It is in this sidra that the creation of the sanctuary is instituted.
“They shall make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them”,
is the crucial verse (Ex. 25:8). The commentators all seize on the word “b’tocham”, “among them”. It is not so much the building in which God dwells but amongst the people who create it.
From this interpretation arises a question. Couldn’t God have dwelt amidst the people without an edifice? If it is amongst the people that He dwelt, why should anyone bother to gather the building materials and have an edifice at all?
The beginning of an answer is suggested by something Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz said in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration: “A land focusses a people”.
Like the Land of Israel, the tabernacle focusses its people. It tells you what sort of people they are and where their priorities lie. It gives them a physical center. It brings them together in a united effort of creation.
Which leads us to a second question: Why couldn’t God have sent down the sanctuary ready-made and complete, without needing the human contribution towards the project?
Again an analogy: the rabbis say that when He made the world, the Almighty left tasks uncompleted for the human race to finish off, making Man the partner of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the work of creation (Talmud Shabbat 10a). Only if and when human beings have a role to play do they fully value the achievement.
I’D LIKE TO BE A SAINT
In world culture, though not necessarily in Judaism, the cherubim (Ex. 25:20) have become a symbol of little saints. In Christianity, saints are venerated for their exceptional faith and deeds, and their relics have special status. (Brian Moynahan points out in his book, “The Faith” that there was a time in Christian history when there were so many saints that the critics said that there was no evidence that some names on the list had even existed.)
But that’s not what the Jewish concept of “k’doshim” means. It means “holy people”. The Torah says, “k’doshim tih’yu”, “you shall be holy people” (Lev. 19:2).
When my cheder teacher trained us to say b’rachot with the words “asher kidd’shanu b’mitzvotav”, “You made us holy with Your commandments”, my mind went blank. Years passed and I learnt some Torah. I discovered that the best ambition one can have is to lead a decent, honest, upright life, whatever one’s profession – a train driver, a teacher, a butcher, a baker or candlestick maker (even a rabbi!). I even read that Leo Baeck taught that the highest Jewish hero type is to be a reliable ba’al habayit.
When we are very young we fully expect to grow up normally and live forever. By now of course I know that I won’t live forever, but I can still grow in the categories of day-by-day holiness without being a saint.
THE ONES WHO CAN’T GIVE
The rules of “T’rumah” are set out in a whole Mishnaic tractate. Not only does the Mishnah specify who may and should give “T’rumah” (heave-offering) but who is excluded from the mitzvah.
“Five categories”, says the Mishnah, “do not give T’rumah – the deaf mute, the idiot, the minor, the person who gives from that which is not his, and the gentile”. Giving T’rumah therefore requires you to be able to hear, to be sane and adult, to give from your own property, and to be Jewish.
The same five qualifications may be applied to giving where giving is necessary in today’s Jewish society.
One must be able to hear: ears that are open heed the cry of those who need support and assistance.
One must be sane: if you are thinking straight you will know that only if we all pull our weight can the future be assured.
One must be adult: children do not always make responsible decisions, but adults must.
You must give of that which is yours: whatever we have comes on trust from the Almighty, and part of His requirements is to think of others as well as yourself.
One must be Jewish: only the Jewish people fully understands how Israel is Jewish destiny in the making; only the Jewish people completely appreciates how precious Judaism is and how urgent it is to ensure it will live and thrive.