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HaShem’s House

By: Zoey Glaubach and Ms. Dena Freundlich

This week’s parsha, Terumah, is the first of several “Mishkan parshiot” that detail precisely how the Mishkan was constructed.   It is surprising that God would want us to build Him a house at all.  One of Judaism’s great innovations is the concept that God does not have a physical body.   In fact, the third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is Ani ma’amin be’emunah sheleima she’ha’borei yitbarach shemo eino guf – I believe with complete faith that the Creator blessed is His name is not physical.  So why would God want to potentially undermine this fundamental principle by insisting that we build him a physical home?

The question becomes still stronger when we examine Parshat Terumah and see how God wants us to furnish this home.    We might have expected exclusively spiritual contents – an altar, incense, and the like.  At first glance, this appears to be the case as the primary vessels described in the parsha are the aron, shulchan, and menorah.    However, when translated into English, one realizes that essentially these are a closet, a table, and a lamp!   Why would an incorporeal God want us to build Him not only a physical home, but mundane, human-like furniture?!

Perhaps one approach could be to suggest that though God is not at all physical, He recognizes our inability to grasp or relate to anything which so completely lacks a tangible form.  (In fact, this is exactly how the Kuzari explains the sin of Chet HaEgel – that the people were simply yearning for a tangible representation of HaShem to help direct their worship of Him.)  Thus, God commanded us to build Him a physical home and to furnish it with human-like objects simply as an accommodation to our human need to connect to Him in ways that we relate to. 

Alternatively, one could suggest that God is modeling for us the ideal way to view and build our own homes.  Yes, we need practical, useful items such as closets, tables, and lamps.  But perhaps the message of the Mishkan is that even such simple functional items have the potential to be transformed and elevated into meaningful spiritual objects.  The aron in the Mishkan was not just any closet; it contained the luchot that God gave Moshe on Har Sinai.  The shulchan was not simply a table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but rather held the Lechem HaPanim.  And the menorah was not merely a lamp with an on-off switch, but was a special mitzvah granted to Aharon and his sons to illuminate the Mishkan. 

Perhaps the message to us is that of course God Himself does not need a physical home or any other physical accoutrements.  However, perhaps He commands us to build Him precisely these things so as to teach us that these items can be used in spiritually meaningful ways by us as well.  Our closets and bookshelves hopefully contain siddurim, Judaica, and Tanachs just as God’s aron held the luchot.  Our tables should hopefully have words of Torah spoken over the meals, and brachot over the food.  And our lamps should illuminate homes in which families are being raised with Torah values.   Hopefully our own homes provide not only physical protection and comfort but are places filled with a sense of God’s presence, so that our homes are not merely places for us to relax in at the end of the day but, like the Mishkan, are places for us to live in together with God.