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Teruma: A Worthy Sanctuary

By: Ariella Applebaum

In this week’s parsha Teruma, Hashem commands Moshe to build the mishkan, a place for Hashem’s Shechina to remain among Bnei Israel. Hashem commands (Shemot 25:8):

“And they should make a sanctuary, so that I shall dwell within them.”

The phrase “within them” seems to be referring to physical placement within Bnei Israel. However, the students of the Ba’al Shem Tov provide a deeper explanation. They explain “within them” as a command to Bnei Israel to prepare their inner selves as worthy sanctuaries for Hashem’s presence.

As seen in the following parable, based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Hashem (the most holy of guests) cannot rest in an inferior dwelling:

The King and his royal entourage were visiting the outer villages of the kingdom. The King was entertaining the thought that the crisp mountain air of the countryside would be most conducive for the health of his 3 sons, the princes, who spent most of their time in the congested capital city.

The royal entourage stopped by a peaceful little inn and tavern. The innkeeper, thrilled that the King and his men should visit his humble abode, ran outside and bowed before the King’s feet. “Your majesty, I’m so honored! How may I serve you?”

“You may rise,” said the King. “I’m looking for a dwelling in this vicinity that’s a befitting hostel for my sons. They don’t require fancy furnishings, but they must have rooms that are impeccably clean and orderly, close to the mountains and hot springs.”

“But, your Majesty” exclaimed the innkeeper, “My inn is simple; the tavern is the source of my income. I don’t think that the princes would feel comfortable in the company of my ale-drinking clientele.”

“I shall pay you six times over for your sale of ale. In addition, I will give you 500 pieces of gold to transform the inn into a quality spa, fit for royal guests only. You’ll never have to worry about money again. Agreed?”

The innkeeper accepted the King’s offer. The King’s officers warned the innkeeper: “If you fulfill all of the King’s demands – prepare and maintain a proper lodging for the King’s sons – your rewards will be more than you ever dreamed of. But if you fail, you will be thrown into the deepest dungeon, punished and doomed to oblivion!”

The King and the innkeeper agreed that the princes would arrive in 9 weeks. Feverishly, the innkeeper cleaned, fixed, rebuilt, and remodeled the inn, turning it into a charming spa. The tavern became a magnificent dining room. Within 6 short weeks, the work was completed.

With 3 weeks left before the guests arrived, the innkeeper took a rest from his labors. But, after 3 days of idleness, he became bored. One evening, while the innkeeper sat on the front porch of the remodeled inn, 3 peasants approached him. “Dimitri,” they called, “We’re thirsty! Break out a keg of ale!”

“I’m sorry friends,” apologized the innkeeper. “This is no longer a tavern. Everything has been rebuilt for the King. It is now a royal spa.”

The peasants burst out laughing and demanded to be let in. Dimitri reasoned that there was still time before the princes arrived; besides, he longed for his old friends. He was bored doing nothing. Soon, the ale would flow and so would the merriment. He would also earn a bit of extra money. “Surely, I’ll have the place straightened up before the King’s sons arrive,” he thought…

With a foothold in the refurbished fancy quarters fit for royalty, the peasants refused to leave. Every day, more and more of them flocked to the spa, which now reverted to its former status of village tavern, the scene of drunken folly and general disorder. The polished marble floors, prepared for the princes, were now covered with mud and beer.

 With only a day left until the arrival of the princes, Dimitri made a valiant effort to clean and fix the spa. But his last-minute rush was far from enough.

The 3 princes arrived, accompanied by the palace guards. Things simply didn’t look right. The spa’s walls were soaked with the smell of ale and all three beds designated for the King’s three sons, were occupied by drunken peasants wearing muddy boots.

The King had paid for the fancy beds, intended for the use of his sons. He had given the foolish and easily tempted innkeeper more than enough money to remodel the inn, while compensating him six fold for the tavern’s business. This was a breach of faith as well as theft from the King!

In disgust, the royal entourage left the inn and the innkeeper was shackled in heavy chains, thrown into the deepest dungeon and never heard from again.  

Rebbe Nachman teaches that every Jew must “cleanse” his mind from foreign philosophies, as they not only affect one’s ability to learn, but cause inappropriate physical desires as well. These foreign philosophies are also harmful to one’s overall fear of Hashem. In Pirkei Avot, we learn that in the absence of wisdom, there is no fear of G-d. Therefore, it must be that fear of G-d is the basis of true wisdom.

Rebbe Nachman later explains that the more foreign philosophies that occupy space in one’s mind, especially that of a child, the more these philosophies prevent the healthy development of the mind and attract bad character traits.

With these teachings in mind, we can see the moral of the previous parable. The King is Hashem, the 3 sons are (1) wisdom (2) knowledge and (3) understanding, the innkeeper is the human, and the drunken peasants are the foreign philosophies. In life, the innkeeper, the human, has a single task: to prepare an appropriate dwelling (the mind/brain) for the royal guests, the wisdom of Torah.

To allow foreign philosophies to enter such a dwelling is to allow the drunken peasants into the remodeled tavern, prepared for the King’s sons. When the peasants fill the royal beds, there is no room for the princes. Similarly, when one’s mind is filled with foreign ideas and other stupidities, there is no room for the pure wisdom of Torah, the most essential nourishment for a healthy soul. With no Torah, the soul suffers.

With this in mind, we can explain this week’s parsha. G-d wants each of us to make our hearts and brains an appropriate sanctuary fit for the wisdom of the holy Torah. We must welcome the Torah into our sanctuaries and close the doors of our minds and hearts to foreign ideas. We must make our inner selves a mikdash me’at, a miniature sanctuary, worthy of the Shechina Kedosha, the King’s holy presence.