Our parsha, which mainly discusses very detailed instructions for the building of the Mishkan, sneaks in at the beginning a hint as to why the Jewish People should undertake such a big construction project:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם.
You shall make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell in it (שמות כה:ח)
On a basic level, this seems simple enough- G-d would like a resting place for His Shechina, His divine presence, so that’s why we’re being told how to build it. The real question is; why are the Jewish People themselves told to build a temple for G-d, and why are they commanded specifically now to build it?
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, former leader of the Jewish community in Germany, answers in an uncharacteristically symbolic way. He teaches that this passuk is actually a very deep promise to the Jewish people; “If you, the Jewish People, live lives for the sake of heaven (make your lives into a mikdash), then I (G-d) will dwell amongst you.” While this interpretation may have given basis to Rav Yitzchak Hutner composing and Rav Shmuel Brazil popularizing the popular song “בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו…,” given that our parsha goes into great detail about the construction of the Mishkan, and this is the only passuk that remotely resembles an explanation, it’s very difficult to accept such a deep symbolic interpretation.
For those, like myself, who are pashtanim at heart, Ramban offers a more straightforward and literal approach. After the revelation at Har Sinai, the Jews had to return to their daily lives in the desert. In order to bridge the gap and extend the excitement of Sinai to the banality of normalcy, G-d gave the Jews an opportunity to welcome His presence into their camp by building Him a home. The Jews’ avodat Hashem would without a doubt grow exponentially from welcoming the Shechina into their midst, but at the end of the day, the purpose of their avoda was building a home for G-d, not themselves.
What emerges from these approaches are two different attitudes towards the building of the mishkan. There are those, based on the Ramban, who believe that the building of the mishkan was work whose ultimate and primary purpose was to build a home for G-d, and through that elevating ourselves. On the other hand, there are those who, based on Rav Hirsch, posit that the main reason for the construction of the mishkan was to elevate ourselves, and through this, build a home for G-d.
While this would seem to be a debate solely relevant to Parshat Teruma, I would like to suggest that since the more general word “mikdash” is used in our passuk instead of mishkan, this disagreement may have more far reaching consequences than the portable Tabernacle in the desert- it may also have affected two latter construction projects ,and even a future one. By looking further in Tanach, perhaps we can try to settle exactly why a Mikdash would be built.
The Haftara generally read with Parshat Teruma is a segment from Melachim I, telling of the construction of the first Mikdash by King Shlomo. In it, we read an account written in a level of detail very comparable to our parsha, but that’s not the only common theme between Teruma and its Haftara. At the end of the construction, G-d comes to Shlomo in a vision and says:
הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בֹנֶה, אִם-תֵּלֵךְ בְּחֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת-כָּל-מִצְוֹתַי, לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם–וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-דְּבָרִי אִתָּךְ, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל-דָּוִד אָבִיךָ. וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב, אֶת-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
This Temple that you build- if you follow My decrees, perform My laws, and guard all of My commandments to follow them, then I shall uphold my word with you as I said to your father David. I shall dwell among the Children of Israel and never forsake my nation Israel. (מלכים א ו:יא-יג)
These two promises, which seem to be two separate ideas, are crucial. On the one hand, when there is a Temple, the Jewish people must follow all of the commandments and guard the mitzvot– only through that will G-d deign to stay in our midst, in fulfillment of His promise to King David. On the other hand, we are promised that G-d will never leave us, something which seems to be independent of having a Temple, since Radak (שם) teaches that Shlomo actually received this prophecy at the beginning of construction, not towards the end. In a nutshell, G-d promises never to leave us no matter what, but once we build a Mikdash, we must bring ourselves to a higher level in order to merit G-d’s shechina to dwell amongst us, which seems to be in direct agreement with Ramban’s approach that first the Jewish people build a home for G-d, and through that, they will reach a higher level.
Since we will be celebrating Rosh Chodesh Adar I this Shabbat, the usual Haftara will be substituted for a special one, which doesn’t usually have a connection to the Parsha. This week, however, the Parsha is very much connected to Haftarat Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, which speaks of the time that G-d will fulfill His promise of “ולא אעזב את עמי ישראל.” Yishaya the prophet, in conclusion to Sefer Yishayahu, prophesizes about the final war that will bring the Mashiach, the war of Gog and Magog. The Haftara opens:
כֹּה, אָמַר ה’, הַשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאִי, וְהָאָרֶץ הֲדֹם רַגְלָי; אֵי-זֶה בַיִת אֲשֶׁר תִּבְנוּ-לִי, וְאֵי-זֶה מָקוֹם מְנוּחָתִי.
So said Hashem; the heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool- what house could you build for Me, and what could be My resting place? (ישיעהו סו:א)
After going into further poetic detail of G-d’s power, the Navi continues:
שִׁמְעוּ, דְּבַר-ה’, הַחֲרֵדִים, אֶל-דְּבָרוֹ; אָמְרוּ אֲחֵיכֶם שֹׂנְאֵיכֶם מְנַדֵּיכֶם, לְמַעַן שְׁמִי יִכְבַּד ה’–וְנִרְאֶה בְשִׂמְחַתְכֶם, וְהֵם יֵבֹשׁוּ.
Listen to G-d’s words, those who fear Him; your brethren who hate you and distance themselves from you saying ‘Hashem is glorified from my reputation’- but I shall see your gladness when they are shamed. (ישיעהו סו:ה)
I believe that this passuk is instrumental in answering the machloket between Ramban and Rav Hirsch, whether priority is purifying ourselves to receive G-d’s shechina or building Him a home first. The Haftara opens with G-d asking; “in a time of the biggest strife that the Jewish People will ever face, who is thinking about My home?” Then G-d tells Yishaya something which I believe is very much connected to the first passuk; “those who truly fear Me, the ones who are singled out and distanced from other Jews because of their beliefs, are the ones who put My needs before theirs, not the ones who think that the best way to glorify Me is through raising themselves.” In the context of the first passuk, this would seem to say that the ones who are truly “חרדים אל דברו” are the ones who answer G-d’s call of “איזה מקום מנוחתי” instead of trying to glorify Him through their glory. If we truly want to fear G-d, we must follow His commands and put His needs before ours.
The idea of these fake “chareidim” who worry about their own glory before G-d’s is not a new idea at all. In the fourth century BCE, when King Cyrus of Persia gave the Jewish People permission to return to Israel under the leadership of Ezra the scribe, the Jewish People followed G-d’s implicit call of “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” and began building Him the Second Temple as soon as they settled in. On the day that the foundations of the Temple were finished, there was a great celebration with dances and feasts. But, not everyone was happy:
וְרַבִּים מֵהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם וְרָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת הַזְּקֵנִים, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ אֶת-הַבַּיִת הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּיָסְדוֹ–זֶה הַבַּיִת בְּעֵינֵיהֶם, בֹּכִים בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל..
But many from the Kohanim and Levites and the leaders (lit. “elders”), who had seen the First Temple in its foundation, wept loudly when they saw the new Temple. (עזרא ג:יב)
Even at the height of joy of the Shivat Zion, there were those who were too busy remembering the past, to focus on a simple and important fact; that Hashem once again will have a home. The call of “איזה מקום מנוחתי” had been answered, and a lavish mikdash was being built for G-d’s glory, but the so-called zekainim were too busy looking at the negatives. They only saw how the new mikdash wouldn’t have an aron, and how few people were in Eretz Yisrael compared to before the Babylonian exile. They were so caught up in these details, that they lost track of the fact that G-d’s home was being rebuilt. They couldn’t understand what the rest of Shivat Zion did- that rebuilding is a process, and every small act of rebuilding is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, their self-centered and shortsighted cries ended up ruining the celebration for everyone else, for the perek concludes:
וְאֵין הָעָם, מַכִּירִים קוֹל תְּרוּעַת הַשִּׂמְחָה, לְקוֹל, בְּכִי הָעָם
And the nation was not able to notice the sound of the celebrations, because of the overwhelming sounds of weeping. (עזרא ג:יג)
In our times, we also have potential party-poopers who, using Rav Hirsch’s interpretation of ועשו לי מקדש, believe that before rebuilding, we must bring ourselves to higher spiritual levels first. These so-called Hareidim go through the world, crying out against the State of Israel because, in their eyes, it is not as great as previous Malchut Yisrael. Ignoring miraculous circumstances that outdo those leading to Shivat Zion, they decry the evil secular government and threaten to ruin any and every celebration with their mourning, with Hashem’s shechina still sitting homeless, waiting for someone to rebuild Her home. To them, I say again what Rav Yissachar Teichtel says at least a hundred times in Em Habanim Semecha; “כל התחלות קשות- all beginnings are difficult.” If we are too caught up in ourselves to handle a little bit of a difficulty and ambiguity, then, in the words of Yishaya Hanavi, we do not truly fear G-d. The true Hareidim are the ones who go into a world that is not yet ideal, and take away from their personal honor to build a temple for the G-d whose throne is the heavens, yet does not yet have a home. As we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar I, and say at least three times each day “יעלה ויבוא… וזכרון כל עמך בית ישראל לפניך,” it becomes clear that in order to merit “וזכרון משיח בן דוד עבדיך,” we must have all of the Jewish People together, fearing G-d and serving Him for His glory and not for theirs. With Hashem’s help, all of us will begin fearing G-d properly, and through this we will merit “וזכרון משיח בן דוד עבדיך וזכרון ירושלים עיר קדשיך” with a permanent and final home being built for G-d’s shechina in the eternal capital of the Jewish People, very very soon.