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Parshat Terumah – May He Dwell within Us


Exodus 25:1-27:19

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

While the English translation renders the last two words of the verse as “among them”, (which actually follows the translation of Onkelos, loc. cit.), the actual Hebrew word is בטוחם, betocham, “within them”.  Between the literal and free translations, we can derive that the building of a mikdash, a sanctuary, somehow brings G-d between us and within us.  But how is it possible for an Infinite Being to dwell in a finite dimension?

The answer is, there is a qualitative difference between size and infinity.  That which is large has more of a relationship to other things that are large.  If we envision G-d to be the Largest Being, we would erroneously reason that He would then have more interest in larger things, such as a sequoia tree or a supergiant star, then in a human being.  But G-d is infinite, which means that He to be found everywhere, even at the most infinitesimal level.  “There is no place devoid of Him” (Tikkunei Zohar 57).  

Yet, in that case, why does G-d require a sanctuary, since He dwells everywhere already?

In the Midrash, we learn that G-d has desired, so to speak, a dwelling place in the lower worlds since the beginning of Creation, but would not allow His Presence to descend here until certain preconditions were met, namely, the acceptance of the yoke of Torah by the Jewish people, and by extension, recognition of Him by all peoples.  Once His Will was revealed to humankind regarding how He wants us to relate to Him, and to each other, He assented to dwell amongst us.  Our verse alludes to a positive commandment to actually build a structure which serves as a focal point for us, a place to make offerings, to celebrate Him, and to experience closeness to Him (Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 1:1).  In English, the word “sanctuary” has several meanings, including “a holy place or shrine” and “a place of refuge and safety”.  Both are descriptive of what the Tabernacle represents.  We invoke a consciousness of G-d by building the building and utilizing it as a point of contact, and, once there is a focal point, we are able to run to G-d as it were, and take refuge in Him.  

Let’s not forget that the verse says, “and I shall dwell amongst them/within them” and not “within it”.  In the tale of the Seven Beggars, Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav z”l describes a tree that stands beyond space, meaning that, not being fettered by the dimension of space, it can accommodate every creature; there is a place for everyone there.  We can all take shelter in its shade.  G-d Himself is referred to as HaMakom, “the Place”, because “He is the Place of the world but the world is not His place” (Bereshit Rabbah 68:10).  Reb Noson Sternhartz z”l relates the idea of transcending space to the complaint of the moon at the outset of Creation, when the moon, which was at that time equal in size to the sun, protested, “two kings cannot wear one crown!”.  G-d punished the moon by reducing its size, forcing it to wax and wane, and restricting its dominance to the night hours.  Because the moon failed to recognize that with G-d, there is room for everyone and everything, it had to exist within the bounds of spatiality (Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Tzitzit 3).   

How can G-d, Who is Infinite, dwell amongst us?  There’s no room!  Here is the deeper meaning of the mikdash.  We have to make a place for Him.  When we build communities, we have to invite Him to join us; even the most enlightened, peaceful human gathering is constricting until G-d is invited in.  At that point, we can partake of His Infiniteness, and realize that there is room for everyone.


By Rabbi Tani Burton

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