"And they will build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst."
Fourteen words in all, (in Hebrew only five), this singular commandment which appears in this week's Torah reading of Terumah, (Exodus 25:1-27:19), is short, succinct and so direct that even Moshe rabbeinu - Moses our master - was taken aback. Midrash describes Moshe's reaction:
"When G-d told him: 'And they will build Me a sanctuary' - Moshe spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe! Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you! And yet You say, 'And they will build Me a sanctuary?!'
The Holy One, blessed be He, responded to him and said: 'Moshe, you are mistaken! All that is needed is twenty beams on the north side, and twenty on the south side, and eight on the west side, and I will come down and abide My glory among them'." (Peskita D'Rav Kahana 2).
Truly, few Torah commandments are quite so simple and straightforward as this. The numerous statutes governing the manner in which we are to relate to our fellow man, which we have just read in parashat Mishpatim, (ibid 21:1-24:18), all require the knowledge and skills of learned judges in order to be properly applied to each and every situation which may arise. Other ordinances, such as that of the red heifer, are renowned for being beyond the intellectual grasp of man to fully comprehend their meaning. But "Build Me a sanctuary" is a clear case of "what you see is what you get." G-d even shows to Moshe on Mount Sinai the "plans" for the Tabernacle and the vessels. G-d's desire being crystal clear, all that's left to do for the generation of the desert is the manufacture of the Tabernacle and the vessels.
"Build Me a sanctuary" is a commandment like all other commandments, that is, it is every bit as imperative to perform today as it was when first delivered in the desert over three thousand years ago. Why then does it appear to so many as so fantastical?
Building a sanctuary is indeed, a great challenge. Not only does it demand skilled artisans and precious raw materials, leaders of vision and integrity and courage, but most crucially it demands that "generous heart" that G-d called upon earlier:
"Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering." (ibid 25:2)
The "generous heart" is the key to the construction of the Holy Temple, and it sheds light on the intention of the second half of the commandment to build, namely, "and I will dwell in their midst." (ibid 25:8) Selflessness is what is required in order to create a sanctuary for G-d, the selflessness of giving freely of what G-d asks of us. Sure, it was easy for the generation of the desert to hand over all the riches that they acquired when leaving Egypt. After all, what were they going to spend their wealth on? Sure, it was easy for them to stop everything they were doing in order to lend their skills and efforts to the fabrication of the Tabernacle and the vessels. What else did they have to do? But surely we are no different. To what better end would we invest our own personal bounty that G-d has blessed us with? To what better purpose can we lend our knowledge and our talents?
Selflessness for the sake of others is always its best reward, ennobling the giver. When G-d says, "Build for Me" He is directing us, just this once, to do just this one thing, just for Him. For by fulfilling G-d's "wishes" in this manner, we are enabling Him to "dwell within our midst." And when His spirit fills us and binds us together in His service, this world truly becomes a place in which His presence can dwell. After that, "All that is needed is twenty beams on the north side, and twenty on the south side, and eight on the west side, and I will come down and abide My glory among them'." (ibid).
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven majestically hold court in a Rosh Chodesh Adar/Parshat Terumah special. In this confluence of the Torah reading and this special time of year, our hosts find that the twin concepts of the commandment to build the Holy Temple, and the core of the Adar experience, are one and the same: they are both expressions of, and dependant on, the unity of all of Israel. But wait: Can we really expect to build the Holy Temple in our time? To the naysayers and pundits who question the relevancy of G-d's eternal word and His instructions to us to build a Sanctuary for Him, the Rabbi and Yitzchak say, 'Read our lips' Yes We Can! And We Will! Build the Holy Temple. Tune in for this sprawling, massive, and emphatic revue of the ever-unfolding trajectory of Jewish destiny upon which hinges the fate of all mankind.