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Parashat Trumah 5777: Building a Sanctuary

Rabbi Daniel Nevins wrote that, for him, the Arch of Titus in Rome is simultaneously one of the saddest and most exciting places for a Jew to stand. It is but a short distance from the Colosseum, the stadium made famous by its cruel sports, built with money plundered from the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Titus’s Arch celebrates the destruction of our Temple, a building designated by Isaiah to be a house of prayer for all nations. A bas-relief sculpture on the arch’s inner walls depicts a sickening scene: the triumphant display of the Temple’s sacred objects, the Menorah most prominent among them, along with a pathetic procession of enslaved Jews. Rabbi Nevins once visited this spot with a group of Christian clergy and found himself suddenly weeping over this ancient tragedy. A Catholic deacon named Mark asked from all to embrace and pray together in order to repair some of the hatred and violence of that scene with their friendship and respect. He appreciated Mark’s instinct, and it helped. And yet, the image of the Menorah above their heads reminded him of the destruction of our Temple and the two millennia of exile and oppression which followed the sack of Jerusalem. On the other side, sad as the sight of this arch is, Rabbi Nevins admits that it is also fascinating. After all, this is the closest that we can get to an eyewitness account of the design of the ancient Menorah, at least as it appeared in the Second Temple. Almost a third of the book of Shmot is dedicated to the planning and building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and its sacred objects, including this Menorah. It seems that the Torah gives to this a lot of importance, so we should try to understand why, especially as for us it is sometimes harder to connect with the idea of a physical Sanctuary. I believe we find here an important lesson about building a community and our relationship with God. Even if the Revelation in Sinai was awe inspiring and impressive, it doesn’t accompany man on his daily life. If God wants to be a living God, He needs a place between them. “And make me a Sanctuary so I can live inside them”. God wants Israel to build him a house, a place to be always inside of them and instructs everyone to bring donations for this purpose, if their hearts agree to the petition. The word Truma, donation, comes from the same root of leharim, to raise. Not to raise the donor above other people with special honours, as we saw that the donation has to come from the heart, but the donation elevates the donor, to an objective bigger than himself, to be part of something important, connect with the needs of the community and through them to God living inside them. However, we can understand things in a different level and read the same verse understanding that God is commanding us to build Him a Sanctuary inside ourselves. Is telling us that if we do this, if we build a place for God inside us, in our soul, in our bodies, then He will dwell inside us. We are the Sanctuary for God. How do we turn into a Sanctuary? We turn our eating into holy when we apply the traditions of Kashrut. We turn our business into holy when we do them in an ethical and moral way, giving a part of our revenues to Tzedaka. We turn our family lives into holy when we build an atmosphere of respect and equality, when we keep the traditions of Family Sanctity (Mikvah), when in our homes there is love, friendship and unity. We turn our time into holy when we sanctify it through Shabbat and Holidays. When we do all this, or when we aspire to do it and make an effort to fulfill that aspiration some day, then we invite God to dwell inside us and be a part of our daily life, every single moment.

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