Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
Isaac Luria, the great kabbalistic rabbi, taught that before Creation, there was nothing but God. Luria called God the Ayn Sof (without end). If God was truly Ayn Sof, and was the great "No Thing Without End" then there was no room for any other "things." In order to create, God first had to self-contract, in order to make room for things. In Hebrew this is called tzim tzum. Tzim tzum is a theologically rich concept, because it allows us to see God simultaneously as all-powerful and self-limiting. In making room for Creation (and therefore for us), God also makes room for free will, and the possibility that our choices will not always be in line with God's wishes.
On a more human level, tzim tzum is a basic building block for any healthy relationship: we flourish most when we make room for one another. Put differently, loving one another is a form of tzim tzum - a beautiful way we can imitate God.
My teacher Rabbi Eugene Borowitz (z"l) taught tzim tzum as a powerful model for leadership decades before the current "coaching as supervision" movement. His basic message was that the best leaders make room for their subordinates, and provide them with the structures and supports they need to become ever more successful.
Thanks to a beautiful commentary by Rabbi Shai Held, we can see a remarkable link between tzim tzum and the opening of this week's parasha. God commands Moses to tell the people to bring free will offerings of supplies. "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them," (Ex. 25:8) Rabbi Held notes that in the midrash (Pesikta DeRav Kahana, 2:10) God explains how an infinite God can descend into a finite space (the sanctuary). Put simply, according to the midrash, God will metzamtzem (contract - from the same root at tzim tzum).
What a wonderful piece of Torah! As we consider this connection between midrash and parasha, another possibility emerges. God made room for us, and we can do what we please. However, if we want to live with purpose and clarity, then we must also make room, not only for each other, but for God - of our own free will, and at the center of our camp.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras