Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
“Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8)
In Terumah, God commands the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle). The people are to bring free-will offerings of the most precious objects as building material: gold, silver and bronze, precious stones and fine cloth and skins and threads colored with rare dyes – and more.
The mishkan would house the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Two Tablets. It would be the place where the priests offered sacrifices to God, and the place where the Divine Presence would appear as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. It would be the very center of our community while we wandered through the wilderness.
However, the mishkan was NOT a house for God. What structure could possibly contain God? Instead, God commands: “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” The genius of the text is simple: we cannot contain God, but if we make the effort, if we put our hearts and souls into the task, then God will dwell in our midst – whether we see God or not.
Today we live in a world without the mishkan. God does not appear as a pillar of anything, and many of us feel disconnected. Yet, the truth of Terumah remains – and speaks to us not only through Torah but through the book of Esther, which we will read at our Purim celebrations next week. The Purim story is the stereotype for virtually every Jewish holiday: ‘they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!’ Yet, Esther is the only book in the Hebrew Bible that makes no mention of God – not one. God does not redeem us from the evil clutches of Haman and his henchmen, Mordechai and Esther do.
We should not, however, assume that God is not present in the lives of the Jews in Shushan. Quite the contrary! As the story comes to its conclusion, it is worth noting that the establishment of Purim as an annual Jewish observance “remembered and kept throughout every generation” was set by Esther and Mordechai. (Esther 9:28) This is the only Biblically rooted holiday not commanded by God, but rather ordained by characters in the text – and this is highly significant.
Could the establishment of Purim echo the construction of the mishkan? Both require our human effort to create, both remind us that we are not alone but rather connected to something far greater than ourselves, and both strengthen our sense of community and Jewish identity.
Even in world where God does not seem to be present God truly can dwell among us, if only we make the effort to bring God in.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras