Terumah: The heart of Jewish life

The mishkan (and later the mikdash) was the heart of Jewish life, where God’s presence resided. The Torah refers to the mishkan as “mishkan ha-edut.” To what does it give testimony?

The midrash Tanhuma suggests 2 possibilities. 1) The mishkan is testimony to the Jewish people’s emunah and acceptance of Torah. This makes sense as this week’s parsha, Terumah, contains the command to build the mishkan which follows Matan Torah. 2) The mishkan was physical testimony to the nations of the world that God forgave Israel after the sin of the golden calf. This reading assumes that the command to build the mishkan took place after the chet ha’egel. Here the mishkan bears witness that God rescinded the decree to destroy Israel after Moshe pleads for Israel. The mishkan signified to Israel and the world, or possibly both, that the brit between Israel and God continues and thrives.

What happens to this testimony after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash? The Talmudic sages provide two possibilities for where God’s presence may reside in Babylonian exile, where there was no mikdash but there were examples of a “mikdash me’at,” mini-mikdash. Rabbi Yitzchak taught that God resides in the Beit Knesset or Beit Midrash, where the community gathers to pray and learn Torah. Rabbi Elazar taught that the Shechinah resides in the home of his teacher, also filled with Torah. The synagogue, the beit midrash, the home, where Jewish people gather, study and perform mitzvot – these places became the heart of Jewish life in the post-Temple times.

Today too, especially in the face of increasing antisemitism, these centers are an extension of the command to build the mikdash and convey meaning for both Israel and the world. Continuing to study, pray and gather – wherever we can – is the strongest expression and testament of vibrant Jewish life and continual bond between God and Israel. Shabbat Shalom🌸- Karen Miller Jackson

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