• Sam Kessler

Dwelling in a Holy Place

Parshat Terumah Shabbat Zachor 5781


Shabbat Shalom.


I thank Ramban and Rav Hirsch for today’s learning.


Our parasha this week, תְּרוּמָ֑ה, opens with chapter 25 of the book of שמות, Exodus.


Here are verses 1 & 2:


וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

And HaShem spoke to Moses, saying:


דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃

Speak to the Israelites, that they take Me תְּרוּמָ֑ה from every man, as his heart may urge him you shall take My תְּרוּמָ֑ה.


Then, in verses 3-7, the Torah outlines the kinds of תְּרוּמָ֑ה being request.


And then, with this תְּרוּמָ֑ה, in verses 8 & 9, the Torah says:


וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

And they shall make Me a מִקְדָּ֑שׁ, a Sanctuary, that I may abide in their midst.


כְּכֹ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ מַרְאֶ֣ה אוֹתְךָ֔ אֵ֚ת תַּבְנִ֣ית הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת תַּבְנִ֣ית כָּל־כֵּלָ֑יו וְכֵ֖ן תַּעֲשֽׂוּ׃

As all that I show you, the form of the מִּשְׁכָּ֔ן, the Tabernacle, and the form of all its furnishings, thus shall you make it.”


We have here two name for the Wilderness site of God's imminent presence: a מִקְדָּ֑שׁ (translated as “sanctuary”) and a מִּשְׁכָּ֔ן (translated as “Tabernacle”). The latter word we use most often for this Wilderness holy place, the former for the God’s eventual House in Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash.


Yet while the word are distinct -- quite distinct -- the Torah’s use of them in adjoining verses, and at least at the peshat level for describing the same structure, has the tendency to elide their difference. (For example, Robert Alter doesn't distinguish between the words at all in his translation, rendering both as “Tabernacle”.)


But they are distinct, and each word asks and demands different things from us, and reveals theologically distinct aspects of divinity.


מִקְדָּ֑שׁ is part of the category of קָד֑וֹשׁ, what in English we often translate as ‘holy’, though that is an equally as obscure term as the Hebrew original.


Without defining the word, we might draw a parallel to an earlier usage, in Ex. 19:6 —


וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ

And you will become for Me a kingdom of priests and a קָד֑וֹשׁ nation, a holy nation.


מִּשְׁכָּ֔ן is likewise theologically rich. In 25:8 it follows standard Torah usage, relating to some sort of dwelling, or in-dwelling. שָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם — that I might dwell within or amidst you.


Yet of course we know that while שָׁכַן begins in Tanakh as a verb, to dwell, it becomes in Talmud a noun, שכינה, the presence of divine dwelling, and in Kabbalah, a feminine mythos, the effervescent ineffability of divine nearness.


But how do we access these impenetrable, veiled eruptions of divine closeness? For as Ramban says –


וסוד המשכן הוא, שיהיה הכבוד אשר שכן על הר סיני שוכן עליו בנסתר

And the secret of the משכן is that the Glory that dwelt on הר סיני dwells (שוכן) upon it in hiddenness.


The second verse of the parasha provides some way toward an answer, even before we have asked the question: וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה.


What is תְּרוּמָ֑ה? A contribution set aside as a gift.


What is וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י? And you shall take for me, as in, לָקַח, to take or seize or grab hold of, thus, and you shall look into your household and find therein something to offer to me, to give to me from what is yours that we might find thereby a connection, you and me, in this taking and this giving.


So, we return to where we began, with the theological mystery of קָד֑וֹשׁ and שְׁכָּ֔ן.


How do we become a ג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ, capable of constructing a מִקְדָּ֑שׁ where in Hashem might שָׁכַן?

Through תְּרוּמָ֑ה, the outflowing, overflowing gift, taken from ourselves and given to God on behalf of all Israel.


Shabbat shalom.

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