T’rumah/Offering: Going Deeper into Torah Text

The Torah portion T’rumah is about the building of the Tabernacle in the desert. This could be read at face value as a rather boring set of building instructions. But we are never limited to the simple meaning in Torah. Rabbi Josh Weisman of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro sent this beautiful message to his congregation.  I invite you to read it and to consider how you relate to the intimacy it suggests each human has with the Divine.


You are the sanctuary!
This week’s Torah portion begins a long series of descriptions of the design of the mishkan, the portable desert sanctuary in which the people will worship God. The instructions are detailed and repetitive, and – on the surface level – many people find them boring.

But, once again, the Hasidic masters save the day! And, as usual, they do so by spiritualizing this otherwise very physical text. How so?

First, let’s understand what the Torah says about the mishkan:
It is to be made of gifts from each person, gifts freely given from the heart. That right there is pretty amazing!
It is made of materials from the Earth: Precious metals, plant and animal-derived fabrics and skins, and wood. Also cool.
The point of building it is for God to “dwell” among the people – the word mishkan itself is from the same root as the word for dwelling.
God has a blueprint for it that the people are supposed to follow.

The Hasidic masters take these basic facts and make something remarkable from it. Instead of being (just) about some tent in a desert long ago, it turns out that the mishkan is about you:

You build the mishkan.
You are the mishkan.
And the point of building this mishkan that is you is for God to dwell in you.

The Ohr Ha-Chayyim teaches this in a phenomenal drash on these verses. He’s not the only one, but he says it well:

The Divine spark, he says, is already in each of us, just as it is in every being. But that spark is hard to see. It gets covered up, buried under the ashes. It takes work to tend that spark and help it glow brighter and brighter. The earthy materials that the people are to bring to build the mishkan are the psycho-spiritual qualities that we are each given to work with in our lives: love, discipline, beauty, acceptance, persistence, connection, manifestation.

When we work on our qualities we are using them to build ourselves into a vessel, a mishkan, where that Divine spark can finally grow into its full realized self, the presence of God itself, the Shekhinah. That’s why it’s called mishkan, the dwelling, because the Shekhinah, the in-dwelling presence of God, lives there!

That’s why the Torah portion has us building this mishkan from our own gifts from the heart, from earthy materials, making a place for God to dwell in us.

And that’s why God ends this introduction to the chapters on the mishkan by saying “they will build me a sanctuary, that I will dwell in them.” It doesn’t say “among the people,” says the Oh Ha-Chayyim, it says “inside each of them.”

Wow! This is an inspiration, a revelation, and a (friendly) challenge to each of us.

It presents us with a couple of questions:

First, since this is really about you, what kind of sanctuary – what kind of dwelling for Divine presence – do you want to make of yourself?

And this commentator points out that the materials for constructing the mishkan are earthy materials, meaning that the materials are within our reach. That’s why he says that the materials are actually our qualities of character and spirit that we work with to make ourselves into dwelling places for the Divine presence.

That prompts another question: What are the materials that you can work with to be your best, to feel that Divine spark that’s inside you growing brighter and brighter, to feel that presence of the Divine inside you?

In dark and sad times like these, it is more important than ever to understand the potential each of us has to fan that spark of holiness inside us. We can be a dwelling place for the Divine. We can build the world we want to see by starting with ourselves. Because a world full of people who work on themselves to make themselves into holy dwelling places is a world we all want to live in.

Rabbi Josh Weisman of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro.