Parshat Terumah

Torah Reading for Week of February 11-17, 2018

“Where Does God Dwell?”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ’07

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

“And they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst according to all that I show you.”


Once upon a time, in a land we once knew, we could send our children to school, knowing that they would go in peace and come home in peace. With increasing historical rapidity, we are consumed with news of trauma on that pathway. A school shooting rips apart our illusion of safety for our children, our families, our educators, and all of the people who serve a system predicated on the idea of “in loco parentis”— Those are the “parents in that place”, charged with the duty to protect our children. BUT who can protect anyone from the raving mindset of someone who wants to take out an automatic rifle with rounds of ammunition to randomly shoot the innocents in his pathway.


As I sat down to write a drash on the Parshah of this week, on Terumah, I was confronted with the news of a mass shooting near me. When I was the Director of Life Long Learning at Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, FL, Stoneman Douglas HS was the feeder school for their teen program, which was the largest in Broward County and had 250 kids in it. My former community is facing a trauma that is one of every parent’s worst nightmares, one of every community’s worst nightmares and should be one of our nation’s worst nightmares.


I listen to our state and federal leaders offer words of condolences and I scream “hypocrite” in my heart. When will we learn? When will we wake up? The school shooting in Parkland, Florida today marks the 29th mass shooting in the US in 2018. There have only been 45 days in 2018.


In Terumah, we are ordered to create a Mishkan, a temple where the Torah can rest, a sacred place for a sacred people in whose midst God can dwell. Many midrashim conclude that each of us creates a mishkan inside of ourselves, a place that we hold sacred, where God can dwell, where we can exercise our striving to achieve our highest most authentic self.  It is a place where we can reflect on our higher purpose and where we can call upon God to help us fulfill our hopes, dreams and aspirations.


At this moment, I am reflecting on the mishkan and asking how does God dwell in our midst? In the midst of tragedy, we ask, “Where was God?” In the midst of personal trauma, we ask, “Where was God?” A rabbinic response is absent. God cannot be omniscient/all-knowing and omnipotent/all powerful and benevolent/good. Thus, God cannot know that a shooting will occur, and not stop it, and/or be okay with it!


All that we can do in times of tragedy and trauma is go into the mishkan of our inner being and call out to that God to comfort us. If we cannot call upon that spiritual support, we are lost. That all knowing God knows that we are in pain. That all powerful God knows that God has given us the free will to choose how we will exert our power. Thus, that benevolent God urges us to act in God’s name to enact what God knows to be true, to stop the proliferation of assault weapons and deadly killing in order to create the mishkan where God can dwell in our midst and offer God’s love.


On this Valentine’s Day, I offer two verses from the New Testament that I learned from one of my patients who died of ALS. He lived by Corinthians 13, which begins and ends with these words:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

May each of us live with faith, believe in hope, and thrive with love as our guiding light. In the words of Isaiah, May we be a light onto the nations… that leads us all on pathways to peace and justice and love everlasting. May we create a modern mishkan, so that God may dwell in our midst.