Parshat Terumah details the instructions God gave as to how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In the midst of the verses it says (25:8), “And they shall make a holy place for Me and I shall dwell in them.” Grammatically speaking however, it should have said, “and I shall dwell in it,” not, “in them.” Why does it say that the Jews should build a place for God to dwell in “them”?
The Alshich tells us that Parshas Terumah is hinting that the ultimate intention of God is that we should make ourselves into proper places for God to bestow His presence upon. God’s appearance in the Mishkan was actually only an outcome of God bestowing his presence upon the souls of the people. In fact, our Sages tell us (Mechilta Beshalach, 3) that the presence of God already rested upon the nation of Israel from the time the nation entered Egypt and on. Having God dwell amongst us was not a new concept initiated by the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was only a special, designated place for the presence of God to reside on a higher level and in a more open manner. But the truth is that every Jew who conducts his home according to the spirit of the Torah creates a place for God to rest in his own home.
The Talmud tells us (Sotah, 17a) that a Jewish couple who conducts themselves properly, merits that the presence of God will rest between them. It was the presence of God upon the souls of the Jews which spread into the Mishkan.
Rabbi Eliezer Turk was walking one morning in the streets of Jerusalem when he saw a respectable Torah scholar, one of the greatest rabbis in town, taking the garbage out of his house. Rabbi Turk approached the scholar and said, “Good morning Rebbi (my teacher).”
The rabbi turned around and responded, “Good morning to you too. But why did you call me ‘Rebbi?’ You’re not a student of mine.”
“Well,” said Rabbi Turk, “I just learned something from you. I learned from you that there is nothing shameful about a Torah scholar taking out the garbage.”
The scholar then retorted, “This should not be such a surprise. In the Bais Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), the first service of the day, which was granted to the winner of a special lottery, was the service of removing the ashes from the altar. Isn’t that the equivalent of removing the garbage? Why did you have to learn this concept from me?”
“That’s true,” answered Rabbi Turk, “But that was a service in the Bais Hamikdash. That was very holy.”
“That’s true,” said the scholar, “You should know that my whole life I work on feeling like my home is like the Bais Hamikdash!”
This concept is not just a metaphor, but a reality. As the Alshich tells us, the presence of God which rested in the Mishkan, and later in the Bais Hamikdash, was only initiated by God bestowing His presence upon His people. A Jewish home is not just a place to eat and sleep. A Jewish home is a place for God to dwell. The house of a Jew who is focused on carrying out the will of God is a holy house of worship, just like the Bais Hamikdash! This gives us a new level of the respect we should have for our homes. Our homes are not just physical places for ourselves to reside. Our homes are places where the Almighty Himself bestows His presence. In such a home, everything is transformed into holiness. Even taking out the garbage becomes a sacred task. If you take out the garbage with the intention of keeping the house of God neat and clean, it can be compared to doing a service in the Bais Hamikdash! If we think about the fact the God dwells among us, and we strive to conduct our lives in a manner which attracts the presence of God, we will gain a new perspective to our entire lives. One does not talk or act the same way if he realizes God has made it a point to reside in his personal home. One who wishes to have God’s presence with him understands that he must keep his behavior on a higher level than he would otherwise. Even today, when we don’t have the Mishkan or the Bais Hamikdash, God is eager to rest his presence upon us. How can we dismiss such an awesome opportunity to bring such greatness into our lives?
Parshas Terumah by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)