A view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
This week’s Torah portion deals with details of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
This was the temporary temple that accompanied the people during their wanderings in the desert, until the permanent Temple was built in Jerusalem.
We read of many details relating to the building of the Tabernacle, the exact measurements of its ritual objects, and the exact length and width of the Tabernacle itself.
The parasha begins with these words spoken to Moses: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering...” (Exodus 25:2).
Moses was instructed to collect the funds needed to build the Tabernacle from the nation: “...from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering” (ibid.).
When we look at the name of the parasha – Truma (offering, contribution) – an interesting question pops out at us. One would think that the parasha should be named “Mishkan,” not “Truma.” Though the Tabernacle was built from the offerings of the nation and the generosity of those who contributed from their own pockets to have it built, the collection of funds was not a goal in itself. There was no need to raise money other than because without contributions from “the generous of heart,” there would be no way to build the Tabernacle. The truma, the contribution, was only a means to get to the significant end – the construction of the Tabernacle.
The answer to this question lies in the words of the Sages of the midrash. They took the verse “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (ibid. 25:8) and explained: “It does not say ‘in its midst’ but, rather, ‘in their midst’ – in the midst of each and every person.”
Had God said “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in its midst,” that would have meant that God resides in the Tabernacle or Temple, where He reveals Himself. We can absorb His holiness only in the Temple, where God dwells. According to this outlook, there is no Divine revelation within us humans.
There is also no personal connection between us and God; that connection is possible only with the Temple as an intermediary.
But that is not what the words say. The sensitive and careful reading by the Sages accurately discerned the exact form of the verse, “I will dwell in their midst,” and understood from this that God dwells within each of us. This teaches us that God reveals Himself in our hearts. We all recognize within ourselves the desire to be good, to be a better person. God’s voice emanates from within us. Each of us carries the ambition to make the world more perfect, for people to smile at one another, for the world to be kinder.
The purpose of building the Temple is so we all recognize within ourselves the voice of God, that we are not meant to accept reality, but that we have the power to make it better.
For this reason, the Temple was built with everyone’s truma. These contributions created the personal connection between each member of the Jewish nation and its most sacred site.
The Temple’s holiness stemmed from it being constructed by everyone’s desire to build a House of God, a place that would be a moral and spiritual beacon, a compass for all of humanity.
We are all connected to the building of the Temple, since it was built from contributions that came from each person in the nation, and therefore it symbolizes our desire to be a part of the lofty endeavor of Divine revelation in the world.
Though the Temple was destroyed about 2,000 years ago, the sense of holiness that enveloped all who entered it still exists somewhat until today. Whoever visits the Western Wall nowadays would probably sense a sort of transcendence that comes from the proximity of the Western Wall to the site of the Temple.
Visiting this place emphasizes that despite all our disagreements, humanity shares a wide common denominator around which it can create one society that is diverse but that can work in partnership for the greater good. The divisiveness, disputes and disagreements cannot negate our ambition to make ourselves and our world better and more complete.
The sense of transcendence one gets from a visit to the Western Wall must be maintained by internalizing the concept that God does not dwell in the Temple alone but in each of us. We can all become a small “temple” and discover inside ourselves the light, the goodness and the beauty that God bequeaths to the world. The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.