Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife
"Where Is God?"
Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah reading this week is Terumah, from Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus 25:1 - 27:19. "Terumah" means "offering", referring to the gifts that the Israelites brought to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle when they wandered through the desert. Some offerings prescribed in the Torah were mandatory, such as the half-shekel that the men 20 years old and upward (the fighting men) were enjoined to give. Other offerings were known as "kol nidiv libo - free-will offerings moved by one's heart." The offerings mentioned in Terumah belong to the latter group. According to tradition, the people were so inspired to contribute to the building of God's House that the collection exceeded all expectations and there was more than enough to build the Tabernacle. Judaism has always relied on the generous intentions and actions of people throughout the ages. Judaism and synagogues survive on the backs of those who go above and beyond to insure the welfare of our communities and institutions. Here at BTBJ, one can see the generosity of so many throughout the walls and appointments of our building and beyond.
Exodus 25:8 states...
Vi'asu li Mikdash vi'shachanti bi'tocham... Build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them
One may read this pasuk (verse) and conclude that the first half doesn't match the second.
Shouldn't the verse read, "Build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within it"?
Not "among them" but "in it"?
One answer for this is the following...
While a sanctuary gives us a place and a focus to explore and develop our spirituality and our relationship with God and each other, the whole world can provide the setting to serve that ambition too!
The prophet Isaiah writes...
Kadosh kadosh kadosh, Adonay Tzevaot, mi'lo kol ha'aretz kivodo...
Holy holy holy is the Lord of Hosts... the whole world is filled with God's glory!
The Jewish people haven't always possessed awe-inspiring edifices in which to pray. Jews have worshipped in fields, in basements, on the road and on the move. If a grand structure was a pre-requisite, Jews would have prayed much less frequently throughout history. But in the spirit of Isaiah's observation, most anywhere can be an appropriate and stirring setting to seek God to communicate with the Lord and our souls. Over the years I have davened at Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Kotel, Masada, in Oriole Park, and other sporting events, at concert halls and a host of other places that became a Makom Kadosh because Jews gathered to pray there! The factor of time is more critical to when and where we daven than space. I have seen religious Jews standing on the platforms of the NYC subway stations suddenly duck into a phone booth (years ago!) and pretend to enter a conversation with a person when I knew they were davening Mincha (the afternoon service) because it would be too late to do so when they arrived at home! While the presence of a stimulating structure helps us to pray, the Torah teaches us this week that it is more important that the spirit of the Lord be found within the people than within a building! I love when we gather to pray and hear the voices of adults and children proclaiming our sacred heritage in our shul. But so many of us also treasure the Shabbat experience that we create in the woods at the Shabbaton, in Israel at the Kotel and in camp around a lake or bonfire. The site may change but not the spirit found within the people! That is a constant that we take wherever we go, wherever we pray, wherever we seek to do good. Inspired by Parshat Terumah, I am so grateful that we all have a beautiful sanctuary in which to pray and a building in which to gather and celebrate our Jewish lives! Moreover, inspired by this verse, I know that wherever we gather, we can connect with the spirit of God and all that is moving and true! That is why we create so much spirit at the Shabbaton and elsewhere... because while the scenery has changed the will of the people remain constant!! I hope all of us will be moved by this verse in Parshat Terumah to remember that no place is outside of God's grace and every place can be transformed into a Mikdash (holy place) if we but make it so! May our shul, our homes along with all the spaces we frequent and visit become places of holiness and goodness because of what we do there! Let each of us be moved by the vision of Isaiah and uplift the places we visit with our loving hearts and the mitzvot we can perform!
Holy holy holy... God and the world are waiting for us to uplift each other and glorify the entire planet!
Keyn Yi'hee Ratzon... May we be inspired to do so for good!
Shabbat Shalom to all!