Parshat Truma, like the Torah portions before it, deals with descriptions of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), the temporary temple that Am Yisrael built during its years in the desert before entering the Land of Israel. It served the people for close to 500 years until King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Divine instruction to build the Mishkan was given in the following verse: “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25, 8) Anyone who is familiar with Jewish faith reads this verse and asks himself this question: Why does G-d need a sanctuary? Jewish faith, beginning with Avraham Avinu, describes G-d as an intangible being, unlimited, and which is not particular to a specific place. Building the Tabernacle and Temple seemingly contradicts this concept since, if G-d is not in a specific place, He also does not have any requirements. Why, therefore, does G-d instruct to build Him a sanctuary? Generations of Jewish thinkers have dealt with this question, and even Moshe Rabbeinu himself dealt with it, as the midrash describes: When the Blessed be He told Moshe “Make me a sanctuary,” he began to wonder and said, “The honor of the Blessed be He fills the upper and lower spaces, and He says – Make me a sanctuary?!” (Midrash Rabba for Parshat Truma) The answer to Moshe’s question is found in a different midrash describing a conversation between Am Yisrael and G-d: Yisrael said before the Blessed be He: “Master of the Universe! The kings of the goyim have a tent and a table and a lamp… and You are our King…Should you not have the signs of kingship?” He said to them: “My children, those flesh and blood people need all that, but I do not” After the nation continued to implore G-d, the Blessed be He answered them as follows: “If so, do as you wish, but do it when I command you to.” (Midrash Aggadah) With these last words of the midrash, we reveal the true goal of the Mishkan.
Many people recognize the value of worshiping G-d and see a spiritual lifestyle as one we should aspire to. But they do not accept that there is a specific way upon which to plot the spiritual path that man takes. Slogans such as “Every person has his own truth,” and, “I am a Jew at heart,” reflect this attitude. Having complete freedom to determine one’s own spiritual path appeals to many people, and to be truthful, there is something right about it, since should be that every person creates his own personal path which expresses his traits and qualities rather than being part of the “herd.”
But the Torah teaches us that freedom has its limitations. There is a specific way, with exact instructions, of how man should act in all that relates to his spiritual path. Within this path there is flexibility and openness for including personal taste and style, but all this can only be within the path that the Torah sets up for us.
The Temple acts as the ultimate sacrifice for G-d. This feeling is sensed by many who come to the Western Wall, the sacred site closest to the Temple Mount, where one feels the excitement and the holy spirit that rests there. All this comes from the power of the Temple that stood on the Mount some 2,000 years ago. And if that feeling remains until today, one can only imagine how a person felt who came to visit the Temple itself. That is the reason why Am Yisrael wanted to build a temple to G-d.
But at this site, at the height of this transcendental experience, we are reminded that all the details of the Temple were given precisely. Personal experience has tremendous power, but it advances man in the right direction only when it exists in the context of Divine instruction. Only then can man actually rise above daily difficulties, experience some connection to Divine holiness, and return home when he is transcendent, holier, and at the same time – more human.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.