16 February 2024

Week of 11-17, 2024

                                  Torah portion: Exodus 25 :1-27:19 Haftarah: 1Kings 5:26-6:13

Theme: “I will dwell in them! ”  Ex. 25:8

The very concept of making a home in finite space for an infinite presence seems a contradiction in terms. The answer, still astonishing in its profundity, is contained at the beginning of this week’s parasha:  “They shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them.” (Ex. 25:8)  (Sacks 191)

     When the Israelites left Sinai, a pressing question must have been, how do we keep the wondrous event that happened here alive?  They realized that they were not leaving God, it was only the place where they had met God and where they had uttered the words, “We will do and we will hear!” (Ex.19:8)  This was an encounter that now led them to express their commitment in good deeds, compassion, acts of justice and the keeping of Shabbat. This is how they will keep alive that transforming experience.

     Moses received a command from God to build a sanctuary so that God may dwell with them. There is a Midrash that suggests that this dwelling was fashioned to meet God’s needs as well as Israel’s. (ETZ  486)  With this command came specific instructions as to size, types of materials and exact directions as to how this was to be constructed. They were mindful that the Divine Presence is not in a building but rather in its builders, in the human heart and soul. The Mishkan or abode would represent God’s presence in the midst of the Israelite camp.

     The word, ‘Terumah’ refers to a gift, an offering, one’s contribution. Since this word is derived from the root meaning ‘to elevate,’ the people knew that their gifts were set apart for a sacred use. This endeavor was built on the generosity of the people since it would serve the entire community. Every detail was specified and the people supplied thirteen different kinds of materials such as gold, silver, copper, blue-, purple-, red-dyed wool, flax, goat’s hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices and gems. The sages found many parallels between the making of the tabernacle and the creation of the world since the tabernacle is a microcosm of the universe. (ETZ 487)

     In time this portable sanctuary would become a permanent one: Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was built 480 years later. The basic design remained the same. Both Moses and Solomon, felt the unfathomability of God’s request, “But will God indeed dwell on earth?  Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less the house that I have built.” (1Kings 8:27)  There were distinct differences though in this massive construction with the former one for now there were no volunteers, a tax had been levied on the people; and laborers were conscripted in order to complete the building which served as the focal point of religious life for the nation.

    Rabbi Sacks has stated, “The essence of ‘the holy’ is that it is a place where we set aside all human devices and desires and enter a domain wholly set aside for God. If the concept of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is that God lives in the human heart whenever it opens itself  to heaven, then the physical location is irrelevant…..Thus the way was open, seven centuries later, to the synagogue: the supreme statement of the idea that if God is everywhere, He can be reached anywhere.”  (Sacks 192)

For Reflection and Discussion: 1.) Does ‘the holy’ find recognition and expression in my life?

2.) What difference does it make?

Bibliography:  Lieber, David L., Etz Hayim, (New York, NY, 1999),  Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan, Covenant and Conversation, (Maggid Books, Jerusalem, Israel, 2010).                                            

                                           This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
                               Rita Kammermayer, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2001

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