PARSHAS TERUMAH 5774
by Rabbi Tanchum Burton
This dvar torah is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Ita Shulamit bat Chaya Leah שתחיה Refoel Yitzchak Eizik ben Michal שיחיה, Chaim Michoel Shlomo ben Michal שיחיה, and Shlomo Eliyahu ben Livia שיחיה
And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)
While the English translation renders the last two words of the verse as “among them”, (which actually follows Onkelos’s translation, loc. cit.), the actual Hebrew word is besocham, “within them”. Between the literal and free translations, we can derive that the building of a mikdash, a sanctuary, somehow brings G-d between us and within us. But how is it possible for an Infinite Being to dwell in a finite dimension?
Yet, in that case, why does G-d require a sanctuary, since He dwells everywhere already?
In the Midrash, we learn that G-d has desired, so to speak, a dwelling place in the lower worlds since the beginning of Creation, but would not allow His Presence to descend here until certain preconditions were met, namely, the acceptance of the yoke of Torah by the Jewish people. Once His Will was revealed to humankind regarding how He wants us to relate to Him, and to each other, He assented to dwell amongst us. Our verse alludes to a positive commandment to actually build a structure which serves as a focal point for us, a place to make offerings, to celebrate Him, and to experience closeness to Him (Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:1). In English, the word “sanctuary” has several meanings, including “a holy place or shrine” and “a place of refuge and safety”. Both are descriptive of what the Tabernacle represents. We invoke a consciousness of G-d by building the building and utilizing it as a point of contact, and, once there is a focal point, we are able to run to G-d as it were, and take refuge in Him.
Let’s not forget that the verse says, “and I shall dwell amongst them/within them” and not “within it”. In the tale of the Seven Beggars, Rebbe Nachman z”l describes a tree that stands beyond space, meaning that, not being fettered by the dimension of space, it can accommodate every creature; there is a place for everyone there. We can all take shelter in its shade. G-d Himself is referred to as HaMakom, “the Place”, because “He is the Place of the world but the world is not His place” (Bereishis Rabbah 68:10). Reb Noson Sternhartz z”l relates the idea of transcending space to the complaint of the moon at the outset of Creation, when the moon, which was at that time equal in size to the sun, protested, “two kings cannot wear one crown!”. G-d punished the moon by reducing its size, forcing it to wax and wane, and restricting its dominance to the night hours. Because the moon failed to recognize that with G-d, there is room for everyone and everything, it had to exist within the bounds of spatiality (Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Tzitzis 3).
How can G-d, Who is Infinite, dwell amongst us? There’s no room! Here is the deeper meaning of the mikdash. We have to make a place for Him. When we build communities, we have to invite Him to join us; even the most enlightened, peaceful human gathering is constricting until G-d is invited in. At that point, we can partake of His Infiniteness, and realize that there is room for everyone.