What does it mean for God to dwell amongst us?
Table for Five: Terumah
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And the word of the Lord came to Solomon saying, regarding this house which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, and execute My ordinances, and keep all My commandments to walk in them; then will I establish My word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people, Israel.
– 1 Kings 6:11-13 (Haftarah for Parsha Terumah)
Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, AJRCA Professor of Hebrew
This set of verses echoes the well-known passage in Leviticus 26 in which God promises the Children of Israel rain and agricultural abundance if they keep His statutes and ordinances. However, unlike the promise in Leviticus wherein God promises material well-being, God’s promise to Solomon suggests spiritual well-being and speaks here of an intimate bond of closeness to the Divine as a result of keeping the mitzvot.
Despite this seeming difference, the language of the two passages remains strikingly similar. The promise made to Solomon really does seem somehow to be a reiteration of God’s promise to Israel. Perhaps it is the case that they are two separate articulations of the same promise of Divine favor. For the Jewish nation being addressed in Leviticus, the most salient signal of Divine attention is the outward one of domestic security and material prosperity, whereas for Solomon, an individual, a more relevant sign of Divine ministration is to feel God’s proximity and caring on a personal level.
In another sense, these two promises are two different modes through which we can sense Divine providence. When we experience material well-being, we can recognize that God is providing it to facilitate our performance of His will. And even when we find ourselves in a precarious position or in a state of uncertainty, we can acknowledge and trust that God has not abandoned us, as we ourselves have not abandoned Him. God is always with us, and it is through the mitzvot that we realize this.
Rabbi Janet Madden, PhD, Fountainview at Gonda Westside
Close to midpoint in the seven years that it takes to build the Temple—a visionary and costly enterprise in materials, ingenuity and effort—“the word of the Lord” comes to the man charged with its construction. Perhaps the word comes to Solomon through a dream, for his building is the dream denied to David, his father. Or perhaps, having begun with great energy during Ziv, the month of Light, the word comes as Solomon’s initial enthusiasm dims, or because his focus on the physical structure is eclipsing the spiritual purpose of his enterprise.
Solomon is Israel’s third king. Symbolically and literally, he embodies the principle of the harmony of opposites. Lauded as the wisest of men, his task is to balance dynamism and stability. He is enjoined to walk with his people in holy ways, charged with building a house in which Holiness will dwell. The word of the Holy One reminds the human builder that without the stable foundation of Israel’s commitment to its essential purpose—living in relationship with the Divine— every aspect of this intricate and expensive project will be for naught.
Does Solomon perceive G-d’s word as possibility or inevitability? Does he meditate on the futility of all things even as he continues building with unsurpassed opulence? Surely, as intended, he understands the Divine message and his musings in Kohelet conclude by repeating “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments!”
Chana Margulies, Author of “Jumping in Puddles: a Transformational Memoir”
Hashem is teaching us how to build a temple, a home, a haven of intimacy with the Divine. As expressed in the Zohar, Hashem’s desire is for us to create a home in this world for us to dwell in together. Through Torah and mitzvot, we allow our minds and hearts to become Hashem’s home in this world, a portable temple.
Hashem is sharing with us the secret to making this essential relationship and all cherished relationships thrive. The secret is making a commitment that doesn’t change with the seasons.
The first category of mitzvot mentioned are “statutes/chukim,” suprarational commandments, kabalistically sourced in the sefira of Keter, which transcends human intellect. It is known as our crown because it originates above our faculties of intellect. Such laws include kashrut, mikvah, and hair covering. The foundation for a healthy marriage is showing up, both when I feel like it and when I don’t. The ability to give despite one’s reluctance or skepticism allows for transcendence of one’s nature.
There are times when our spouses need love and support in a way that appears irrational to us. If the basis of the relationship is intellect and emotions, we are limited. If the relationship is G-dly and transcendent, then we are free to show up for our soulmate regardless of mood or understanding.
As we embrace Hashem’s suprarational commandments, the mitzvot that stretch our muscle of transcendence, we are ready to build a home for Hashem in this world, and within our being.
Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, N’vay Shalom, Faculty AJRCA
This Haftarah was chosen by the rabbis because of its connection to this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God’s command to create an impermanent, traveling dwelling where God would meet with the people. It provided healing for the distance created at Sinai when God’s powerful presence terrified the people, “…Let God not speak to us lest we die.”
I believe God’s psychological understanding motivated the building of a structure that was not only for the people, but by the people.
Centuries later, the command to build a permanent structure to replace the Mishkan is notcreated by the people. Solomon brings in outsiders to do the work. This time, the people’s time investment must be applied to following God’s laws – Mitzvot, Chukim, and Mishpatim. Terumah focuses on the people’s participation through their skills or offerings, while the Haftarah focuses on the laws, “…Keep My commandments to walk in them.”
As it turns out, the Temple was not permanent, it was destroyed twice, and the rabbis hold the people responsible. Perhaps an investment personally, in its creation, might have mitigated this result. I do believe that by comparing these texts we are reminded that both are important; being ‘wholly/Holy’ involved in the creation of a home for the Divine presence, whether standing in our communal midst or in our inner landscape, as well as following the laws that reflect walking in Divine ways. Both are necessary for God to dwell amongst us.
David Sacks, Podcasts “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World” Every Week
A father comes home from work. He’s exhausted and all he wants to do is slump in his chair, unwind, and read the paper. The thing is, he has a young child who is incredibly happy he’s home and wants to play with him. So, the father gets an idea.
In the paper there’s a complicated map of the world. The father takes it, rips it into a lot of different puzzle pieces, and tells his child, “When you put all these pieces together, we’ll play.” Then he leans back in his chair, confident that he’s bought himself the time he needs to relax.
Moments later, the child runs back in and says, “I finished!” The father can’t believe it. “How did you do it so quickly?” The child says, “It was easy. On the other side of the map, there was a picture of a person, and when I put the person together… the whole world fell into place.”
This story is simple but profound. It solves a problem in the commentaries about the Holy Temple and its prototype the Mishkan or Tabernacle that we prayed in during our forty years in the desert. On the one hand, the Torah Commentators state that the Mishkan was a miniature of a human being. On the other hand, they state it was a miniature of the universe. From this parable we see that both opinions are true. That’s because when we fix ourselves, we fix everything.
With thanks to Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, Rabbi Eva Robbins, Rabbi Janet Madden, David Sacks and Chana Margulies
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