Questioning faith in the parsha
Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim
The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH
CHEVRAH TORAH, 5772
HOW does the command to make the Mishkan frame our faith?
WHAT does the Mishkan teach us about God’s Presence in our lives?
P’shat…The TEXT—HEARING ECHOES
Remez…The CONTEXT—FORGING FAITH
25:8 And let them make me a MiK’DaSH, that I may dwell among them.
RAMBAM… “Let them make Me a Sanctuary…” to keep them from idolatry.
RASHI…A Mik’dash—not the sole dwelling place for God, but a house where God’s Holiness will rest.
SEFER HaCHINUCH…”Make Me a Sanctuary…” The building of a House in God’s Name for us to pray and sacrifice was inspired by our needs, not because God needs a place to dwell among us…
R’GERSON COHEN…The Tabernacle is unique, for it is not referred to as the Mishkan of Moses,
or even Bezalel, its builder, nor even “Israel’s Sanctuary”because it was not for them,
but built according to God’s instruction….Yet, the Divine dwelling in that house was pictured in the same way God was in ancient Israel… for inside it had no icon. The innermost chamber consisted
of an ark which housed the tablets given to Moses on Sinai…
ABRAVANEL…WHY does God say “that I might dwell among them.” As if He were a physical Being who could be limited in time and place, a flat out contradiction to “The Heaven is My Throne and the Earth My footstool. Who could build a House for Me?” [Isa 66:1]…The Divine intention behind the Tabernacle was to combat the idea that God had forsaken the earth. It is an allegory to teach Israel that He was
never remote from humankind, but a Presence b’tocham—among them.
CASSUTO…In order to understand the purpose of the Tabernacle, we must realize that Bnai Yisrael, after they had witnessed the Revelation at Sinai, had to journey on. Once they set out from there, it seemed as though a link had been broken…It was the function of the Tabernacle—Mishkan—the Dwelling, to serve as this symbol. Dwelling all about in tribal encampments, they were able to see the Mishkan from every side—b’tocham. Just as the glory of God settled on the Mountain, so it wandered with the people wherever they went.
TSEYDAH LaDERECH… “…that I may dwell among them” The text does not say “b’tocho—in it,” but rather “b’tocham—in them.” This teaches that the Divine Presence does not rest on the Sanctuary by virtue of the building but by virtue of the builders, for “they are the temple of the Lord.”
25:9 Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Mishkan and all its furnishings—so shall you make it.
S’FORNO… “so shall you make it.” In such a way that I might dwell among you, and not as it was
before the golden calf, when the plan was that “in every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned
I will come to bless you.” [Ex 20:21]
S’FAS EMES…The MIDRASH tell us that the Holy One asks: How long shall I wander without a
home? Every person in Israel contains a divine force…Even when sin distances us from this inner
force, our roots Above compel us to return to our rightful Place. So the Mishkan reminds us that the desire is ever-Present. And just this is the secret of the Sanctuary—for “ken ta’asu—so shall you make it” –an action that is never complete. For the Mishkan is a building project that goes on without end…
Rav KOOK… We are a nation that met God—which gave us our national identity. This was initially
at Sinai, yet this meeting was not a singular event—rather an ongoing relationship….That is the meaning of the Mishkan—a forum where we could continue the eternal meeting with the Almighty…
If Am Yisrael builds a Sanctuary for God on earth, they are promised that the Holy One will descend
and live amongst them…So our meeting with the Lord continues through the channel of the Mishkan…
D’rash…The SEARCH—CONFRONTING CHAOS…FINDING FAITH
Rabbi Tamar ELAD-APPELBAUM… [Associate Dean of Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, served as
Interim Rabbi—alongside Rabbi Gordon Tucker, at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, former VP of the Israeli Rabbinical Assembly]
…If God is Absolute Being, embodying he totality of time and place, the absolute basis of unconditional existence, as opposed to the limited life and capacity of the human being, it is reasonable to arrive at an image whose power is based upon perfect stability. And indeed, echoes of such thought can be found in various sources, as in the words of Kohelet: “I realize, too, that whatever God has brought to pass will recur evermore: nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it—and God has brought to pass that men revere Him”(Ecclesiastes 3:14). This voice, identifying God with the fixed and stable order of the world, requires a pattern of human behavior based upon constant obedience, so that man might not injure the divine order.
But there is another voice found throughout the tradition, one that identifies divine guidance with change and upheaval. Thus, for example, in the words of Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Abbahu:
Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon said: It does not say “it was evening”
But “and it was evening” [Genesis 1:5]. From this we infer that time and order existed prior to creation. Rabbi Abbahu taught that He created worlds and destroyed them, until
He created these…”and behold, it was very good [Genesis 1:31] (Genesis Rabbah 3:7)
From the seemingly superfluous vav consecutive (“and”) in the account of the first evening of creation, these two sages infer that time, the world, and history existed even before our world came into existence, attributing to God a history of creation and destruction that ended with God’s dwelling in a world that God saw as good.
They are not the only voices of this kind. To a large extent, these are the voices of the Bible and of the Sages generally, which caution humankind not to find comfort in a supposedly sable God. Divine existence, say those voices, is not equivalent to stability, and stability is not promised to humankind. On the contrary, God’s presence in the world is the fixed presence of change. This is reflected symbolically in the words of Rav Yosef, who describes the duality of the Divine Tabernacle: “’[The Tablets] that you smashed, and you shall deposit them [in the ark]’ [Deuteronomy 10:2]—this teaches us that the tablets and the broken pieces of the
tablets rested together in the ark” (BT Bava Batra 14b). The ark of the covenant, the very heart of
the sanctuary, carries within itself both the law and its “breaking.” The same is reflected in the homes of God’s beings: When a Jew attaches a mezuzah to the entrance of his or her home, he or she recites in paradoxical language “to affix a mezuzah” (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 289)—to affix something with movement, the word mezuzah being cognate to t’zuzah, is a sign of both fixity and change. This idea is also mirrored in the house of God. In describing the construction of the ark, the Bible specifically dwells upon the rings of the ark and the staves, which are not to be removed (Exodus 25:15). The ark must always be ready to be moved, for the God of Israel is a God of journeys, who calls upon Abraham to move about, and Abraham’s offspring to follow in his wake. The God of Israel is the God of movement to the Promised Land. The God of Israel is the God of change and revolution, the radical divinity.
Divinity is the radical force that moves the entire cosmos, from one end of the world to the other, and the goal of the Jewish story is to serve witness to this…The story of the beginning of the world is a story of deconstruction, of chaos, and of new creation by means of the Divine. The same follows from the story of Noah and the Flood—breaking down, rebuilding, and reassembly of humankind: the tower of Babel—breaking down and reconstructing language and the attitude toward life; Abraham—breaking down and reconstructing ethics; Egypt—destroying slavery and subjugation and building within the people a new reality of freedom. Numerous biblical stories are characterized by the tension between creation and destruction in God’s world, by the quest for that same intensely sought “and it was good” …The Tanakh is filled with stories of the radical God, who breaks down reality and creates a new one from its ashes, smashes humankind’s dreams of an idyll and creates another in its place. But the miraculous nature of divine radicalism lies in the fact that ever act of breaking down is simultaneously a new putting together. The Divine never breaks things down merely to leave reality in ruins; rather, God takes things apart in order to create a new and better order: “He did not create it a waste, but formed it for habitation” (Isaiah 45:18).
God, therefore, is the most anti-nomistic element in reality. That same Divinity who sustains the world constantly undermines its stability. In a single “Let there be light,” an entire order was created as well as its fixed hidden shadow of potential change. God’s very existence dictates a history of constant flux: the evolution of ideas, ideals, and revolutions. When God brings forth knowledge within humankind—that is to say, the power of cognition and of creativity—humankind is destined to inherit and nullify anew its god, its world, and its own consciousness. Thus, humankind and God are transformed into partners in the secret order of the world and in its constant change.
What should Jews do in the well-ordered but unstable world of the Divine? How should we behave, when our longing for the living God comes from our amazed contemplation of the wonders of the ordered world, and simultaneously from the turbulence that bursts forth and undercuts everything known to us? The image of God is reflected in the image of us; order and change are interwoven with one another; the tablets and their broken fragments are placed together in the ark, and in the world. It seems as though the Jewish service of God springs forth two deeply opposite yet complementary tracks. The purpose of one track is to restrain us; that of the other, to familiarize us with the radical experience. The first track is that of acceptance of the yoke of the commandments; the second, that of Torah study and prayer….
These channels of service to God—mitzvot, Torah study, and prayer—are like projections onto which one holds fast while climbing a mountain. The religious experience is not complete without all three and the tension among them. But that is not all. From mitzvoth, from Torah study, and from prayer, one must go out into the streets, the place of partnership in the divine act.
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba drew a connection between the worshiper and the street, saying that “a man should always pray in a building with windows” )BT B’rahkhot 31a). In portraying the religious architecture of the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Hiyya states that there can be no prayer without a window upon the world. Therefore, under no circumstances can the experience of the religious person be encompassed by obedience and its derivations alone. Through mitzvoth, Torah study, and prayer, a person trains him- or herself to engage with the larger, ever-changing world. The pinnacle of religious experience is a radical, creative act: daring to see faults in God’s world, and to outline, with modesty and delicacy, a new horizon.
Faith is a double pact: on one hand, not to undermine the order of life, and on the other, not to unravel the connection of participation in the divine creation. These two are the twin forces of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge that were in the Garden. Faith (emunah) is the art and the practice found in study and prayer. Faith is the art of refusal (mi’un) to become acclimated to a reality that is not good enough as well as the radical religious act of standing up against injustice and corruption.
The believing person is a constant climber. His or her life is a constant movement toward “and it was good,” toward a partnership of destiny with the God of the world and with primordial climbers like Abraham, Moses, and other revolutionary leaders. But like Moses, every religious person must throughout his or her entire life climb Mount Nebo, never to enter into the Promised Land.
…Like flowing water, it is impossible to take hold of the mystery of God. Like love, it is beyond apprehension. The tremendous power of life within the realms of the universe gushes out of the Divine One. God—a non-place, non-time—could have elicited fear, violence, and silence, yet God comforts and calls upon us to blossom. God loves us with a great love, giving us the power t come and go with God in strength, for the service of God is the supreme educational space in reality. God does not reveal anything, but demands us to discover the things from within. Without depriving the scholar of his or her knowledge, while completely casting aside the narcissistic needs of the divine teacher, the service of God enables humankind to test its abilities to the extreme, so that two independent partners may always exist within the space of world creation: humankind and God of the universe. And we do hear and respond to one another. From the fear of death and the longing for a living God, we bring forth our life, our time and place, our society and context. From moment to moment the reflection of God touches our reflection and awakens faith in us. Take notice, says God. Take notice, I repeat to myself. Not to despair, not to stumble, not to wither. To open door after door to the living God, to open it within myself and in reality, door after door, hope after hope.
[Jewish Theology In Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations & Future of Jewish Belief, ed by Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, pgs 161-169]
Sod…The REVELATION—RESPONDING to SINAI
PESIKTA RABBATI…When Moses was given the command to construct the Tabernacle to house
the Holy Presence, he was bewildered. “The entire universe cannot contain the Infinite One,
how then this little house?” To his question, God replied:
“The Mik’dash is not to be measured according to My dimensions—but rather yours.”