Haftara for Teruma 5777: Vessels
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‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite’.
— William Blake
I Kings 5:26 – 6:13
The haftara describes the beginning of the construction of the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem by King Shelomo. We are told first that God had given divine wisdom to Shelomo and with this wisdom he engineered the building of the Mikdash. (There are other descriptions of the various components of his wisdom – 3:12; 3:28; 5:10-14) The haftara describes the labour and tax that was imposed by the crown as well as the stone and lumber materials that were used in its construction. The architectural details are also enumerated. The reading concludes with God calling on the king to adhere to the covenant:
“[Regarding] this House that you are building: if you walk in my ways, and my practices you observe, and you keep my commandments, walking in them, I will fulfill my word with you which I promised to David your father: I will dwell in the midst of the Children of Israel, and I will not abandon my people Israel!” (6:12-13)
The haftara is read as a complement to the reading in Perashat Teruma that speaks in similar detail of its mobile-prototype, the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Is the Jewish God the cosmic precursor of Creation Who created all things and set them in motion? Or is He the personal, intimate, loving, caring God who is interested in our everyday lives? While these two notions of God are not mutually exclusive, it has been for generations, the subject of much doubt and dispute. Many have insisted that God, omnipotent and omniscient, could not genuinely care about what it is that I do in my private, mundane life. It is a tempting ideology that suggests a life of care-free liberty. Add to this what we now know about the staggering size of the universe; that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth, that each one is similar, if not larger than our sun and that if we were travelling at the speed of light it would take us 156 billion years to cross it entirely. To say that the Creator of it all is interested in loving and caring for one blue planet that is revolving around one star that sprouted conscious life, is quite a stretch. That He would at all care whether I bless Him after eating a sandwich seems downright preposterous.
But what if we are getting God wrong? What if there is more to the story than God just being the great creator of the universe? What if He is its very soul? He manifests within the world as well as without. While Maimonides speaks of God as the מצוי ראשון – Primal Existence, it is not just that He created all that exists, but that He imbues it with existence.
Torah does not see God as the Primal Mover, but as the Ultimate Life Force. In this sense, the universe is a means of interface for us with God, it is the vessel through which we connect with Him. Just as we interact with human souls through the body, so we connect with God through the universe. And just as with humans there are times and situations when the soul is strengthened and shines through, so it is with the Divine Soul of the universe. When it is sensed, reached for, invited and welcomed, and when we allow ourselves to connect consciously with it, we experience its power and grace viscerally. We experience God, and it is the only way He can be known.
Although God creates and sustains, a relationship with us is not a given. Relationships must be cultivated and nurtured, and there are greater and lesser intensities of God’s presence within us, depending on how fit and appropriate we are as vessels. Our dedication, care and desire to connect are the determinate factors. We need to build sanctuaries in which we can embrace the Divine presence.
Let them make me a Holy-Sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst. (Ex., 25:8)
These sanctuaries become domains in which communion with God can occur within the limits of physicality. They are the vessels that channel the spiritual and align it with the physical. And in the case of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Mikdash (Holy Temple), the intimacy and intensity grew as one went further into the structure.
You are to make a curtain…the curtain shall separate for you the Holy-Sanctuary from the Holiest Holy-Sanctuary. (ibid., 26:31,33)
The (outer) portico in front of the Great Hall of the House was 20 cubits long—along the width of the House—and 10 cubits deep to the front of the House…The outside walls of the House enclosing the Great Hall and the (innermost) Sanctuary (6:3,5)
This is not, however, wishful thinking or spurious spirituality, but by definition, existential in nature. The truly transcendent aspects of the world are the results of interrelationships; of minds and hearts interacting, of chemicals reacting, particles coalescing and elements bonding.
The experience of the divine is thus a mutual endeavour between Creator and we, the created, and therefore we must be sensitive to the Creator as an entity apart from ourselves and not as an one that exists only in the way that we imagine Him, In other words, an idol.
God and man can find a shared space and inhabit that space together. And while God certainly does not manifest Himself entirely on man’s terms, He is nonetheless lovingly sensitive to man’s condition.
He seeks to dwell among us.
I will abide amidst the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people Israel. (6:13)
The shared space is sanctified when it is acknowledged and nurtured and it becomes the vessel within which the relationship is contained.
The sanctuary must be built by the people, but the terms for its appropriate conditions to welcome God must be set by God. Therefore our parasha and haftara are replete with detail. The details are important.
We too can be vessels. Even our bodies can be a sanctuary for the Divine presence. The Divine pulses through the form when it is unobstructed. Removing obstructions means having a healthy and strong body as well as the refinement of actions and attributes. Spiritual blockage in human beings is created both by deed and thought. Dedicating ourselves to truth, wisdom, integrity, kindness, compassion, love and empathy clears the way for the Soul of the Universe to flow powerfully within us. The more refined, the better the flow.
To whatever degree we wish to welcome and connect with God, He is there and responds in kind.
It is perhaps for this reason that both in our parasha and our haftara we not only read about the detailed components and structures of the Holy Temples — the vessels — but also of the divinely inspired hearts and minds of the people who built them. Their bodies were themselves vessels for the divine before they could build one.
With the Mishkan:
From every man whose heart makes him willing, you are to take for Me a contribution.
God has called by name Betsalel son of Uri…He has filled Him with the spirit of God in practical wisdom, in discernment and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship. (Ex., 35:30-31)
With the Mikdash:
And God gave wisdom to Shelomo, as He had promised him. (5:26)
While we no longer have a national centre in the form of the Bet HaMikdash in Jerusalem, within which God’s presence manifests within the people, we never lost the potential for ourselves to become temples, that when properly established, purified and refined can achieve real love, relationship and connection with God.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
42a Materials and purpose of the Mishkan (25:1-9)
42b The Ark and its cover (25:10-22)
43 The Table for Showbread (25:23-30)
44a The Menorah (25:31-40)
44b The Curtains of the Mishkan (26:1-14)
45a The Boards of the Mishkan (26:15-30)
45b The Veil (26:31-37)
45c The Altar of burnt offerings (27:1-8)
45d The Court of the Mishkan (27:9-19)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS