These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

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Posted on January 30, 2014 by Andrea Wiese

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Andrea WieseLast week’s Parsha ends with Moshe going up to HaShem on Har Sinai to receive the tables with the teachings and commandments. Our Parsha starts with HaShem telling Moshe to instruct B’nei Yisrael to bring “me” (HaShem) gifts which Moshe will collect.

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי.
(שמות כה:ב)

‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me trumah; from every man whose heart moves him, take my trumah.’
(Shemot 25:2)

In modern Hebrew, לתרום, means to donate, or to give charity. תרומה during temple times meant to separate a part of your field (or crops) to give to the priests, and thus לתרום in Mishnaic Hebrew literally means “to separate.”

In our Parsha, HaShem tells us exactly what תרומה/trumah is. “And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Shemot 25:3-9). So it is clear that trumah refers to “gifts,” but here HaShem is very specific to what those gifts are allowed to be. We soon find out that these gifts will be used to build the משכן/tabernacle and the כלים/vessels. After they are built, HaShem tells us that He will come down and dwell amongst us/וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם (Shemot 25:8).

When I was reading the Parsha again this week I really could not understand the purpose of this. HaShem does not need my gifts. (In my personal understanding) HaShem knows everything, can do anything, has everything, etc. Why would I give HaShem gifts? It is clear to me that the gifts are not actually for HaShem. So then what can the purpose of giving this trumah for HaShem? I believe the purpose is completely for the giver. There is something about the act of giving that is for the purpose of the giver more than for the receiver. And when the receiver is HaShem, I think the act is completely for the giver.

This is expanded upon in Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #95, the Mitzvah of Building a Temple, it states, “…we must therefore explain that the building of a house for God where we might pray or offer sacrifice is only in order to prepare our hearts to serve him, and not because He needs to dwell in a home constructed by humans or to be protected in their lodging!”

This reminded me of davening/praying/tefilla. My first semester at Pardes in class when we were going through the Amida blessings. I had a similar thought. Why am I praising HaShem in the beginning blessings? HaShem doesn’t need my praise, He doesn’t have self-esteem issues and He isn’t in need my confirmation of His greatness. The blessings are for me. No, I’m not blessing myself. I am acknowledging and reassuring myself of HaShem’s greatness, power, and involvement in my life. Possibly harder to accept is the parts of prayer that involve asking for things I need or want in my life. Why I am asking? Surely, HaShem already knows my needs and desires in this world. For me, there is something very important about the step of realizing, acknowledging and articulating what I need. When I continue to ask and request these things, my behaviors slowly begin to reflect these requests. Now with this acceptance and awareness, I can truly and honestly pray.

Although, in our Parsha, HaShem tells Moshe the reason for collecting the trumah.

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם. (שמות כה: ח)

HaShem says to Moshe, use the gifts to “let them (B’nei Yisrael) make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8). HaShem wants the Jewish people to build a structure for Him to come down (from where, I have no idea) to dwell with us. For people who believe that HaShem is everywhere, omnipresence, this is difficult.

5010m0nYet, there is definitely a dual structure and notion of HaShem. HaShem is everywhere, at all times, but He is also with me and personally involved in my life at all times. Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, also struggled with this concept when he was instruction to built the Beit HaMikdash, The Temple. He questions:

“But will God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built! Yet turn, O Lord my God, to the prayer and supplication of Your servant, and hear the cry and prayer which Your servant offers before You this day.” (Kings 8:27-28)

Shlomo understands that HaShem is beyond measure and uncontainable by any buildable construct, yet, he still yearns for HaShem’s personal attention to his prayers.

We also acknowledge this contradiction in our own tefilla/prayer everyday in the Kedusha/קדושה.

קָדושׁ. קָדושׁ. קָדושׁ ה’ צְבָאות. מְלא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבודו – Holy, Holy, Holy, is HaShem of legions, the whole world is filled with his honor.

Then, literally right after we say:

בָּרוּךְ כְּבוד ה’ מִמְּקומו – Blessed is HaShem in His place.

How can we say that HaShem fills the world, and then in the next line say that HaShem has a specific place? Why is it that when I’m in America praying, I feel that HaShem is listening clearing to my prayers because HaShem is everywhere? And at the same time, how is it that when I pray at the Kotel, I feel closer to HaShem? I suppose I’m not upset that I have the same struggle that Shlomo had, (he was said to have been very wise).

So let’s review: my two issues with the first eight pasukim/sentences of our Parsha are, one, why is HaShem telling us to take trumah for him when He doesn’t need it. Secondly, how can HaShem be dwelling amongst us and be everywhere at the same time?

I think both of these issues reflect human nature and also reflects HaShem’s genius in helping us establish a relation with Him. We give to those we love, and also, when we give and care about someone, it is inevitable that eventually we will start to love them (if we don’t already.) So by HaShem commanding us to give, He is setting groundworks to help us build this relationship and to love Him.

As for HaShem being with us and everywhere at the same time, I think only HaShem could pull it off. This duality doesn’t actually conflict in my heart or in my head. I know that HaShem is with me and also taking care of the world. I need HaShem to listen to my prayers, and hopefully answer them, and there are also things much greater than me and my abilities that I know He is tackling at the same time.

My hope for all of us is to recognize our role in our relationship with HaShem and the ability to be open active participants in praising, asking, and receiving all the blessings that HaShem is giving. Chodesh tov and Shabbat shalom.