Shabbat Greetings

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), we learned that God asked the Jewish People to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle)?  Why? Does God need a home, or is God everywhere? The text tells us: “God said to Moses, ‘Let them build Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’” (25:8)

The key word in this line is the verb (SH-CH-N) ‘to dwell’. Never before had it been used in connection with God. It later became a keyword of Judaism itself. The root of this word is also in the word Mishkan, meaning a holy sanctuary, and Shechinah, the Divine Presence.

The core meaning is the idea of closeness. Shachen in Hebrew means a neighbor, the person who lives nearby. The Mishkan was not built because it was something God needed. It was for the people. What the Israelites needed – and what God gave them – was a way of feeling as close to God as to our next-door neighbor.

How do we come to sense the presence of God? Many people feel God’s presence when standing at the foot of Mount Everest or seeing the Grand Canyon. You do not have to be very religious, or even religious at all, to feel awe in the presence of a sublime landscape. But how do you feel the presence of God in the midst of everyday life?

That is the life-transforming secret of the name of our portion, Terumah. It means “a contribution,” or “a gift.” God said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to take for Me a contribution. You are to receive the contribution for Me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.” (25:2) 

The best way of encountering God is to give. The very act of giving flows from, and leads to, the understanding that what we give is part of what we were given. It is a way of giving thanks, an act of gratitude. That is the difference in the human mind between the presence of God and the absence of God. The Torah tells us something simple and practical. Give, and you will come to see life as a gift. You don’t need to be able to prove God exists. All you need is to be thankful that you exist – and the rest will follow. Where people give voluntarily to one another and to holy causes, that is where the Divine Presence rests. Hence the message of this week’s portion. God doesn’t live in a house of stone. God lives in the hearts of those who give.