Watch: a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Terumah with an English transcript.
Watch a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Terumah with an English transcript.
Scroll down for the English transcript.
In this week’s Parshah, Hashem commands the Jewish people to build a Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash for Him, a place where His shechinah can dwell.
Why must there be a specific spot that will house the shechinah? Doesn’t Hashem’s shechinah fill the entire world?
The primary service in the Beis Hamikdash was the avodah of korbanos. Nowadays, this has been replaced with prayer, in which a person takes his inner “animal” and “sacrifices” it to Hashem. Although this is a spiritual service, it too is grounded in physicality: We must face the physical spot where the Beis Hamikdash once stood, and it is specifically via there that our prayers ascend on High.
This, too, is difficult to understand. Even the fact that physical sacrifices may only be brought in the Beis Hamikdash and nowhere else begs for explanation. But why should our spiritual prayers and avodas Hashem be “weighed down” by the physical limitations of a finite spot?!
The Limits of Being Unlimited
We tend to think that while the limits of physicality are certainly infinitely distant from Hashem, something without limits or boundaries is closer to Him. A spiritual entity or activity is surely more Divine than a limited, physical act or place.
However, this is not true. Physicality and spirituality are equally removed from Hashem. Just as He is beyond limitations, He is beyond being higher than limitations. He can be found in a physical spot just as He can be found in the spiritual realms.
This is what it means when we say that Hashem is nimna hanimna’os. It is impossible for something to be impossible for Him. Just as He is not confined to limitations and boundaries, He is not limited to remaining higher than them.
Where can Hashem’s true unlimited quality be expressed? Not where there are limitations, and not even where there are no limitations. It can only be expressed where limitations and beyond limitations join together.
This is what was unique about the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash. On the one hand, it was a limited, measured spot with defined borders, and it and its vessels were required to be formed from specific materials and comprise precise measurements. At the same time, it was a miraculous place where the shechinah was revealed. It was a place where the ten miracles listed in Pirkei Avos joined hand in hand with the laws of nature, where the unlimited shechinah shone forth from a measured spot.
Take the aron, for example. It was 2.5 amos long, 1.5 amos wide, and 1.5 amos high. This was a halachic requirement; failure to meet these measurements would have rendered it unfit. Yet, when placed in the twenty-amah-long kodesh hakadashim, one was able to measure ten amos from the north wall to one side of the aron, and another ten amos from the south wall to the other side!
How was this possible? It wasn’t. It was a fusion of space with beyond space, a portrayal of how Hashem is not only beyond measurement, but beyond beyond-measurement as well. (If the aron would not need to consist of a specific measurement, the fact that it did not take up space would not have been a wonder. The miracle was that it did have a halachically mandated measurement, and at the same time it remained beyond measurement.)
This concept was expressed with the korbanos as well, in both their physical and spiritual manifestations. The sacrificed animal was confined by physical limitations and had to meet specific criteria to be fit for a korban. Then, this animal would be consumed by a fire that descended from on High, symbolizing the fusion of its finite existence with the infinite.
Similarly, our spiritual korbanos—our prayers—must be directed toward the exact spot where the Beis Hamikdash once stood, and it is specifically via there that they ascend Above. This, too, demonstrates how the unlimitedness of the spiritual joins with the boundaries of the physical.
A Mikdash in Business
In addition to building a physical Mikdash, we are instructed to build a spiritual Mikdash for Hashem, by infusing our daily activities with kedushah. Here as well, it is not enough to reveal the shechinah in the spiritual aspects of our lives, rather it must be revealed in the physical as well.
A person’s yetzer hara can protest:
“I understand that I must bring Elokus into the parts of the day that are clearly spiritual. When learning Torah, I will learn lishmah; when doing mitzvos, I will fulfill them scrupulously, with every hiddur, with kabolas ol, with chayus—you name it!
“But why must even my personal activities be done lesheim shamayim? Give me a break; allow me a few minutes for myself. Must every part of my day be connected with Hashem?!”
In fact, what is demanded is not only that כל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים, to have an intent lesheim shamayim in whatever you do, but furthermore—בכל דרכיך דעהו, “In all your ways you shall know Him.” כל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים means that you are engaging in business (for example) just like anyone else, and the difference is only in the intent: Why are you trying to make money? Not for the sake of making money, but to give tzedakah and be able to learn Torah without distractions. בכל דרכיך דעהו takes it a step further: You perceive Elokus within the business itself; you see Hashem’s hand in your dealings and how every event is orchestrated from Above.
Why, indeed, is it important to connect our physical actions with Elokus? Because that’s the whole point of making a Mishkan—to fuse the limited with the unlimited.
Three Parshiyos, Three Levels
Viewed in this light, the three parshiyos of Yisro, Mishpatim, and Terumah are steps in a ladder, each parshah building upon the previous one.
Before the giving of the Torah, elyonim and tachtonim, the spiritual and the physical, were two separate entities. Mattan Torah, described in Parshas Yisro, broke this barrier and accomplished that the two can unite as one.
However, the events of Mattan Torah were miraculous and heavenly, and did not fully demonstrate the extent of this union. Parshas Mishpatim adds to Parshas Yisro by demonstrating how a person’s finite, limited intellect can fuse with Hashem’s Wisdom, by understanding mishpatim in a way that is permeated with kabolas ol (as explained in last week’s The Chassidus Perspective).
Parshas Terumah takes this to a new level. Not only can human intellect—a spiritual, albeit limited, entity—connect with Hashem, but even a concrete spot, the ultimate of physicality, can be a place where His shechinah is revealed.
For further study, see Lekutei Sichos, Vol. 3, Parshas Terumah