Weekly Torah Commentary — Terumah February 15, 2013

TERUMAH – Exodus 25:1-27:19

“They shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. According to what I will show you, after the form of the Tabernacle and the form of all its vessels, and so shall you do.” (Exodus 25:8)

The Talmud comments that the end of the verse — “so shall you do” — means: “so shall you do through all the generations.” (Sanhedrin, 16b)

This comment in the Talmud underscores the most important lesson contained within the instructions to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle): Every individual who is a part of Hashem’s people is called to be a living Tabernacle in miniature.

This understanding is supported by the phrase — so that I may dwell among them — which literally means within each and every one of them. The commandment to construct a Tabernacle is primarily a personal commandment to be observed in every generation for Hashem’s Shechina – His glorious presence – rests primarily in the neshama, the soul.

When Hashem’s presence finds a welcome resting place in the majority of Jewish hearts, then and only then do we have a Tabernacle in the outside world as well. The connection between Hashem and ourselves is not determined by buildings or objects no matter how ‘holy’ we believe they are. The human heart of the individual is the true resting place of the Divine Presence in this world.

The obligation to construct God’s Sanctuary throughout the generations stressed by the Talmud can be carried out at any time and in any place by every individual. How is this accomplished?

In order to comprehend how this construction is a human task, we must understand from a Torah perspective the difference between thoughts and emotions on the one hand and actions on the other hand.

The vast majority of the 613 commandments of the Torah are focused on actions. There are 248 positive commandments requiring us to take positive actions (such as the circumcision of the new born son on the eighth day, etc.), and there are 365 negative commandments which forbid other forms of action (such as gossip, slander, etc). Very few of the commandments are directed at thoughts or feelings. So heavy an emphasis is placed by the Torah on actions versus thoughts, that the Talmud states the following:

God considers a good thought the equivalent of the completed good deed, as it is written, ‘then the God fearing spoke to one another, and God listened and heard, and it was recorded before Him in the book of memory of the God-fearing and those who give thought to His name’ (Malachi 3:16).

Strictly speaking, from the standpoint of reward and punishment only deeds are counted, not thoughts. But Hashem, in His great loving-kindness, is willing to assign righteous thoughts the weight of deeds, so that they may be rewarded as well.

It is said that every sin begins in the realm of thought. So does every virtue. Our thoughts give birth to our words and actions, both positive and negative.

The construction of the human Temple of Hashem’s presence requires us to be masters over our thoughts. But how can this be done? The Psalms teach us that when we fill our minds with words of Torah and the Prophets, meditating on them and discussing them with others, we foster the purity of our own hearts. Psalm 119 is one of the greatest sources of meditation for this purpose.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at our thinking patterns; are they primarily positive — or negative? how often does Hashem and words of His Torah come to our minds as we go about our daily tasks? It is safe to assume that all of us will be found wanting in this arena and therefore all of us can resolve this Shabbat to pay closer attention to how we think in order to positively affect our attitudes, words and behavior.

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