The Jew faces a paradox when he considers himself: In the eyes of G‑d all Jews are equal: They each have a soul whose source is from G‑d (“And he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul”); but the Jew is an embodied soul and in his attributes—intelligence, temperament and strength of will—each is different. Clearly the Jew is called to exercise his individuality to the full; and yet he is supposed constantly to be animated by the life of the soul through which he comes into relation with G‑d and in which he stands as no more and no less than any other Jew. How are we to reconcile these two aspects? Where do man’s sameness and his distinctness fit into the life of Torah? These are the questions explored in this Sicha.

1. The Three Kinds of Terumah

Terumah means a contribution for sacred purposes, something which the Israelites gave for the building and maintenance of the Sanctuary; and our Sidra, in detailing the plans for its construction, describes the form that these contributions should take. There were three kinds of Terumah:1

(i) Shekalim: The annual contribution of half-a-shekel that was to pay for the sacrifices;

(ii) The once-only payment of a half-a-shekel to provide for the sockets (Adanim) of the sanctuary;

(iii) The provision of the materials and the coverings of the Sanctuary, which again was a once-only contribution, ceasing once it was built.

The first, in other words, was a perpetual offering, persisting all the while the Sanctuary and the Temple existed,2 and still commemorated today, in the donation of half of the common unit of currency, before Purim.3 The second and third, however, were limited in time to the actual period of construction.

What interest, then, can they have for us today? The answer is that the Torah is eternal, meaning that its every detail has some relevant implication for all Jews at all times. And especially so for the details of the Sanctuary, for we read of it, “And they shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell in them,”4 whose meaning is that G‑d’s presence will rest not only in the Sanctuary itself but also in the heart of each Jew. So that even if the physical building is destroyed, a Jew can construct his own sanctuary of the soul, as an inward correlate of the once-external place. And each detail of its construction will mirror the precise practical directives contained in this and the subsequent Sidrot.

2.The Foundation and the Building of the

The terumat ha-adanim (the offering for the sockets) was obligatory, everyone had to give an equal amount (half-a-shekel), and was for the foundation of the sanctuary. The terumat ha-mishkan (provision of materials) was voluntary, of diverse kinds, and was for the structure itself, and its coverings.

If we are to find their analogues in the inner life of the Jew, the adanim must be the original act of kabalat ol—the gesture of submission to G‑d’s will, when one foregoes one’s independent existence and becomes a vehicle through which the Torah flows. For this act is one in which all men are equal—it does not depend on the particularized capacities of intellect or emotion; it is not the exercise of a power but a state of receptivity. And it is the foundation of all true service, for without it a man is always distant from G‑d. If his thoughts and desires form a closed circle, there is no gap through which revelation can enter.

The Mishkan, on the other hand, is that which is built on the foundation. It is the articulation of one’s faith and its suffusion through one’s mind and heart. In this each man is different, because intellectual powers and temperament are not evenly distributed, and the extent to which he can grasp in thought, or allow his emotions to be refashioned by, the awareness of G‑d which he has achieved through kabbalat ol, will depend on his particular capacities.

3. Inward Forms

What are the forms in which these inner activities are expressed? The adanim correspond to prayer, for prayer is the foundation and initiation of a man’s daily service. The Mishkan, however, belongs to the realm of learning and action. Through learning, the molten energies aroused in prayer are shaped into thought and action, to be finally enacted in the practical world. Learning and action are the structure and outer covering of which prayer is the support and the animating spirit.

4. A Paradox

But in both the adanim and the Mishkan we can unearth a paradox, one that finds its way correspondingly into prayer on the one hand and learning and action on the other.

The fact that the terumat ha-adanim had to be brought in equal amounts by everyone suggests at a deeper level that the inner powers which it summoned forth were equal amongst men, and this is what was suggested by relating it to kabbalat ol, the gesture of submission which each man can make in the same way. If so, why was it that it was commanded only of men;5 why did it exclude women and children who were no less able to make the gesture? Similarly why is regular prayer commanded only to men,6 while in prayer all are equal, for each reads the same words?

On the other hand the provision for the Mishkan could be offered by anyone,7 women and children included. Yet the Mishkan stands for learning and action, precisely those areas where individual differences count and where, if anywhere, we would expect to find discrimination as to who may or may not participate. And similarly, we find that learning and action themselves are demanded of all, albeit suited to the particular individual: Some men are required to spend more time learning, some less, according to their situation;8 women learn those laws which are applicable to their situation;9 men must perform all of the Mitzvot; while women are released from positive commands which are bound up with a specific time.

5. The Foundation of Prayer and Action

The answer is that kabbalat ol lies even deeper than prayer. Its place is in the simple words of recognition and thanks that every Jew must say when he wakes in the morning, the Modeh Ani (“I make acknowledgment before You, living and enduring King, who has restored to me my soul in mercy great is Your faithfulness”). We say this even before washing our hands, which is necessary before all other prayer, because it comes from so deeply-embedded a recognition that however unprepared we may be for prayer in general, we are always in a position to utter these words.

When we turn later to prayer, we are transmitting this nascent awareness into something we can understand and feel. And because our intellectual and emotional capacities are finite, we must put it into a form of words. But because we pray in the aftermath of the act of kabbalat ol, we still stand as equals in submission, so each must use the same words. We are now using our particular powers, but in the light of the equality of souls.

So likewise does the paradox resolve itself in the case of the Mishkan, which is for us the symbol of learning and action. In action, unlike prayer, there is no limitation of finitude: We must seek to enact G‑d’s will everywhere. Hence it must devolve on all. But each in his own way. The scope of any individual’s involvement in the world is bounded by his capacities and his situation. So neither the offering for the Mishkan nor the parallel acts of learning and Mitzvot, have set limits, even though they are asked of everyone.

6. Building an Inner Sanctuary

So we can see that an apparent anachronism—the terumot of the adanim and the Mishkan—which has no physical application today, in fact describes the precise manner in which a man must seek to build his own sanctuary within himself, and thus create a space for G‑d’s presence.

First, he must lay the foundation by the act of accepting G‑d’s will as his own, which he does in the Modeh Ani with his first waking words;

Second, he must articulate this foundation into thought and feeling, in the fixed forms of prayer (the adanim);

Third, he must realize its implication for his actions, by learning, which is the discrimination between acts which are in accord with G‑d’s will and those which are not;

Lastly, he must emerge into the world of action and embody there what has been transmitted to him in the prior stages of service (Mishkan).

These are the foundations, the walls and the coverings, of his personal sanctuary, ever recreated day by day, evolving as they do from what is most universal to what is most particular in his nature; and in this way he is able to admit G‑d into the very depths of his being.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. XI pp. 109-122 (adapted))