Portion “Terumah” (Exodus 25:1-27:19) is concerned mainly with instructions on building the portable “mishkan”. This is the reflection in Torah of the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The details of the building are complex and the details of the construction are followed up by a second portion, two Shabbatot from now, that complete this mini cycle. The need to have a location for God is a very interesting issue that reflects the social changes that take place as the Monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon emerge. One of the most famous verses in the portion is from the very beginning when we read in 25:8 “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”.
There have been countless commentaries about this verse and the word “b’tocham”, which to dwell “among them” and not in it (as in sanctuary). Nowhere within the context of the Torah is the “mishkan” meant to be THE place where God dwells. Indeed, as some have written, God dwells wherever you let God in. That speaks to a growing number of Boomers as we get older and seek to reflect on our own spiritual journey. As we look back (and forward) and try to evaluate our own relationship with what we have called or call God, we understand that this concept may have changed over the course of a lifetime.
For some, God does dwell “in it”. You got to synagogue and that is where God is and we may change behavior etc because that is where God resides. How contrary to tradition! Indeed,as I meet with and work with congregations, the conversation often turns to the need to get away from being fixated on the building. Many Boomers and others (especially Millenials) have found great meaning in creating relationships and community outside of the need to have everything in a dedicated building. Sacred space is portable as our soul. One of the earmarks of the changing nature of the modern American Jewish community is the trend to create community outside of a building. This is a challenge to congregations who insist on having everything in that brick and mortar space.
Which, of course, brings us to a questions implicit in our verse. Where do you find your God? Do you need that sacred space of a building? Or, as so many are finding, you meet the sacred and the Divine in many different places and in many different variations of community.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.