Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Walk Article-Teruma


Teruma-Rosh Chodesh Adar I-5774

Rabbi David Walk


            There is a famous argument about the building of the Mishkan or portable temple which accompanied the Jews during their stay in the desert.  The first team claims that the construction of this structure was an integral part of our religion, and we couldn't conceive of a spiritual life without this central cultic center.  And even when, like nowadays, we don't actually have this holy edifice, we still yearn for it and refer to it often in our prayers.  On the other hand, there are great authorities who assert that this amazing structure was not part of God's original plan.  The fabrication of this remarkable building was part of God's reaction to the sin of the Golden Calf, when the Jews displayed an inability to exist without tangible manifestations of God's presence in our midst.  I don't know which position is right and I must admit that I vacillate between the two positions.  By the way, this is one of the few times when one could maintain that both sides are actually correct, because the material describing the creation of the Mishkan is actually presented twice, once for the pre-sin status and once for the post-sin position. 

            The most prominent proponent of the Mishkan as always having been part of God's plan is Nachmanides (1194-1270).  He explains that the Mishkan and later the Holy Temple were meant to perpetuate the experience of the Revelation at Mount Sinai, so that we could carry that event with us forever.  However, I'm very moved by the explanation of the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur, 1847-1905).  He wrote:  A person must clarify how the Shekhina (Divine Spirit) rests in every thing. For surely the entire world is full of God's glory. But in accordance with a person's faith, he can feel the Shekhina. In the Mikdash, it was actualized… And this is the resting of the Shekhina in every thing, that the belief should be fixed that the vitality of everything is above nature, and this is the Mikdash (Sefat Emet, Teruma, 5633, 1873).  Our spirituality is enhanced by the existence of this structure.

            But much of the rabbinic world is convinced that God would not have demanded this undertaking if not for the sin of the Golden Calf.  This position is presented very forcefully and beautifully by the Pri Zadik (Reb Zadok Hacohen of Lublin, 1823-1900).  He writes that at the moment of the revelation when God said "I am the Lord, your God' all of Torah was injected into the hearts of every Jew, and when God said 'have no other gods before Me' the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) was eradicated from the hearts of every listener.  At that magic moment the Clouds of Glory enveloped the entire encampment in the desert.  There was no spiritual distinction between one group and another within the nation.  We were all on the level which the Holy Temple later represented.  It must have been an awesome time.

            The Pri Zadik then sadly recounts how when the Yetzer Hara returned, God then gave the instruction to 'make a sanctuary in your midst'.  This established a specific place where the previous marvelous reality could be realized and the cognizance of God's presence would not be forgotten.  The Rebbe then goes on to explain that this is similar to the heart within every human.  We have a central organ which represents the spiritual aspirations of the sensitive human.  He points out that this is why the contributions to the building project were called nedivat lev, offerings of the heart, because the heart would occupy in our bodies the place of the Mishkan in our society. 

            All of the material that I've quoted from Reb Zadok so far comes from his first d'var Torah on this week's Torah reading, but if you jump to the tenth Torah he wrote on this parsha you discover a fascinating idea.  There he quotes from the Sheloh (R. Isaiah Halevi Horowitz, 1558-1628) who explains the importance of this week's parsha during a Hebrew calendar leap year, because it usually coincides with the beginning of the added month, which is Adar the first.  One might have thought that the second Adar is the extra one, but we're being taught that's not true.  The second Adar contains Purim and is the default date for birthdays and Yahrzeits which occur in a regular Adar.  So, Rabbi Horowitz is instructing us that this added month allows for our lunar year to catch up with the solar year.  In rabbinic lore the moon was diminished to secondary status because of complaining to God (Chulin 60b), but it will be restored in a future time to equal importance with the sun.  This will only happen after repentance has been achieved. Until then we artificially make the lunar year equal to the solar one. Therefore, this added time is most appropriate for Teshuva.

            That the intercalated or extra month fixes (tikun) a spiritual shortcoming, just like the Mishkan does, means that it is right and fitting for this reading to coincide with this Hebrew date.  And now we understand why the extra month brings the additional blessing of kaparat pasha (atonement for transgression) which is inserted into our Musaf prayer on Rosh Chodesh during leap years.  We have this further reminder of repentance and repair because that's the entire purpose of the leap year to restore the balance between the sun and moon. This is so similar, of course, to that understanding of the Mishkan as a repair for the presence of God being exiled from our desert camp when we sinned with the golden Calf.

            All these ideas make this Shabbat so very special.  It serves as a reminder of, perhaps, the single most important spiritual idea, namely that we can get back to where we once belonged.  This is also a great Shabbat to think about the amazing idea that someday we will walk about a world with the Divine Presence everywhere.  May it come speedily!