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Building the World, the Home and the Self: Parshat Teruma

01/30/2022 10:47:51 AM


Rabbi Rudin


Parshat Terumah: The Mishkan: Some Assembly Required - YouTube

We Jews are nomads from way back.  Ignoring fences and boundaries, always seeking the future, on the move.  That's pretty much Jewish history.  Together with that, we have a center, a homeland.  But rather than the Land of Israel being a stasis point, it is really the dynamic center around which the Jewish world rotates, nurturing Israel and being nurtured by Israel. 

How have we done it all these years?  The Torah portions from this week through the end of the Book of Exodus tell us exactly that.  The disguise: and in the Torah, in Jewish life and in life in general, there is always a disguise -- or a vessel for containing truths -- the building of the Wilderness Sanctuary, the Mishkan. 

The Mishkan, the inner sanctum within an outer sanctum within a compound, all enclosed by a series of golden boxes, tents and fences of goat-skin (parchment, like the Torah!),  and all portable, taken down and re-set up 36 time during our journey to the Promised Land, delineates four separate domains.  The spiritual, the intellectual, the emotional and the physical.  These domains interconnect and nurture each other.  The four domains are centers for the care and feeding of the Jewish soul. 

The innermost place is the Kodesh HaKodashim, containing the Ark of the Covenant, the indwelling of G-d's presence.  This center of all centers is nourished by holiness.  More on that in a moment. 

The next domain is the realm of the Kodesh, containing the menorah representing wisdom.  It is the realm of the intellectual.  The message for us is to spend part of every day learning for the sake of learning.  We are blessed to live in a time when you can literally study any topic completely on your own schedule.  Take a few minutes every day to delve into a topic or two.  But whatever you study -- a language, mathematics, literature, make sure that there's just a little Yiddishkeit included!  The realm of the Kodesh is nurtured by thought.

The next realm is the realm of the emotional wherein is found the Mizbeach, the altar.  The flames of the altar represent our own passions, our excitement and enthusiasm for life.  We feed our emotional life with speech, for the essence of the emotional life is relationships.  Think of every word as a holy offering.  Using the awesome power of speech to convey our feelings and make connections is among the greatest human powers. But at the same time, the power of speech can be corrupted.  Ensuring that our every word, even the most mundane, uplifts and nurtures is the essence of holiness. 

Finally, as we leave the compound of the Mishkan, we find ourselves in the encampment of the Kohanim and the Levites who serve in and around the Mishkan.  This is the realm of the physical.  We nurture it through action; caring for our physical selves and caring for the physical needs of others through Tzedaka and Gemilut Chasadim.

And now the power switch... Holiness, embodied by the Holy Ark,  is the the highest power of all.  How do we activate it?  Thoughts? Words? Action?  The answer of course is all three but it is really through action, which seems to be the farthest removed from the spiritual -- action in the coarse, material world -- that activates the holy.  That is why all of the Mitzvot, commandments, are rooted in action.  Lighting candles, visiting the sick, giving Tzedaka, comforting the mourner, rejoicing with the bride, and above all, sharing life generously with those who need us most; these are what nurture the holy.  As Hasidic thought says: the end is the beginning, the beginning is the end- the most elevated holiness and the most mundane physical action are interconnected.  

And now, as we study the construction of the Mishkan, we can understand what the Torah is asking us to do: to create in our own lives, schedules and homes space for holiness, space for the life of the mind, space for emotional connection, space for the physical.  Each one of us is a Mikdash Me'at, a Travelling Sanctuary and every place we encamp can become a place of holiness.

Shabbat Shalom!


Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784