Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 902;
Vol. XVI, p. 286ff; Vol. XXI, p. 146ff
A Contradiction in Terms
When dedicating the Beis HaMikdash, King Shlomo exclaimed in wonderment: “Will G‑d indeed dwell on this earth? The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain You, how much less this house!” For the Beis HaMikdash was not merely a centralized location for man’s worship of G‑d, it was a place where G‑d’s Presence was and is manifest. Although “the entire earth is full of His glory,” G‑d’s Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all existence, but in a hidden way. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, was “the place where He chose to cause His name to dwell.” There was no concealment; His Presence was openly manifest.
This seems impossible; there is no apparent way that spirituality can be openly manifest in our material world. For material existence to come into being, G‑d condensed and contracted His light and life-energy so that it could become enclothed in material entities. This is absolutely necessary; were G‑dly light to be revealed without restraint, it would nullify all matter.
To allow for our world to continue in a stable manner, G‑d structured this process of self-containment with laws and principles as binding as those governing nature. He brought into being an entire framework of spiritual worlds whose purpose is to convey Divine energy from level to level until it undergoes the degree of contraction necessary to be enclothed in material form. An open revelation of G‑dliness runs contrary to this entire pattern, defying the limits which He Himself established.
Nevertheless, although G‑d limited the extent of His revelation when structuring the world, He did not limit Himself. He created a world with set bounds, but He Himself is not bound by them, and can alter them at will. He can invest His Presence in our material realm, and did so in the Sanctuary and in the Beis HaMikdash.
In G‑d’s Inner Chamber
The Divine Presence was revealed in the Holy of Holies, where an ongoing miracle reflected the nature of the revelation in the Beis HaMikdash. The width of the Holy of Holies was 20 cubits. The Ark of the Covenant, positioned lengthwise in the chamber, was two and one half cubits long, yet there were ten cubits from either edge of the ark to the wall. In other words, the physical ark occupied no space!
In the Beis HaMikdash, precise measurement was a necessity. Even a slight deviation from the required dimensions would render an article or building invalid. The fact that the place of the ark transcended the limits of space thus represents a fusion of finiteness and infinity. This communicates the nature of G‑d’s Being. He transcends both finiteness and infinity, and yet manifests Himself in both.
This is the Torah’s intent when speaking of G‑d “choos[ing] a place for His name to dwell”: the physical limits of our world will not be negated, yet the spiritual will be revealed. And this fusion of opposites will enable us to become conscious of His essence, which transcends and encompasses both the physical and the spiritual.
What Man Contributes
G‑d did not want this revelation to be dependent on His influence alone. As reflected in the verse: “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within,” He chose to make the revelation of His Presence dependent on man’s activity. Since any revelation of G‑d’s Presence transcends the limits of our existence, the initiative must come from Him. Nevertheless, “G‑d did not have His Presence rest upon Israel until they performed labor” building the Sanctuary where His Presence would dwell.
Why was man’s activity necessary? Because G‑d’s intent is that the revelation of His Presence be internalized within the world, becoming part of the fabric of its existence. Were the revelation to come only from above, it would merely nullify worldliness. To cite a parallel: when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, the world ground to a standstill. “No bird chirped… nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar.” Although G‑dliness was revealed within the world, material existence did not play a contributory role.
When, by contrast, the dwelling for G‑d is built by man himself part of the material world the nature of the materials used is elevated. This enables G‑d’s Presence to be revealed within these entities while they continue to exist within their own context.
When a revelation of G‑dliness comes from above, it is dependent on His influence, and is therefore temporary. For example, when G‑d descended on Mount Sinai, the mountain became holy and therefore, “all that ascend the mountain must die.” When, however, G‑d’s Presence was withdrawn from the mountain, the Jews were allowed to ascend it, for the fundamental nature of the mountain had not changed; it remained an ordinary mountain.
With regard to the Sanctuary and to a greater extent the Beis HaMikdash holiness became a permanent part of their own being. And thus on the verse: “I will lay waste to your Sanctuaries,” our Sages commented: “Even though they have been devastated, their sanctity remains.” And therefore, it is forbidden to ascend to the site of the Beis HaMikdash in the present age.
The above concepts are highlighted by the name of the Torah reading. Terumah, meaning “lifting up” or “separation,” puts the focus on man’s attempts to establish a dwelling for G‑d. The Torah proceeds to state that this terumah must involve 13 different articles: gold, silver, brass…. This indicates that man’s task is to incorporate the various elements of worldly existence into G‑d’s dwelling.
More particularly, the double interpretation of the name Terumah reflects two factors necessary in creating a dwelling for G‑d. First, a person must designate his gift, separating it from his other worldly property. And then through its consecration, its nature becomes elevated above the ordinary material plane.
These two phases relate to the two services mentioned in the verse, “turn away from evil and do good.” When a person prepares a dwelling for a king, he must first clean it. Afterwards, he brings in attractive articles. Similarly, to make our world a dwelling for G‑d, “separation” is necessary to purge the self-orientation encouraged by worldly existence. Only then is the world “elevated,” becoming a medium to draw down G‑d’s light.
Not an Island
The Beis HaMikdash was not intended to be an isolated corner of holiness. Instead, its windows were designed to spread light outward. For the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash was intended to illuminate the world.
The most complete expression of this concept will come in the Era of the Redemption. From “the mountain of G‑d’s house” will spread forth light and holiness, motivating all people to learn G‑d’s ways and “walk in His paths.”
These revelations are dependent on our efforts to encourage the manifestation of the Divine Presence. Making our homes and our surroundings “sanctuaries in microcosm” will cause G‑d to reveal His Presence in the world.