4 Adar

How do we listen to God‘s Voice today?

Last week’s parashah Mishpatim ended dramatically with Moshe ascending Mt. Sinai in a cloud of smoke where he would be handed the Ten Commandments. Because Parashat Terumah begins with the conjunction “and”, we might think that the narrative would continue in that vein but instead it jumps ahead to the detailed account of the building of the Mishkan or Tabernacle. That is a discussion for another day.

The first part of Exodus 25:1 begins with “And the LORD spoke to Moshe saying, speak to the sons of Israel to take to me terumah”.  “V’daber YHVH al Moshe l’emor, daber el bnei Israel v’yaqchu-li terumah” דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. Our rabbi of blessed memory spoke to us about the difference between taking and giving. To take infers bringing something that we already have. In other words, God provided them with everything they would need to take to Him. Everything used to build the Mishkan was supplied by the Egyptians as payment for them to leave.

They didn’t purchase them, but they needed to bring them to God with a willing heart as it says in the second part of this same verse, from every man whose heart makes him willing, you shall take My offeringme’eit kol ish asher yidbeinu levo tiqchu et terumah מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי. If they didn’t have a willing heart, God didn’t want it. The same holds true today. He is not interested in us giving to Him out of a sense of sacrifice; He sees our kavanah, our intentions. When we give a gift to any congregation or to people within our community whether here or abroad, to friends or family, we need to search our hearts.

Giving or taking with a willing heart suggests that it is not a sacrifice; we’re not giving up anything; in fact, when we give with a willing heart, it elevates us, at a spiritual level. Our rabbi taught us that the word Terumah, translated as “offering”, contains the Hebrew root “roum” which means “elevate”. He always spoke of our walk with God as being on an upward spiral. We are elevated whenever we give with a willing heart. The opposite is true of stingy people or those who have religious pride; they never feel blessed, but rather they demand sacrifice and martyrdom from others.

What is our motivation for giving…anything to anyone?

Is it to show off, to see our name on some plaque, as leverage to receive something in return or even out of a sense of guilt or obligation? If so, let’s not expect to earn brownie points in heaven.  We can’t hide our intentions from our God.

This is followed by a spectacular verse: v’asu-li miqdash v’shachanti b’tocham. וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם “and make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.”  When we read all the details that it took to build this sanctuary, we might wonder why our Creator needed such an elaborate dwelling.  The truth is, He didn’t. He doesn’t need anything from us. We’re the ones who need everything from Him.  He cannot be contained in a small sanctuary, or in the Temple that King Solomon built in Jerusalem, nor in Herod’s Temple not even in the future temple described in Ezekiel, which according to our sages will be much larger than all three. He never said that He would dwell in it but that He would “dwell among them”.  But there are conditions for Him dwelling among us, as it says in this week’s Haftarah portion in 1 Kings 6:13: “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people, Israel.’ 

But this verse is preceded by these words “ And the LORD came to Solomon saying, ‘As for this house which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes (Chukkim), and execute My judgments (Mishpatim), and keep all My commandments (Mitzvot) to walk in them; then I will fulfill My promise to you, which I gave to your father David;” The Mitzvot, the Chukkim and the Mishpatim are all contained within the Ten Commandments, the greatest gift that humanity could ever receive.  If we guard these in our hearts and live accordingly, we would be “roum”, elevated to the level that we can have our Creator dwell among us. If we do not, He allows us to experience the consequences of our actions. That is the cost of having Free Will. It’s not about being holy, having a halo on our heads or being a saint; it’s about obedience.

The Torah goes into amazing detail of the design for the sanctuary which He showed Moshe during the time He was up receiving the Tablets. It also details the construction of an ark which would be covered with pure gold that does not rust or erode and would protect the precious treasure that would be housed within it. What would be placed within the ark? Ha edut asher eiten eilecha  הָעֵדֻת, אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן, אֵלֶיךָ “the testimony that I shall give you…” The Ten Commandments were carved in stone by the finger of God.

After they put on the pure gold ark cover and placed the testimony within it, God said, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the ark cover, from between the two keruvim (cherubs) which are upon the ark of the Testimony….”  I wondered why two cherubs. It occurred to me that perhaps they are part of the theme of “roum” – being elevated. The keruvim represent those who dwell in the spiritual realm; they were guarding God’s treasure chest, the ark, which contains His special gift to us – the Tablets.

Strangely, this verse brought up this question in my mind. What is the best form of government?

Mankind has gone to go to war time and again trying to impose their types of government upon the world. Here are some common forms: Democracy, Socialism, Communism, Oligarchy, Monarchy and Fascism. In 1 Samuel 8 when the prophet’s own sons took bribes and perverted justice, the elders of Israel said to him, “You are old, and your sons are not walking in your ways, so make us a king to judge us, like all the nations. Samuel was displeased but prayed to the LORD who said to Samuel: “Listen to the voice of the people for they have not rejected you, they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.”

What type of government would best serve mankind? Exodus 25:22 answered that question for me. Moshe had set up a system on the advice of his father-in-law Yitro, where men who feared God, men of truth, hating unjust gain, loving justice, would be able to rule the people as well as the cohanim who would hear directly from the Creator when they asked for guidance.  He would meet and speak to them there. We know from the Torah that both men and women have heard His voice directly. He spoke with Moses face to face.  But how can we apply this to our lives today? Does God speak directly with us?  It’s true that some of us are attuned to His voice but the world for the most part is not listening.

Once again like Pharaoh, the gods of this world are in a position to do battle with the God of the universe. Leaders of countries, leaders of technology, medicine and pharmacology, education, finance, environment etc. all gather to meet to decide the fate of this planet.  We know how the first king of Israel, Shaul behaved and how his kingship was wrenched from him because he would not listen to the voice of our Creator.

How do we listen to Him today? We no longer have the golden ark of the Covenant containing the physical tablets handed to Moshe; we no longer have a Temple or a Mishkan; we no longer have people who we know are God’s chosen prophets…most have chosen themselves.  What we do have has stood the test of time and that is the Ten Commandments, and the Torah which delineates their application to our lives and the Tanach with its many stories of people who listened and obeyed and those who didn’t.  The question is, do we listen and obey?  Do we realize that the God who spoke to Moses has not changed? We are the ones who changed Him out of expediency.

I’m filled with a sense of desperation when I watch world news; wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, corruption at every level of government, immorality at levels not seen in my lifetime and on and on.  In the Israel that I love, protesters are filling the streets and surrounding the Knesset targeting the coalition’s moves to restructure aspects of Israel’s Supreme Court’s powers. This reminded me of the days when Yeshua spoke out not only against the Pharisees but also the politicians who were in bed with Rome. That was why he was arrested and killed.

Sinat Chinam, Free Hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple and our expulsion from Jerusalem is alive again. The consequence is that our enemies are on the rise. This is not only happening in Israel.  Yeshua wanted his people, my people, to return to the basic Torah, to Biblical Judaism not to the Judaism that places such burdens on the people, that they are turned away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Yeshua’s role was to entreat our people to return to their role of being a light to the nations given to us by our Creator.

How can God dwell among us in the environment that we are creating? God will not stand by and watch for very long as His creation corrupts itself. Thankfully there is still a remnant of those who love Him and that I believe is what is staying His Hand from completely destroying us as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. The Creator is the only One who can rule over us in justice, in mercy and provide us with protection from our enemies. Our part is to be loyal to Him and obedient to His Commandments.

Our Creator showed Moshe the pattern for the earthly tabernacle with elements of the divine clearly visible. It would house the golden ark, God’s treasure chest protected by the keruvim. This is a beautiful picture of those who are God’s Am Segullah, His treasured people.  We, who are made in His image,  house within us the gift in the ark, His Ten Commandments.  The realm of the spiritual, depicted by the keruvim, guards us as we obey them and walk with our God.

No one said that it would be easy to follow Him. We would be tried and tested; we would want to run in the other direction; at times we would look like fools and be mocked. But when our eyes and our ears are opened to listen to His voice, the blessings cannot be counted.

During these coming days, months, perhaps even years as we watch the increase of immorality to the point of sheer wickedness and amorality on this planet, let us not lose hope. We know Who is in control, Who is protecting us, and we know the ending and it is glorious.

We are God’s Am Segullah, His treasured people. The Ten Commandments are the treasure He gave us.  We belong together to share with the world.  Without them, the world is lost.

May our lives be worthy to have our God live among us and when they’re not, let us turn back to Him and be willing to be “roum” elevated by listening to His voice, and by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Are we willing to be elevated – “roum” – by listening to His voice?

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Jacobson Pardo