to create a space for God in the world. But how and why would we be commanded to create a physical space for God? Shlomo HaMelech asks at the dedication of the first Temple:

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!” (Melachim I 8:27)

Interestingly, while the Tabernacle is the predecessor to the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, there is a fundamental difference between the two: The Temple stood in a fixed place at the center of the Jewish universe, in Jerusalem, whereas the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) traveled with the Jewish people without a set location.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was once asked why a Jew could travel through the Sinai Desert if he might walk on the site where the Mishkan once stood. Rav Kook responded that the sanctity of the Mishkan was temporary; once the Jewish people moved there was no lasting sanctity to the places where the Mishkan once stood. This is in direct contrast to the Temple on whose direct site all the authorities agree no Jew can traverse today.

Rashi suggests that the commandment to build a Mishkan resulted from the sin of the Golden Calf, when the Jewish people felt the need to create a physical manifestation of God’s presence as a reminder that God is with them, always. So God gave us a Mishkan, a place that would travel with us. It was less about where it stood than about where we stood. It was a call to the Jewish people to create holy space wherever we are. For a nation destined to wander, this would be the secret to our survival.

The Mishkan is the predecessor of the Jewish synagogue. The synagogue is called a beit knesset, which means a house, not of worship, but of gathering. The Hebrew word kanes means to collect or gather, as Esther suggests to Mordechai in the Purim story:

Lech knos et kol haYehudim…, Go and gather all the Jews…”

Judaism teaches us we can create an environment of sanctity that can impact us by gathering together, and we create this space not by where we are, but by who we are.

For thousands of years of exile, we created our synagogue spaces wherever we were, and more than we maintained the synagogue, the synagogue space maintained us. And we learned that what we can create alone will never match what we can create together.

The Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem) was designed to create a holy environment the way it was meant to be, and the Mishkan was designed to teach us that we could start working on creating such environments wherever we were. This is why the verse commanding us to build such a sanctuary alludes to this: “Ve’asu li mikdash ve’shachanti be’tocham,” “They shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them (be’tocham).”

The verse should have said: “I will dwell in it” not “I will dwell in them.”

The Torah teaches us that Hashem does not dwell in a building; Hashem lies deep inside each and every one of us. The Mishkan and the synagogue are just a taste of that experience as it is meant to be.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,

Binny Freedman


Rabbi Binny Freedman is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Orayta. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

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