What Unites Us?

Adar 4 5780

The last parashah ends with Moshe going up Mt. Sinai where he will remain 40 days and 40 nights receiving the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Suddenly the Torah jumps to Parashat Terumah which will deal with the description of the building of the Mishkan. It begins in Exodus 25 where in verse 2, it says, “Tell the Israelites to set aside a contribution (terumah) from anyone with a willing heart…” The root of the Hebrew word terumah, (contribution) is רום roum which alludes to an idea of being elevated into His Presence. When certain words are used in the Torah, it is because the Creator wants to teach us something special. In Western mentality, the heart is the center of “feelings” while in the East, it refers to chochma – חוכמה – intelligence, binah – בינה – wisdom, intention – כוונה – Kavanah, and the center of thought. Love takes on a very different meaning in the Hebrew; one of practical action and decision-making. The Creator is speaking to our sense of reason. He does not manipulate us through emotions.

The continuity of the narrative of the last portion is suddenly cut with the construction of the mobile tabernacle which has three interchangeable Hebrew terms – Mikdash – מִקְדָּשׁ (sanctuary), the Mishkan מִּשְׁכָּן (dwelling place), and Ohel Moed אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵד (tent of meeting). In Egypt even the smallest of gods was housed in a very elaborate temple but here the Israelites were asked to build a very simple tent in which the Creator would meet with Moshe.

The Israelites had seen the Creator perform one miracle after another, yet they kept complaining. The only time we heard them rejoicing, dancing and singing praises to Him was after they crossed the Red Sea. They immediately forgot, no matter how much the Creator had done for them. Moshe left right after they witnessed something that humanity had not seen before or after – contact with the Divine. Moshe returned with the tablets and then the Torah jumped to this portion. Chapter 25-31 gives us the instructions for the sanctuary and ends with how we were to guard the Shabbat. Chapter 32-34 speaks of the sin of the golden calf and Moshe’s time on Mt. Sinai. Chapter 35 returns to the completion of the sanctuary but begins once again with instructions for the Shabbat. Sometimes we read the Scriptures for the sake of reading, but we miss what the Creator wants us to glean from His message. Why does the Torah do this? The sin of idolatry that Israel committed was being enveloped by the sanctuary from which the Creator would dwell among them.

What do the Mishkan and the Shabbat have in common? Our sages say that it is not that Israel keeps the Shabbat, but that the Shabbat keeps Israel. With that theme in mind, did the Creator need a dwelling place or did Israel? Many people ask me if they need to come here on Shabbat to worship God. That’s the wrong question. The Shabbat was not given to us to worship Him. He gave it to us to enjoy our time and our rest from the troubles of the week, together as a people. The Bore Olam would cover the sin of the golden calf with the Shabbat and the Mishkan. He wanted Israel to know that now they would need to change their “focus”, to place their attention upon Him rather than upon the false gods of Egypt.

The Israelites had panicked when Moshe left them for that month and a half, and they were doing what they felt they needed to do to keep going. God calls each one of us to participate in the building of our Mishkan. Everything had been done by the Creator for Israel up to that moment, like children; now we would have to grow up. How many of us live like that, preferring that someone else will do things for us? The Creator wants us to take action, to do our part. He gave us all the tools that we need to keep going. Sadly, we don’t acknowledge His gifts to us but prefer to allow our past to stop us from using them and growing. The Creator wanted to show the Israelites that they could succeed, thus He gave them the special project of building the Mishkan; in this way He would bring unity to Israel. Everyone participated in whatever way they could; they all brought something to the table; some worked on construction, others weaving, etc.; in this way they could see their value. When we work together, we are strong. When we are like a lone ranger, we are weak.

Today the modern world has lost focus on the meaning of the Mishkan and Shabbat. Today they are more interested in seeing what others will do for them instead of looking at what they can do for the good of the whole. People are more interested in living with a façade than on developing who they truly are within. The tabernacle was simple on the outside but magnificent from within. External beauty is emphasized today instead of having high moral values. People want to be accepted by others, seeking praise at how open-mindedness they are, instead of speaking up for what is true. Those who give their opinion about how immoral the world is becoming, suffer the most backlash.

We need to return and put our focus on Him, to come together to work as a body, joyfully and gladly. Let us never put ourselves down or look for excuses for not putting our talents to work for the greater good. We need to have a willing heart which means that we are ready to serve, to help and to do whatever is necessary to be done without looking for what’s in it for me, for praise or/and recognition. This is why the sanctuary and the Shabbat were placed before and after the golden calf. We all have a golden calf in our lives. What is yours? The Shabbat and the Mishkan bring us together to focus upon the Creator. He doesn’t need to rest. He doesn’t need a place to dwell. We are the ones who need both.