The revelation has happened. God’s Divine Presence was revealed at Mt. Sinai. The people heard it and agreed to accept the Torah. They said “we will do it and observe it- Na’aseh v’nishmah”. Now how to maintain it? How can the Israelites keep God in their midst? How can they maintain that connection? Will it only be through the expression of miracles? And how can God keep that ongoing presence and sign among the Israelites? God forbade the making of idols and graven images as part of the Ten Responsibilities. But what can then be done?
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, answers that question. “Make for Me a sanctuary in your midst, that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8). God instructs Moses and the Children of Israel to make the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. This portable tabernacle is a place for the Israelites to gather round. It is a place for Moses to address the Children of Israel. It is a place of encounter for God and Moses. It is a place of Divine Indwelling. In other words it is the place where God meets the people and people meet God. The Tabernacle is a visible sign of the Holy Presence of God in the midst of the People. God doesn’t just dwell on the mountain top. But once the people have accepted the revelation and the law as theirs, God is no longer the distant voice from above. But now God’s voice will be in the middle of the People.
And more importantly the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting is the place where God and the Children of Israel will be entwined. Their sacrifices will be brought there. Their sins will be forgiven there. And each Israelite will have a role in the assembling of the Tabernacle and ensuring its safety as they journey from place to place. They also have a responsibility and a stake in creating in. Each person will bring a terumah offering, a free will offering to help create this Holy Space of God’s Dwelling. The Children of Israel bring the scraps of yarn and cloth, gold and silver, wood and their skills to fashion this important place and symbol.
Their voluntary offerings build God’s home. The involvement of the People in this project is critical.
This week’s portion then offers us a model of involvement. To ensure that God dwells in our midst we have to literally be the stake holders. We have to bring and share our gifts with the Divine. We have to take the responsibility for carrying God on our shoulders like the priests of those days carried the planks and curtains and the Ark of the Covenant that they built to hold the Ten Responsibilities, the very footstool of the Throne of Heaven.
God is not just a something we think about in the abstract. But the symbols and I might add the rituals of our people remind us with sacred drama of God’s presence with us. Sometimes it might feel awkward to perform a ritual. Especially when we are on our own. But the blessing we recite helps brings God alive in our lives and brings us a measure of mindfulness. As the sanctuary of old literally was in the middle of the people, the rituals and practices of our Judaism bring God’s presence to us and us to God. So if you have doubts or been cynical about God. If you question the reality of the Holy One or your connection to the Jewish People then it is time to do. It is time to bring an offering and engage in creating the space within you for God to dwell. If you keep shutting out the Source of All Creation from your life, you are cutting yourself off from life. So let this be our offering, our free will offering and affect the indwelling of the Holy One in our lives and the lives of the Jewish People. “Make for Me a Sanctuary in your midst that I may dwell among them”