A Dynamic Relationship
A Message for Parashat Terumah 2017
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Parashat Terumah is the first of several parashot that describe the Mishkan. What was the purpose of the Mishkan? R. Moshe b. Nahman (Ramban) suggested that it was meant to shift the public manifestation of God’s glory at Sinai into the private domain of a sanctuary. He noted the similar descriptions of Sinai – “And God’s glory abode on Har Sinai” (24:16), and the Mishkan – “And the glory of God filled the Mishkan” (40:34), and pointed to the similar restrictions of entrance and prerequisite purification of each.
Building upon Ramban’s explanation while viewing the command to build the Mishkan in its broader context may shed light on its vital role in the developing relationship of God and Am Yisrael at that time. Whereas Ma’amad Har Sinai ended with fear and recoil, the command to build the Mishkan encouraged approach. The end of Parashat Yitro described the shaken nation’s request of Moshe, “Speak you with us that we may hear, and let not God speak with us lest we die” (20:19). The distance then intensified with the description of a cloud-covered mountain, at the end of Parashat Mishpatim. But God then turned to Moshe and demanded, “And they shall make Me a Mikdash, that I may abide in their midst” (25:9). By continuing His presence in the Mishkan, God was setting the stage for resumption of a forward-moving relationship with the nation.
Ha-Rambam famously located this “back and forth” relationship with God in the precepts of love and fear of God. He first wrote:
And what is the way to the love of Him and the fear of Him? At the hour that man contemplates His great and wondrous works and creatures, and from them obtains a glimpse of His wisdom which is incomparable and infinite, he will straightaway love Him, praise Him, glorify Him, and desire with an exceeding desire to know His great name, even as David said, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Tehillim 42:3).
The approach of God, an appreciation of His might, and the desire to know His great name was intensely experienced during the theophany at Sinai.
Ha-Rambam then continued:
And when he ponders these very matters, he will straightaway recoil and be frightened, and realize that he is a small creature, lowly and obscure, endowed with slight and slender intelligence, standing in the presence of Him who is perfect in knowledge. And so David said, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers – what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Tehillim 8:4-5)
The fear of God and recoil from His overwhelming presence was Am Yisrael’s immediate reaction to Ma’amad Har Sinai.
Seeking God’s presence in the Mishkan represented the next step in a relationship best defined as a continuous “approach and recoil.” Ha-Rambam later delineated this condition, and wrote:
When one reflects on these things and comes to know all created beings…and sees His wisdom in all created things – his love for God will increase, his sould will thirst, his very flesh will yearn to love God. He will be filled with fear and trembling because of his lowly condition, his poverty, his insignificance…
The Torah’s description of Ma’amad Har Sinai, its aftermath, and the Mishkan are representative of our own relationships with God. They are far more complicated than a one-word description and instead exist as a constant flux between love and fear, back and forth, and approach and recoil.