The entertainment industry has made millions selling the fabulous life of the American celebrity. Many shows report on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. MTV Cribs (which I admit is rather entertaining), is a show about celebrity houses. Just like TV focusing on the dwelling places of society’s greatest, this week’s parsha, l'havdil, also details a home built for the Almighty Himself.
The verse states, “They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8). Any architect or interior decorator knows that a home must fit the needs and tastes of the buyer. It must also be built within the means of the homeowner. Therefore it seems crazy that He who created the whole world would ask mere mortals to build Him a house. How could mere physical beings erect a structure for the Almighty?
After commanding the Jews to erect a sanctuary, God specifies exactly how it should be constructed. Why? After all, it is well within God's power to construct the perfect sanctuary. If He asked the Jews to build it, then perhaps He was looking for that human touch, and if so, shouldn’t He have allowed us to design it?
To add to the confusion, it states, “Speak unto the Children of Israel and let them take for Me a trumah, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My trumah” (Shemot 25:2). Although trumah is usually translated as “offering,” Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that the Hebrew root truma, resh-vav-mem, means ‘elevation.’ By offering of one’s wealth to a Godly cause, the offering becomes a Divine service, and is thus elevated.
Rashi explains that the words “let them take for Me” means that the leaders of the Jewish people were to request a voluntary offering from the people, instead of demanding payment. Any aspiring rabbi or Jewish trivial pursuit addict knows that during the ninth plague of darkness, the Egyptians handed over their wealth to the Jews. God miraculously provided us with the money, and then asked us to give it back! Why?
In summary: How is it possible for mere mortals to construct a house for God? Why does He need to detail its specifications? Why did He ask us to volunteer to give up money that He gave us during the plague of darkness?
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the Torah enables the Almighty to dwell amongst us. Through our study and actions we are able to attach our souls to God, as He “brought the light of His Presence to rest upon the Torah ("Let My People Go, the Chofetz Chaim on Shemot," compiled by Machon Bait Yechiel, p. 120).
The Torah is man’s connection with the Almighty. Rabbi Dessler adds that because this portal between the physical and spiritual world exists, we have the ability to raise ourselves from defilement and dwell with the Almighty. Therefore, when humans elevate themselves through holiness, it becomes possible for God to reside among them.
Rabbi Hirsch goes further to suggest that the way to create a place for God to reside in our midst is through creating a Jewish home. It is not enough to simply worship God in passing or when it’s convenient. Rather, the ideal relationship centers on a far more intimate connection between man and the Almighty. By creating a home founded on Torah, our mundane actions become elevated. But it requires desire and dedication to create a home that is inviting to the Almighty.
With this in mind, we can understand why God did not construct the Tabernacle. Our relationship with God is a product of our hard work. Only through our toil will we come to appreciate our achievements. However, to maximize our joy in this relationship, we must exert effort.
If the parsha was just eight verses long, we could conclude here. However, the rest of the parsha, and the majority of the rest of the book of Shemot details the specifics of the Mishkan (sanctuary) that God commanded the Jews to build. If this house is a reflection of our effort, who cares what it looks like? After all, isn't it the effort that counts? Our efforts do count, therefore we must learn to channel our efforts properly.
People assume that their personal approach to spirituality is as good as anyone or anything else. But this is not true. This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to understand as I became more religious. For the first two decades of my life, I ate bacon while considering myself an observant Jew. I assumed that leading Friday night services and believing in God was enough and that whatever I did for Jewish causes far outweighed whatever mitzvot I didn’t keep.
I had many reasons for not keeping the mitzvot. I wasn’t aware of many of them. Those that I was aware of conflicted with what I wanted to do, and since I wasn’t positive of the Torah’s Divine origins I figured there had to be some wiggle room for those who weren’t sure. No wonder I had such a tough time coming up with something to say on the last half of Shemot. Everything was fine until the Torah begins to specify the details of how to serve God.
The Torah does not waste words, yet a large percentage of Shemot details the specifics of constructing the Mishkan. This demonstrates that God does care how we serve Him. The relationship between God and man is a two way street; for us to reap the rewards of a meaningful relationship with Him, we must act according to His will.
Imagine a child who stays out until all hours of the night after “borrowing” the family car. He'll definitely be punished – even if he were to claim that that was his way of displaying how much he loves his parents!
Of course God is pleased with our efforts, but if we are putting effort into growing spiritually, we should try to do it properly. In marriage, we strive to give in a way that is pleasing to our spouse. Giving what "we want" rather than what our spouse wants is selfish rather than selfless. In detailing how to construct the Mishkan, the Torah is demonstrating that to serve God, we need to pay attention to the details!
But why did God ask us to give, out of the goodness of our hearts, money that He miraculously gave us? God does not need our money. He was providing us with the resources to maximize our potential by providing us with both the means and opportunities to elevate our greatness.
Everything we have is a gift from God and everything we have should be utilized in His service! Our intellect, our personality, whatever strengths and weaknesses we have are our unique gifts to maximize our potential in the world. The only way to maximize that potential is to direct it properly.
By connecting the dots backwards, we can begin to understand how mortals can construct a house for God. We can channel our God-given talents for holiness and connect directly with the Almighty. We are able to build a dream home the likes of which even the biggest celebrities could not fathom. We could build a house worthy of being a sanctuary of God.
There is no longer a physical building to house the Divine Presence. But the tools for creating that house – the Torah – are still with us. Each time we learn Torah, we invite the Divine Presence into our lives. May we be privileged to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, quickly and in our days. Amen.