This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Terumah (5761)
This week’s Torah reading tells us about Mission Impossible; G-d commanded the Jews to build a house, a 'Mikdash,' for G-d himself to live in.
The very idea is the ultimate paradox; how can G-d, who is unlimited and creates all existence (both spiritual and physical … constantly), ‘fit’ into a house?
This is much more absurd than building a container for the sun? How much more so the creator of the Sun!
And it is misleading. The Jews, beginning with Abraham, were chosen to teach humanity that the Creator is infinite. But if they build a house for Him, doesn't it indicate the opposite?!
The simple answer would be that this Mikdash was made from supernatural or magical materials … but it wasn’t. It was made from ordinary gold, silver, copper etc. brought by ordinary Jewish men women and even children.
So how did it contain G-d?
But the most important question is what importance, except historical, is this for each of us today? The Torah is a book of practical teaching; what practical importance is it to us that thousands of years ago the Jews had a Temple or a Mishkan in the desert?
The answers may be found in the following parable.
There was once a merchant traveling by sea to the Far East in search of precious gems. Such a trip was dangerous, but he was not afraid. In fact, the danger was what kept the competition down and his prices up.
One night, in the second week of his journey he was sound asleep in his cabin when he was abruptly awakened by a loud crunching sound. Everything around him was shaking and tilting, and he almost fell from his narrow bed into the thin layer of water that was rushing in under his door, covering the floor. The ship had struck a reef in the middle of the ocean.
It took him a few seconds to remember where he was. He slipped his trousers over his pajamas, put on his shoes and jacket, opened his cabin door and rushed up the stairs onto the deck. It was dark outside; no moon just the infinite ocean. The weather was almost warm but he felt strangely cold. Very few people were there, running and yelling, maybe everyone else had already abandoned ship, he wasn’t taking any chances.
He stepped into one of the small lifeboats and waited for someone to say something to him. But suddenly the ship shook, heaved over and everything seemed to turn around. His boat slid down the deck, and the next thing he knew he was afloat. He looked around him and even called out several times into the darkness, but when there was no reply, he wrapped himself in few of the blankets there, curled up on the floor to keep warm, and fell asleep.
Children were laughing, giggling! It was really disturbing. They must be right outside his window! He opened his eyes, and standing over him were people, natives, men women and children surrounding his boat. His lifeboat had come adrift on some tropical island!
It took him a few weeks to really recuperate, but the people were kind, and in no time he began to learn their language. It seems that there were several thousand living there, they had never seen a boat or a ship before, and were content with staying put on their quiet island.
One day he was walking around, when he noticed for the first time that the streets were filled with immense diamonds and precious gems!!
He couldn’t believe his eyes! At first he thought that they were only glass or something of no value but he knew a bit about gems. He picked one up, examined it closely, and discovered that....it was the real thing!! Each gem was worth millions, and the street was full of them!!!
First he stuffed them into his pockets, and when they were full, he opened his shirt, got down on his knees and began scooping them in.
He was so involved that he didn’t notice the group of children and several adults that had gathered around him. He looked up, they were laughing. He felt a bit ashamed there on his knees.
“What are you doing?” asked one of the adults, “Why do you gather these worthless rocks?”
He realized there was something to what the man was saying; the streets were full of them.
“Well what IS valuable here?” He asked, as he began to stand, slowly emptying his pockets and brushing himself off.
“Oh you mean fish!” they smiled. “Here we use fish.” And one of them produced a small fish from his pocket.
“Fish?” said the merchant incredulously.
Within five years had made himself a small fortune; he had amassed thousands of tons of fish for himself. He even invented some sort of refrigeration to preserve them, (revolutionizing the island economy).
Then one day it dawned on him to go home. Home! He remembered his wife, children, friends, his house. A deep longing welled up within him. He had to go!
He knew nothing of shipbuilding, sailing or navigation, but he knew he had to do it. He set himself to the task, hired workers, and after several years of planning and hard work, the ship was finished and he set sail. He even installed a refrigerator large enough to hold his entire fortune.
It was an arduous trip and he lost his bearings several times, but after several weeks, and a lot of luck, he saw dry land.
But when he docked, he received a very unfriendly reception. It seems his refrigerator didn’t work as well as he thought and because it happened gradually, he didn't notice the horrible smell; his fortune had rotted. All the sailors on the docks were holding their noses and trying to shoo him away. He barely managed to sell the ship, and with his last pennies traveled back to his home in Russia.
His wife and family were overjoyed to see him and so was he was to see them, but his heart was also broken. After so many years of hard work he had nothing to show for it.
“Well here is at least a little souvenir from the island, something for you and the kids” he said to his wife as he produced a few street stones he had absentmindedly put in his suitcase one day.
“What are you so excited about?” he asked her as she held the gems in the air and began jumping and shouting ‘we’re rich! We’re rich!!’
“They’re worthless, the streets are full of them.”
Needless to say he was richer than ever before.
This answers our questions.
In the works of Chabad Chassidut, it is explained that souls, although they must be forced to leave the comfort and intense pleasure of heaven, finally agree to enter this world because they sense that this physical world is actually INIFINETLY higher than heaven! (It’s something like traveling afar to find precious gems).
True, heaven is blissful while this world is fraught with dangers and confusion, but there, before birth, it is impossible to do G-d’s will while here on earth in a physical body one can take physical objects and actually serve G-d!!! Just like a Holy Temple.
So each Jew is a potential Holy Temple.; it is, however, up to us to actualize this…. To actually make ourselves into 'Holy Temples'. (As is explained in length and depth in the Chabad discourse Bati L'Gani 5710, see your local Chabad House for details)
Another way of saying it is that in heaven WE get pleasure but here on earth we give G-d pleasure! (See Rashi on VaYikra 1:9; G-d is pleased when His will is done… in the Temple)].
But like the merchant in our story, when we arrive here it’s easy to forget all this; we forget the diamonds and get involved in collecting all sorts of ‘smelly fish’.
In fact that's why we had a question in the first place about how a physical Mikdash-Mishkan could 'contain' and infinite G-d. Like the man in our story we forget what we knew before we began our journey; that the only real vessel for G-d, the real precious gem, is this physical world.
That is why G-d wanted us to build a Temple and why Moshiach will build the third and final one (two have already been destroyed). Because the Holy Temple is an example of how the Creator can be revealed ONLY in the creation …… and eventually will be revealed in the ENTIRE creation. (See Maimonides, Laws of Kings 12:5)
And the time for this is now. But it all depends on us.
If we transform ourselves into the Holy Temple we were meant to be G-d will do the rest.
The entire physical world will be filled with that very revelation of the Oneness of G-d, meaning, joy and blessing that all mankind has been longing for (albeit unconsciously) since the beginning of creation. It all depends on our actions, speech and thoughts in this physical world now.
Just one more good deed, word, or even thought can make it happen and we'll all be rejoicing with….
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