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God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to donate materials and to make a sanctuary – a Mishkan – in order that God may dwell amongst the people as they journey. The parasha then outlines extensive details about how the Mishkan is to be built.

Another voice

Terumah by Shaiya Rothberg :: 5773

Shaiya Rothberg teaches Bible and Jewish Thought at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He holds a PhD in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University and a BA in Talmud and Jewish Philosophy from Bar Ilan University.

I will dwell among them

In Parashat Terumah, this week's Torah portion, scripture says that the sanctuary will cause God to dwell among the People Israel (Exodus 25:8). What could that mean? One stream of tradition, appearing in the Zohar and in the Kuzari, approaches the sanctuary and people as one collective body. The sanctuary houses the inner organs of the body like the ark and the menorah. The tribes are its limbs. What dwells in the body of Israel is part of God's consciousness called the shechinah. With the completion of the sanctuary, Israel's collective body becomes whole, and divine consciousness enters inside.

You might think that a "collective mind" is an antiquated medieval idea. But really, the antiquated idea is "the human individual"! It is abundantly clear that we are inter-subjective creatures: everything in our minds is tied up with the minds of those around us. Our identities are woven together like the words of Bible and Mishnah in Talmud. Humans share a space of mind and culture, and in that space, they form identities and live their lives. That space is necessary for human consciousness to emerge. The mystical idea of Israel's mind reflects this collective dimension.

But even so, wouldn't the "collective mind" be that of Israel and not God? For some mysticism, all consciousness is part of the consciousness of God, and so Israel's mind is part of God's mind. In addition, since we are in God's image, when we realize our highest potential, we reveal some of God's glory. Scripture is talking about the highest and most beautiful version of collective Israel that we can imagine. About that Israel God says, "I will dwell among them".

It is argued that the human race as a whole develops (phylogenesis) in parallel to the development of each individual (ontogenesis). For example, both humanity and each individual go through a "magic-mythic stage". An example of magic-mythic thinking would be that if the Jews violate the Sabbath there will be drought and they will starve. Such logic justifies a law brought in the authoritative Jewish legal work from the sixteenth century, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 158:2), obliging us to immediately kill brazen violators of religious norms like those of the seventh day. This makes good magic-mythic sense: coercing the Jews to observe the Sabbath means saving their lives. But if the Torah is eternal, will our collective mind never outgrow religious coercion?

The Torah is eternal because it forever evolves. For example, the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Karelitz, 1878 -1953) explained in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 2:16) that the above law made sense "…when miracles were commonplace…so everybody could see that [violating laws like the Sabbath]…brings plagues and war and starvation to the world…[but to do so today] would be seen as destruction and violence, God forbid!, and since our purpose is repairing the world…we must bring them back through bonds of love…" While he didn't think about it like this, the Chazon Ish reveals that religious coercion must become a relic of our magic-mythic past. Today's religion may be taught only through "bonds of love". Each generation grasps something new of God's unfolding consciousness. The eternal task of collective Israel is to uncover and embody higher understandings of the shechinah - our part in the mind of God.


More by Shaiya Rothberg

Another voice by Daniel Vulkan

Daniel Vulkan is a long-standing Limmud volunteer, and has just completed three years as a member of the Limmud Executive. He has presented sessions on demography and Israeli dancing, but not at the same time.

"From everyone whose heart impels them to do so, you shall take My offering; and THIS is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, brass..."

There are many ways of giving to the causes we believe in. Financially is the most obvious and, in some cases, will be the most useful. But we can also give our time. Many people reading this will have volunteered for Limmud - maybe a few minutes or a few hours whilst at an event, perhaps a more substantial role on an event team.

And we can give in kind; but we should take care, where possible, to ensure that what we are giving matches up with what is needed. My synagogue runs a monthly drop-in centre for destitute asylum seekers. In the preceding weeks, the shul newsletter tells us what is most required this time - last month, it was warm clothing for adults; this month, hard-wearing shoes, and help with food preparation; next month, it may be nappies, or tinned food; and so on.

How do YOU give?


More by Daniel Vulkan

Other Divrei Torah on Terumah

  • 5766 (Clive Lawton)
  • 5766 (Joel Grishaver)
  • 5767 (Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5768 (Eliot Kaye)
  • 5768 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Fiona Brodie)
  • 5769 (Steve Kay Kupietzky)
  • 5770 (Samuel Klein)
  • 5771 (Adam Overlander-Kaye)
  • 5771 (Jacqueline Nicholls)
  • 5772 (Dina Pinner)
  • 5774 (Tzemah Yoreh)
  • 5775 (Jeremy Tabick)
  • 5775 (Daniel Lichman)