Parshat Teruma

In Parshat Teruma Hashem lays out the plan for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and it’s contents, with the detailed design and instructions for construction.  Hashem opens the command to Moshe in verse 8 with “And let them make me a sanctuary (Mikdash) that I may dwell among them. According to what I show you, the design of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and all within.” The term Mikdash is used only once and from here on the word Mishkan is used to describe the Tabernacle.  We usually associate the word Mikdash with the Temple in Jerusalem (Bet HaMikdash) and the Mishkan with the temporary Tabernacle built with such enthusiasm in the wilderness.

The Hebrew words themselves bring to mind different ideas, Mikdash associated with holiness and Mishkan more a place to live, and our sages note that the wording suggests that Hashem wishes to rest his divine presence in the Mishkan. Interestingly, later on we find a further expression – Ohel Moed (The tent of meeting) perhaps closer to the term Bet Knesset, that we use today, for where we assemble for prayer.

Rav S R Hirsch’s differentiates between the initial use of the term Mikdash and then in the next sentence Mishkan. He understands the opening to mean that if we make ourselves holy and behave caringly in society, Hashem will be with us. This is in his view separate from the next sentence in which Hashem requests that we construct the Mishkan.

R Hirsch explains that the book of Vayikra lays out the duties of Cohanim and Bnei Yisrael in the pursuit of holiness and closes the book in Parshat Bechukotai with “if you keep to my commands …… I will place myself among you.” This in Hirsch’s opinion, is the key to understanding what Hashem requires from us and is possibly the opposite of what we might understand. Firstly, Mikdash – holiness, that is in return for keeping to the Torah Hashem will keep his part of the bargain with us both individually and as a nation, and then more importantly despite the fact that Hashem rests his divine spirit within the Mishkan, without our commitment to holiness, the Mishkan or the Bet Hamikdash are just buildings and void of holiness.

R Hirsch notes that Hashem remains committed to us despite the fact that the Mishkan in Shilo and the two Temples were destroyed. It is our commitment to the Torah which is the deciding factor and that is the meaning of “and let them make me a Mikdash.” Our prophets so often rebuked the people for straying and he notes the example of Jeremiah Chapter 7, where Hashem tells Jeremiah to stand at gates of the Temple and warn the people to amend their ways. Hashem does not listen to your prayers or coming to the House of Hashem, when the people lie, steal, murder and bear false witness.

I must admit that the use of several terms to describe the appointed holy place, Mikdash and Mishkan and later on Ohel Moed (the tent of meeting) is puzzling. But as R Hirsch indicates, Mikdash  is to be associated with our commitment to correct behavior in society at all times wherever we are. Then we able to visit and appreciate the appointed places where Hashem “resides” (Mishkan) and he will receive our prayers at any appropriate time of meeting (Moed).

I was passing our shool the other day in the middle of the day, not at prayer time, and saw a woman standing outside by the door and I asked if could help with anything. She replied that she was fine and came past everyday on her way to town and said her own little prayer. Not the appointed time but definitely the appointed place for a little prayer.



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