Terumah: “That I May Dwell Among Them”

The Western Wall, Jerusalem/Steve Lubetkin Photo. Used by permission.
The Western Wall, Jerusalem/Steve Lubetkin Photo. Used by permission.

Terumah, the portion for this week, is mainly concerned with instructions on building the temporary portable tabernacle. At the beginning of the portion is the instruction to bring “gifts” to the process and we read in Exodus 25:8 “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”. This lovely verse usually sparks discussion about the necessity of having a building in order for God to be present. We are so used to having the building as a symbol of God’s presence. Indeed, there is a great Midrash that looked at the idea of not just 1 sanctuary but many and how God could be present in so many places. The Midrash is a parable of a king whose daughter got married to a prince from another country. The king knew that he could not prevent the daughter from leaving and moving with her new husband to another location. SO, he says: “Wherever you live, build for me an apartment so that I can come and visit you” (Exodus Rabbah 33:11 as quoted in Etz Hayim. p.486). I guess you could say that this is the proof text for what we now call an in-law space.
The message here can also be one that seems more topical today; the fact that God, that spiritual reality, can be wherever we wish it to be. We encounter so many conversations about the role of spirituality in our life. I guess that we also understand, especially as we get a little older, that we can find that sense of God or spirituality in so many places, in fact, wherever we may look. It may not be within a formal building, indeed, it increasingly is not within a formal building or within a formal worship service. So many of our generation find that sense of the spiritual at the ocean, or in communion with nature, or through the arts. Perhpas it is the fact, as it has always been, that we find God where we allow our souls to let God in, that the sanctuary within which God dwells, must begin with our own soul; that if our soul has been created to choose and live with a foundation of faith and spiritual practice, then surely God will dwell within it.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

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