Trumah (Offering) – Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
This week’s portion begins in Exodus Chapter 25. G-d speaks to Moses and tells him to instruct the Jewish people in the building of the Tabernacle. The chapter begins with the instruction to take up an offering for the tabernacle — to have each person donate whatever they could that would be helpful, whether gold, silver or bronze, blue and scarlet silks, animal skins, oils, precious stones and spices. By the end of the series of chapters dealing with the construction, we will have an understanding as to how each of these materials will be used to create a beautiful place of worship.
The key statement in this section however is verse 8: “And you shall build me a temple and I will dwell among you.” If we focus on the precise language of this verse, we can learn a number of things. Firstly, G-d speaks of building a temple, even though following this verse He refers to the building of the tabernacle. We know from history that the tabernacle was the temporary structure that traveled with the children of Israel in the desert and was then constructed in a more permanent way in Shiloh. However, G-d’s presence would not dwell permanently in Shiloh and when the Tabernacle is destroyed there, the special holiness of that site is dissipated.
Not so with regard to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. King David captures the mount from the Jebusites and purchases the threshing floor that will become the foundation of the Temple. But he is forbidden by G-d to build the temple. Only Solomon can build the Temple and once the temple is built, the Temple Mount remains holy forever. Even today, when a mosque stands on the site where our temple once stood, the site is truly holy for G-d’s presence has never left it.
When G-d instructs us regarding the tabernacle, he uses the word Temple initially as if to inform us that the tabernacle is the basis for the Temple, a temporary and lesser version, perhaps, but a vehicle for coming close to G-d, nonetheless. The laws of worship and sacrifice that are set forth in the following chapters, and particularly in Leviticus, remain applicable in the Temple. Both structures serve the same purpose — to draw the individual and the nation closer to G-d. In fact, the Hebrew word for sacrifice is “Karban” from the root “Karov” or close. The sacrifice brings us close to G-d.
It is interesting therefore that the verse states — “And I will dwell among you.” The logical flow of the verse would normally read — “And I will dwell within it.” After all the subject of the sentence is the building of the temple. G-d should certainly dwell within it!
But G-d is not instructing the people of Israel to build a temple in order to contain G-d. G-d does not need the temple and He certainly is not a finite being that can be contained with the four walls of a structure, no matter how beautiful. The purpose of the temple is to enable G-d to dwell among us, to enable the Jewish people to come close to G-d, to focus on worshiping Him and thereby bringing G-d’s presence within the holy camp.
This is the Jewish concept of worship and it is a concept that I have heard expressed by many of my Christian friends as well. In fact, many Christian groups who I have taken to Shiloh have commented to me that they are particularly taken by the site because there is no building there, because there is no shrine that has been built to commemorate the site. They are attracted to the site because of what it represents regarding worship. They are not interested in seeking temples and structures whose ultimate effect is to define (and limit) G-d’s presence.
G-d does not need our worship. He does not need for us to build Him a house. G-d wants us to build that house so that it can be an effective tool for us to come close to G-d. May we never lose our ability to distinguish between the medium and the ultimate goal, between the vehicles of our faith and faith itself.
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office