February 7, 2019
2 Adar I, 5779

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts … And let them make me a mishkan (sanctuary) that I may dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:1, 2, 8).

This week’s Torah portion focuses upon holy space. It opens with God’s command that the people are to bring gifts for the creation of the mishkan “that I may dwell in their midst.” The Israelites were charged to create this special space where God would reside in their midst. For this to happen it would require God who has neither body nor form but who nevertheless fills the entire universe with His glory, to constrict Himself to fit into this large earthly structure created in His honor.

The people did bring their gifts and God, in return, did constrict himself to reside in the mishkan. Ultimately the mishkan morphed into the majestic Temple constructed by Solomon and with the destruction of holy temples into synagogues where to this day we, the descendants of the Israelites, strive to experience God’s presence. God’s withdrawal into Himself enables us to become more acutely aware of His presence in our midst.

Three verses cited in a midrashic teaching describes how His focus on the vulnerable and the needy impacts on the divine human relationship.

In the Torah: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 10: 17, 18).

In Isaiah, “For thus says God I dwell in the high and holy place but also with the contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15).

In the Psalms: “God rides upon the skies but is also Father of the fatherless and Protector of widows” (Psalms 68:6).

The thrust of this teaching is that God makes His presence known when we, through our actions, affect His concern for those in need. God is perceived as descending from on high and by virtue of our good deeds we enable Him to be a positive force in our midst. God is thus at our side whenever we extend ourselves to visit the sick, comfort the mourners, and engage in acts of tzedakah or righteousness.

Partnering with humanity may be viewed as God’s way of demonstrating, “It’s not all about Me.” His plans and hopes for humanity are best realized as He channels within us that modicum of divine energy thereby enabling us to be there for one another. God thus dwells in our midst when we create venues where through various social justice programs we are inspired and enabled to share in this holy work.

Parenthetically, God’s willingness to trim the divine ego is an obvious challenge to the human tendency of aggrandizement whether in the political sphere, in our families or in the workplace.

May we continue to build contemporary mishkans where we partner with God and come to truly sense His presence in our midst.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat have peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman