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Two Minutes of Torah: Terumah - More than just the building

As a Rabbi working in a synagogue I have the opportunity to go into the sanctuary whenever I want.  And whenever I go into the sanctuary I am struck by the beauty of that space; with glass windows looking out over the gardens, and with a beautiful Ark, the Aron HaKodesh, where our Torah is kept.  It is a lovely space to be in, but the truth is that the space only really comes to life, for me, when it is filled with people.  When the community sits together and joins together in prayer and song then that place becomes more than just a room, but it is really transformed into a Sanctuary.

In this week's Torah portion of Terumah we begin the process of building the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  This is the portable sanctuary that the Israelites will build and that they will carry with them throughout their journeys to the Promised Land.  It is the most sacred space within the Israelite camp, and it is therefore not surprising that God goes into immense details about what to build and how to build it. 

But at the very beginning of the story, after God instructs Moses to ask the Israelites for gifts, God says: ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you — the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings — so shall you make it’ (Ex. 25:8-9).  In those two verses.  God gives the sanctuary two names.  On the one hand it is referred to as a Mikdash, God says veasuli mikdash veshochanti betocham; and then it is also referred to as a Mishkan

The name Mikdash comes from the Hebrew root Kodesh, meaning Holy or set apart; and the word Mishkan comes from the word Shechina, meaning God's presence or dwelling in that space.  It is interesting to think that the building with these two names perhaps has two aims.  On the one hand it's supposed to be a Mikdash, set apart as a place of holiness, and on the other hand it is supposed to be a Mishkan, a place where God will actually dwell.

In many ways it is always a Mikdash, it is always sacred space because it is afforded that status by the people.  But it is only when the people come together in prayer and in song, bringing God's presence down, that it truly becomes a Mishkan.  In this way we see how sometimes people coming together to a place can make a building into more than just a building; and can make a Mikdash into a Mishkan.

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