Sunday, February 10, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Trumah (A Whole and Holy Heart)

Delivered before VBS Library Minyan 2/9/08. Embargoed until Motzei Shabbos. I ad libbed a lot but this is basically what I said... This is a handy tool if you agree I spoke too fast and part of the reason we were done 15 minutes before the Main Sanctuary got out...

To be delivered before VBS Library Minyan 2/9/08

SUMMARY: Welcome to Trumah, it is here we interrupt the narrative and begin the excessive laws and instructions to the Israelites in the desert which will be the major focus of the next book and a half of the Torah. It is in this portion where God begins to command Moses with the specific blueprint for building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle which will act as a movable sanctuary during their sojourn in the desert. We begin with the first ever synagogue appeal, where God Himself commands those of a giving nature “whose hearts so moved them” to donate gold, silver, copper, and various fabrics made from valuable threads and mythical beasts (one midrash in the Talmud defines the tachash skins as from a multi-colored unicorn. Our own Etz Chaim giant red chumashim translate tachash as Dolphin Skin. Where they got giant sea creatures in the middle of the Sinai desert I wonder to this day, something I find to be about as plausible as multicolored unicorns). We shall later learn that the fundraiser was too successful, something that never happens during synagogue appeals. Moses receives specific instructions on how to make the Tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, Shewbread Table, Menorah, and how to design the curtains. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting and it is, in fact, the first Torah portion in our cycle completely devoid of narrative, but as we will soon learn there are indeed diamonds in the rough.

DVAR: First of all, when I was asked to give a Dvar Torah on this week’s Torah Portion I immediately knew I was in trouble. Any of the Torah Portions since, say, May, would have been relatively easy to commentate. But from this point through the next couple of months, besides a Golden Calf or grizzly zapping story, we will be dealing with laws. Many many many laws. Many of these laws will be regarding Sacrifices or building edifices or fighting sin-induced skin diseases which have not been part of our culture for 2,000 years. So it is a real struggle to find something engaging within the specific instructions on how to build the Mishkan.

But among the tedious architectural instructions given in this parasha is something absolutely revolutionary that will change the course of the Jewish people.

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם (Exodus 25:8), they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.

Unfortunately, even the dearth of Midrashim I looked up for this verse are mum on the inherent floodgate this should open. But as my teacher Rabbi Brad Artson said at his lecture here on Wednesday night, “it is a mark of greatness to not recycle something dead rabbis have said, stringing together quotes, but instead offering previously unrevealed wisdom”. This Dvar Torah is an attempt at such revelation. I have never heard anyone comment on this verse, so this is a trial in uncharted territory.

Past attempts to centralize God have failed. In the Tower of Babel, the inhabitants of Babylon attempted to go up to the abode of God in the heavens. But now God desires a meeting point between Him and the Israelites, a structure through which the Children of Israel will have a very real and constant knowledge of God’s omnipresence and providence. He commands us to create a home on Earth, commanding us to build him a dwelling among the Israelites.

Ramban, Nachmanides, says on this verse that the place will serve as the house of a king and that God will dwell in the “Bayit” and “Kisei HaKavod” , “in the house and on the Throne of Glory that they will build for Him there. These parallel the same locations to God’s palace and Throne of Glory in Heaven, richly described in midrashic literature. But now we bring God down to Earth. We read a few minutes ago: רוממו ה' א-לקנו והשתחוו להדום רגליו, קדוש הוּא. Praise the Lord our God and prostrate to His footstool, for it is holy.” The footstool is the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, the meeting point where Heaven and Earth kiss. When the Ark of the Covenant is led into battle, the Israelites rout their enemies as God and His Celestial Host of myriads of angelic warriors join and obliterate our adversaries. We just said this very thing as we took out the Torah

ויהי בנסוע הארון ויאמר משה: קומה ה' ויפוצו אויבך וינוסו משנאך מפניך, arise God and cause your enemies to scatter and those that hate you to flee from before you.

These relics are a way of summoning God, a trend which will continue next week with the instructions to Aaron regarding the creation of the Priestly Garments. All these devices will be used to divine God or perform other supernatural tasks.

This week’s Haftarah from the Book of Kings similarly gives the blueprint of another Mikdash, Solomon’s Temple, the first Beit HaMikdash. It uses the same language as the Torah portion did.

וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב אֶת־עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל:

“And I will dwell among the children of Israel and I will not abandon My nation Israel.” The Ark of the Covenant, previously mobile, will now have a permanent home in the Holy of Holies, God’s eternal dwelling place. Something notable in this haftarah is that is in the aside quote “in the 480th year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt”. I don’t think I have seen other references to the date of the Exodus from Egypt in other books besides the Torah. We are commanded to daily recall the Exodus and set our calendars from this date, and yet this is one of the few examples which actually follows this guideline. I feel that it is tying the two events together, the building of the movable Tabernacle of the Desert, and the Holy Temple in the permanent capital of Jerusalem, that 480 years passed between the constructions in the two events.

What happened to the Tabernacle? Some commentators go so far as to claim that identical cubit measurements placed the entire Tabernacle into the Holy of Holies in the First Temple, that it be a continuation of that place which Moses entreated God and in which Aaron and his sons ministered in the home of God. This is the continuation of a literal emanation of God on Earth.

But we, as Maimonidean Jews cannot allow ourselves to anthropomorphize God, that God needs a physical place to dwell Ironically when King David asks to build the First Temple God rhetorically responds to the negative, “should you build Me a House in which to dwell?” I think it is vital to look at this metaphorically. There is a song that is traditionally sung at Seudah Shlishit, the third meal which is eaten late Saturday afternoon as the Sabbath wanes, a placid song known as Bilvavi, the melody slow, powerful, and emotional, I will now sing it one time through so you can get a feel for the emotion pulsating through these words:

בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו

ובמשקן מזבח אשים לקרני הודו

ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקדה

ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי היחידה


“In my heart I will build a Tabernacle to beautify Your Glory, and in this Tabernacle I will place an altar for the rays of Your Splendor, and for the Ner Tamid, [the Eternal Light], I will take the fire of the Akeidah, [where Isaac was bound on the altar], and for the sacrifice I will offer to Him my unique soul.”

This is a powerful statement but certainly not literal. God wants to be a part of our lives but we need to let him enter. When we are standing at the Sea of Reeds, Charlton Heston famously yells, “The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us. Behold his mighty hand.” The actual quote from Exodus 14 is “Have no fear! Stand back and witness the salvation of God which he makes for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you and you will stand back!” Then the water parts and the Israelites enter, right? No! In the Torah, God responds by saying “why do you cry out to me? Tell the Children of Israel to go forward!” It takes a brave Jew named Nachshon ben Aminadav to walk into the turbulent waters up to his nose for the sea to split. Okay, so there’s a little Midrash here. God wants us to want him.

In the beginning of the Jewish people we needed a Mishkan or a Beit HaMikdash in which to offer of our substance to God, to bring ourselves close to Him. The word for sacrifice is Korban which also means drawing close. But how will the slaughtering of an animal and burning it on an altar bring you closer to God? The prophet Hosea suggests “instead of bulls, the offering of our lips” should suffice. We need to appear before God with לבב שלם, a whole heart, many of us also approach with a broken heart, which may be even more powerful. The offering of our lips will not suffice without our heart being in it. The psalmist wrote a phrase which we use to conclude our most important prayer, יהיו לרצון אמרי פי והגיון ליבי לפניך ה' צורי וגואלי, “may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

We have found a way over the past two millennia to survive without any sort of sacrificial service, that which will be the focus of most of the rest of the Torah and much of the rest of the Bible. Yet 2,000 years later, here we are as Jews, and no Korbanot. 480 years separatated the building of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. We too can count from this red-letter day. According to my math utilizing the traditional year of the Exodus 2448 Anno Mundi (corresponding to 1312 BCE), we are 3,320 years removed from God’s instructions to Moses and 2,840 from Solomon’s glorious construction project, and today we continue the tradition, in a slightly less literal way. We have moved into the synagogues and shtiblach and come together to pray. ועשו לי מקדש. Mikdash doesn’t need to be a place, it means holiness! Make for me holiness, commands God! Though we pray for it, we don’t need a Beit HaMikdash to feel the Presence of God. Though it might not be the best thing for a Rabbincal student to say, especially at a minyan, even the synagogue is not the be-all-end-all. Yes, it is ideal to be among a quorum of Jews, which the Talmud states brings down the shechinah. But God dwells within each any every one of us, and God implores us to make room for Him in there, to avoid impurity and allow holiness to abide within. God knocks at the door of our souls and we need to let Him in. As the aphorism goes, your body is a Temple. But a temple to whom? And do you allow your heart and soul to act as the High Priest? Let God in! וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם There I will dwell, within the sanctuary of your heart.


Meta: Trumah Terumah T'rumah Teruma Truma

1 comment:

Abigail said...

Yasher koach. I haven't read your blog in ages, but I should read it more often!

As you have found, there is in fact a lot to talk about in these parshiyot. I taught it to my 8th graders and assigned them an essay on the importance of holy places in Judaism and why we bother learning about the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash even though they are long gone. I got some really interesting answers.