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The way we carry God

Parshat Terumah

Exodus Chapter 25:1 -27:19

This week’s portion, Terumah gives the instructions for building the tabernacle of the desert called the Mishkan. This is the forerunner of the Temple. With great details, God tells Moses that the Children of Israel will bring all kinds of gifts that become the raw materials that the craftsmen will use to build it. A grand design is laid out for the enclosures, for the Ark of the Covenant and for the altar and the great golden Menorah. This will be the place of worship for the new nation of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant will be the container that holds the “Pact”. Traditionally it is understood that the Ten Commandments were placed in the Ark. This sacred container then became so special that God actually speaks from “above the cover between the two cherubim”. There are two angelic images that grace the cover of the ark. Ezekiel the prophet describes cherubim also in his mystical vision of the heavenly chariot. Maimonides writes that “the major goal of the Mishkan is to provide a location for the repose of God’s presence, which is the Ark”. Thus the Ark is our way and God’s way of being present in the world. Since everything about the Mishkan was portable, the instructions given here in Terumah also tell the Children of Israel to make long poles that will carry the ark. Four gold rings are to be cast and attached to the walls of the Ark and the “poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it.” (Ex. 25:15). These poles for carrying the ark from place to place allow us to bring God’s presence into the world wherever we go. The Children of Israel had just heard God’s voice booming in thunder from Mt. Sinai; a permanent place. And now the Children of Israel were to start their journey to the Promised Land. Would they leave God behind? This building project allowed for their God, our God to move with them. God would still speak with them wherever they went. For all the other utensils of the Mishkan-the poles that carried accoutrements and the outside curtains were temporary and practical. The poles were inserted and then removed when the Mishkan was set up. But the poles for the Ark of the Covenant remained in the rings even when it rested. Why did the poles remain on the ark? Perhaps it shows a unique partnership between the Jewish people and God. God’s Presence in the world depends in part upon us. We who must carry the Pact with us, in our lives and in our flesh, in our being, lift God up on our shoulders. Perhaps we have a special purpose to bring God into the world through the way we live out the pact of the covenant and carry it through the world.