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A Dwelling Among Mortals

A Dwelling Among Mortals

Terumah; Exodus 25:1-27:19


Adapted from
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:1 “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 is2 manifest.3 Although “the entire earth is full of His glory,”4 G‑d’s Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all existence, but in a hidden way.5 The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, was “the place where He chose to cause His name to dwell.”6 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!7

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.8

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:9 “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”10 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.”11 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.”12 When, however, G‑d’s Presence was withdrawn from the mountain, the Jews were allowed to ascend it,13 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:14 “I will lay waste to your Sanctuaries,” our Sages commented:15 “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.

Two Phases

The above concepts are highlighted by the name of the Torah reading. Terumah,16 meaning “lifting up”17 or “separation,”18 puts the focus on man’s attempts to establish a dwelling for G‑d. The Torah proceeds to state19 that this terumah must involve 13 different articles:20 gold, silver, brass…. This indicates that man’s task is to incorporate the various elements of worldly existence into G‑d’s dwelling.21

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.22

These two phases relate to the two services mentioned in the verse,23 “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.24 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.25 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.26 From “the mountain of G‑d’s house”27 will spread forth light and holiness, motivating all people to learn G‑d’s ways and “walk in His paths.”28

These revelations are dependent on our efforts to encourage the manifestation of the Divine Presence. Making our homes and our surroundings “sanctuaries in microcosm”29 will cause G‑d to reveal His Presence in the world.

I Kings 8:27.
For even in the present age, when the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, G‑d’s Presence rests upon its site. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:16.
See the essay entitled, “G‑d’s Chosen House” in Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem (S.I.E., N.Y., 1994), where these concepts are explained.
Isaiah 6:3.
In human terms, concealment means that one object is obscured by another. With regard to G‑d, there is nothing which can conceal Him. Instead, His concealment is a willful act on His part. See the maamar Adam Ki Yakriv in the series of discourses entitled, Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah, 5666.
Deuteronomy 12:11.
Yoma 21a.
See the essay entitled, “A Dwelling Place for G‑d in Our World” in Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem (S.I.E., N.Y. 1994), which elaborates on this concept.
Exodus 25:8.
Avos d’Rabbi Nosson, ch. 11.
Shmos Rabbah 29:9.
Exodus 19:12.
Ibid.: 13.
Leviticus 26:31.
Megillah 28a.
The choice of the word Terumah as the name of the Torah reading is significant because it is further from the beginning of the reading than most of the other names chosen.
Zohar, Vol. II, p. 147a.
Rashi, Targum Onkelos, and others commenting on the opening verse of the Torah reading.
Exodus 25:3-7.
This follows the interpretation of Rashi (Exodus 25:2). Rabbeinu Bachaye and others reckon 15 items donated for the Sanctuary.
These concepts indicate a sequence to the readings of Yisro, Mishpatim, and Terumah. Yisro focuses on the Giving of the Torah, when the division between the physical and the spiritual was nullified. Mishpatim reflects the extension of the bond between the spiritual and the physical into human reason. Moreover, it provides us with guidelines for living spiritually within the material world. With the command for the construction of the Sanctuary, Terumah represents the consummation of the process, the transformation of material existence into a dwelling for G‑d.
This concept has halachic ramifications. Once an object is consecrated, it can no longer be used for mundane purposes. The concept of elevation that results from the transfer of an article to the Sanctuary is reflected in Genesis 23:20 which states: “And Efron’s field in Machpelah ascended to Avraham.” Rashi explains that the word “ascended” is used because through the transfer the field became elevated, departing from the ownership of an ordinary person and entering Avraham’s possession.
Psalms 34:15.
Likkutei Torah, Balak 70c.
Menachos 86b, Vayikra Rabbah 31:7. See the essay entitled “The Design of the Menorah ” in Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem, where this concept is explained.
See the maamar entitled Gadol Yiheyeh Kavod HaBayis HaZeh in Anticipating the Redemption (S.I.E., N.Y., 1994).
Isaiah 2:2.
Ibid.: 3.
Yechezkel 11:6; see the essay of this title in Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992).
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Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami, Florida February 3, 2011

Build Me a Home Now One does not build a home without plans, without a site for the structure, and without our hands. The plans for the Temple exist, the site is occupied by a golden idol whose priests defile the ground, and throw holy artifacts in the trash. He has given you back the land, but you refuse to sanctify it. You say that your homes and synagogues are now His home, but they are tombs to house the walking dead. You say you are a nation of holy people, and the world laughs at you! No light shines from Temple Mount to show all that our G-d is their G-d. He has given you your hearts desire, and you wait for Him to build His own house, to bring it down from the sky. You must not rely upon a miracle, and pray to a broken wall, and continue to fight among yourselves. Rebuild a Temple for the Lord with your own hands, or He will scatter you again among the alien nations, and you will weep for Jerusalem covered in dust. Reply

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