Parshat Terumah contains the instructions for building the portable sanctuary which we call the Mishkan. The purpose of this sanctuary is stated at the beginning of the Parsha:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
They will make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. (Shemot 25:3)
Even though the word Mishkan means “place of dwelling,” G-d makes it clear that His intention is not to have a place to live, but rather to allow His Presence to be felt by the Jewish People. He will not dwelling in “it,” He will be dwelling “among them.”
The same phrase is used in the Haftarah, which describes the construction of the first permanent sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash, built by Shlomo in Yerushalayim. After the description of the massive effort and architectural marvels, the Haftarah tells us that G-d has a message for Shlomo:
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:
About this House that you are building: if you follow My statutes and carry out My laws, and keep all My commandments, to walk in their ways, then I shall keep My word to you as I spoke to your father, David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will not forsake My people, Israel. (Melachim I 6:12-13)
Here too, G-d stresses that the purpose of this building is for Him to dwell among the Jewish People, and refers to an earlier conversation that He had with Shlomo’s father, David. In order for us to understand the full import of what G-d was telling Shlomo, we need to go back to the context of that earlier conversation.
Soon after David established his kingdom and built his own palace in Yerushalayim, he decided that he felt uncomfortable living in such grandeur, while the Sanctuary that contained the Ark of the Covenant, also in Yerushalayim, was housed in a simple goatskin tent. He mentioned to his court prophet, Natan, that the right thing to do would be to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary. At first, Natan was enthusiastic about the idea and told him to go right ahead and implement this plan. However, that very night, G-d appeared to Natan with the following message for David HaMelech:
בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲדָבָר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶת אַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לִרְעוֹת אֶת עַמִּי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר לָמָּה לֹא בְנִיתֶם לִי בֵּית אֲרָזִים .. וְהִגִּיד לְךָ ה’ כִּי בַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְּךָ ה’
For all that I walked with all of children of Israel, did I ever say to one of the tribes of Israel, that I had appointed to herd My people Israel, saying, why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar? … Hashem said to you that Hashem will make you a house (Shmuel II 7:7)
In a prime example of prophetic sarcasm, G-d points out that in the four hundred years since the Exodus, He had never once asked them to build Him a house. He assures David that if He had had a problem with the tent where the Sanctuary was placed, He would have let them know. The house that David needs to worry about is his own “house”, his dynasty, that G-d is building for him. Only after this dynasty is firmly established, would his son be permitted to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary.
After hearing this message, David put aside his dream of building a House for G-d, and focused on building his kingdom and raising Shlomo to be the first ever hereditary ruler of the Jewish People.
In the Haftarah, we are at the point where Shlomo has fulfilled David’s dream. And now that Shlomo has built this architectural wonder of a Beit Hashem, a House for G-d, G-d reminds him that He doesn’t particularly need or want it.
What, then, does He want? On this point, G-d is very clear, both in the Parsha and in the Haftarah. The purpose of the beautiful impressive House is the same as the purpose of the simple goatskin tent: “to dwell among the Jewish People.”
This phrase, “dwelling among us” refers to the prophetic experience of G-d by the entire nation. Part of the purpose of the Revelation at Sinai was the profound sense of the “Glory of Hashem” which was manifest by a “cloud” that “dwelled” on the mountain:
וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן
The Glory of Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai; the cloud covered it for six days; He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the cloud. (Shmot 24:17)
When the Mishkan that is first described in Parshat Terumah was finally completed, its dedication was accompanied by a similar description:
וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד ה’ מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן
The cloud covered the Tent of Assembly, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34)
The Mishkan provided ongoing access to the experience of G-d’s Presence that they had known at Har Sinai. This is the meaning of “and I will dwell among them.”
But this is not something that happens automatically. In the pagan world. people believed that “if you build it, they will come.” If the deity gets a temple, the deity can be found in the temple. This is not the case for the Jewish People. The purpose of the Revelation at Har Sinai was to receive the Torah. The prerequisite for a direct relationship with G-d has always been fulfilling the commandments that the Jewish People committed to at Sinai. It is impossible to conceive of G-d allowing them access to His Presence while they ignore His laws.
Therefore, when Shlomo builds a House of G-d to rival any temple in the known world, G-d makes a point to tell him that building it is not enough. If the Jewish People keep the Torah, He is present among them, and He is happy to use this House as the focal point for His Presence, cloud and all, as indeed happened at its dedication:
וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּהֲנִים מִן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת בֵּית ה’
As the Cohanim left the Sanctuary, the cloud filled the House of Hashem
(Melachim II 8)
But if not? If the Jewish People renege on their commitment at Sinai, then it’s just wood and stone. G-d dwells among the Jewish People, not in some grandiose building.
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל