Parshat Terumah

Torah Reading for Week of February 10-16, 2013


“The Mishkan: How Does G-d Fit Into This?”
By Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, AJRCA Professor of Hebrew  


וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם.

(שמות כה, ח)

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)


כִּי,הַאֻמְנָם, יֵשֵׁב אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָרֶץ; הִנֵּה הַשָּׁמַיִם וּשְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, לֹא יְכַלְכְּלוּךָ–אַף, כִּי-הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בָּנִיתִי.  (מלכים א ח,כז)


But will God in very truth dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded! (1 Kings 8:27)


Upon dedicating the Temple, King Solomon expresses his wonderment as to how a mere edifice of cedar-wood and costly stone could possibly contain G-d. Moreover, he is amazed that G-d can even “dwell” on this earthly plane. Despite King Solomon’s incredulity, G-d’s promise stands: Make a sanctified place, for My sake, and I will dwell amongst you. We are promised that if we dedicate a holy space to G-d in our lives and in everything we do, G-d Himself will occupy it.

To help us understand this paradox that finite human endeavor can be a vessel for the infinite and the ineffable, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya offers a unique explanation.[1] He suggests we use a different metaphorical language than we usually do to understand the divine. Normally, the operative metaphor for G-dly revelation is that of light. That is to say, we have an entrée into understanding the divine and into relating to the abstract notion of “G-dliness” through the readily relatable idea of light. Light is familiar to us. We have all experienced how the introduction of light can change our perspective on anything upon which it is shined. Light brightens, clarifies, and purifies. For this reason, we speak of spiritual “enlightenment” and the clarity of vision that the bright light of divine revelation can give. We find it easier to speak of the divine in terms of light.

Nevertheless, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya explains, a metaphor of darkness and shadow is no less useful than that of light in discussing the divine. In fact, it is most useful in discussing G-d as He is unknowable and beyond our perception. In the words of the Psalmist, “He made darkness His hiding-place” (Psalms 18:12). Particularly apt is the metaphor of the shadow: “the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand” (Ibid. 121:5). Like a shadow, G-d moves with our every step, is with us wherever we are, takes our very shape, and never leaves our side. Although intangible and other, our shadow is real to us and inseparable from our person. So it is with G-d. A shadow is visible and describable, yet it is merely the negative image produced when light meets our bodies. It is not the light itself, but the impression it makes. In this same manner, we receive and process an awesomely bright G-dly light into our persons and give it shape through our actions. It takes the shape of our movement through this world, and mirrors our every gesture. Thus, the edifice we build of our lives is built with the very imprint of the divine, and when our lives reflect a G-dly consciousness and holy ideal, this edifice of our lives is a manifest sanctuary to G-d. The lesson of “G-d’s shadow” and that of the mishkan is that although, in many respects, we relate to G-d from a distance of knowledge and perception—the distance of a primarily earthly reality from a purely divine one—this is no less of an intimate relationship, and our interaction is no less substantive and powerful.

[1] מאמרי אדמו”ר הזקן על התורה והמועדים

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