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134http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2013/02/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---02_15_2013
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 02_15_2013
02/14/2013 11:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 15, 2013

 

Terumah is the name of this week’s Torah portion. In it we read a familiar passage, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among [or within] them.” As the rabbis would do they parsed the verse for meaning. They asked, “What is meant by ‘them’?” The Malbim, a 19th century Biblical commentator, explained, “In them, the people, not in it, the sanctuary. We are each to build a Tabernacle in our own heart for God to dwell in.”

                Malbim didn’t ignore or replace the obligation to build a sanctuary for the community to worship, study and gather in. Rather, Malbim added to it by addressing the outer limit of the verse’s meaning. His goal was to expand the ways we have to fulfill the mitzvah. How did he build his case? Malbim was a commentator and a Hebrew grammarian. He recognized that “among them” is written “B-tocham” where the prefix “b-” can mean in, among or with. It creates the possibility that the text is telling us that the sanctuary we build will welcome God to dwell in, among or with us. Malbim saw a textual opening. The sometimes magnificent synagogues we build surely fulfill the meaning of the mitzvah. We gather in the synagogue’s sanctuary to encounter God through prayer and ritual. Here, God dwells “b-” with us.

                Let’s read it differently now. God also dwells “b-” in us. Malbim teaches that we are each to build a Tabernacle in our own heart for God to dwell in. Obviously, this is the greater task that depends on us alone. Building the synagogue required an entire community. In Torah, Moses commands all the people “whose hearts are so moved” to volunteer their skills and gifts to create the sanctuary. But, making a place in our hearts is an individual effort. It’s presumably more difficult, but if we succeed it might also be more special.

                How we imagine God is up to us. The closest Judaism comes to a creed is the Shema, and the closest it comes to dogma is God’s unity, as in God is One. Beyond that we have the privilege to imagine God in ways that might be unique to us. As children, maybe we imagined God as being up in the sky, sitting on the throne, old and gray, passing judgment on God’s creations. As adults, maybe we still imagine God this way having had no reason or means to grow our image into something more useful and meaningful to us. A crystallized vision of God is useless if, when we need to address God, we can only access the God of our childhood. We have to break down childhood images of God and rebuild them in order to reclaim God and Judaism in adulthood.

                God who lives with us, teaches us, honors us and comforts us is One we can take into our hearts. Why? Because there is always room in our hearts for spirituality expressed through our search for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. And, this is Judaism; not dogma or creed, but a search for meaning that is not complete without addressing the inheritance of Torah, inspired by our ancestors’ own encounters with God and written down for our own consumption and growth as human beings.

                Malbim might not have expressed it as I have done here; but, he knew that when the Kotzker Rebbe was asked, “Where is God?” he answered, “Wherever you let God in.” The sanctuary and the heart are two places where we build a dwelling place for God among and in us.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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