WHEN GOD gets small

parshat terumah (exodus 25:8)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 3rd 2022 as we explore a single verse: “Make Me a temple and I will dwell within them” This iconic verse, pregnant with meaning, enables us to visit classical Jewish commentaries and discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with His creation, not just with a tabernacle or temple.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:02

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on the Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Today we explore a single verse, “Make me a temple, and I will dwell within them.” Was that a typo? Did the toe mean to say I will dwell in it. Nah, there are no typos in the Torah. So put away your Wit-Out as we discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with our world. Join us as GOD gets small Well, welcome, welcome to Madlik. You know, it’s rare. I think that we spend the whole evening on just one pasuk (verse)  or maybe even one word within that pasuk. But tonight’s the big night, we are in parshat Terumah and we’ve gotten the Ten commandments, we’ve gotten a Code of Civil Law and, and here we are, and we’re going to build the tabernacle. And as I said in the intro… Teruma means collecting the tax. So there’s the, the the technical aspects of collecting the materials, and I know Rabbi Adam is going to speak about that in his synagogue on Shabbat. But at the end of the day, after God shows Moses or Betzalel the builder, a blueprint, he says, As I quoted before in Exodus 25: 8, “and let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” “Veshachanti b’tocham” There are many times where we connive, we push, we massage a text, to give us meanings that are beyond the Pshat.. beyond the simple meaning of the text. But if you look at this, why does it say b’Tocham? Why does it say after God says to make a sanctuary, an edifice if you will, or that he will live amongst them? Before we get into a whole journey of what will the commentaries say? Rabbi, what do you think the simple interpretation is?

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Adam Mintz  02:30

I don't think there is a simple interpretation. I think this verse is begging for interpretation for a real interpretation. It's so blatant, that the Torah uses the word that you wouldn't expect it to use, right? It's just like, kinda of a WOW momewnt...

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:50

I've been thinking about it all week. And the only straightforward explanation I could come up with is if it envisioned many temples. And so it was looking into the future and saying, there's going to be a tabernacle, there's going to be a temple at Shilo and at Bethel, and maybe they were going to be synagogues and sanctuaries throughout the world.

 

Adam Mintz  03:13

But then it would say Say in them... Yeah, I mean, it sounds like "B'tocham" is human amongst them amongst the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:24

I agree. I'm convinced. But it's very rare. And that's why I say it seems almost like a typo  and you don't even get a sense that the commentaries are looking for a straightforward explanation. Rashi, who always comes to help, he simply says, Make for Me a sanctuary, make a holy place for the sake of My name. "V'asu L'shmi Beit Kedusha", he's bothered by a whole other problem. He's bothered by the fact that God is going to be dwelling in an edifice in a in a material subject. So he says, it's not for God, it's for his name. But he totally ignores this whole issue of what does it mean that he's going to dwell and I agree with you, it sounds almost humanistic "within them".

 

Adam Mintz  04:19

That's the question. and maybe the midrashic explanation that make me a tabernacle, and I will dwell among them, means the tabernacle will allow me to dwell among the people. Maybe that's okay. Maybe that's that's the simple explanation that the tabernacle is just made of wood or fabric or whatever it is, but it allows him to dwell among the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

So, you know, we're kind of dancing around what I think us 20 century Jews believe which is the obvious explanation is B'tocham, means inside of you people inside of you Jews. You know, my grandmother lived to 102. And she was a health affectionado way before her time. And she always said your body is a temple. And when I read this, I think of her. But we all assume that the knee jerk interpretation is that it clearly is very humanistic. And it means that you can build all the temples you want with all the stained glass, windows and all the bricks and stones. But at the end of the day, the goal is that God will live within you; humankind. And then I'm looking for the texts. And to be honest, and maybe I'm missing something. But I didn't find an ancient Midrash or in the Talmud, something that said that explicitly. Let me give you a sense of the types of things that I did found find in the Babylonian Talmud in Ketubot, it says earlier, or in Exodus 15. It says "vetiviamu" that I will bring you and then you will make a temple. And it says, but ultimately, as it is written, that I will build a sanctuary to dwell among you. And the takeaway there is God couldn't wait. He was in love with these people. These people were in love with him. They were engaged, if you will, and they wanted to rent already, they wanted to buy a house. So it has an element of the humanity of the humanistic side. It has an element of what we've discussed in past episodes, where we say why was the Torah given in the desert and not in the land of Israel. So it makes it a universal house, because again, God's first tabernacle was on neutral ground. But most of all, it has this love story and this affection in it. But again, it's not a straightforward. I'm gonna live within every human being.

 

Adam Mintz  07:11

That is interesting. And I wonder why? Why do they shy away from what seems to be the obvious explanation?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

So in Shemot Rabba It quotes Shir Hashirim the Song of Songs, it says, Open for me, my sister, my friend, and then it goes on to say For how long must I travel without a home. So the Torah says, Make for Me a sanctuary so that I need not be on the outside. "Ad Matay ehiye mithalech b'lo bayit" So here too it is a love story. There's more of a sense of the passion. There's more of a sense of this marriage. And I know, there are many interpretations of the tabernacle, as a Huppah, or maybe I should say, of the Huppah as a tabernacle. And this is a beautiful kind of commentary on what it is. But it's again, not the straight forward, Living within every human being. The one that I love the most is one that says that we are partners. So this takes away the romantic part of it. And it's in Hagaoni Uziel. So I've never heard of this. I don't think it's that old. But it talks about when you make Kiddush on Friday night, that you should not read Vayechulu that God finished. But it should save Vayechalu that we finished. And it says that when you make Kiddush on Friday night, you become a partner with God in the creation. And it goes on to say And every judge who judges a judgment and gives a truthful, true judgment. He is a partner with God. And then it ends by saying, Man is a chariot to the divine presence in the world. As it says, I may dwell among them. The whole world was not created except for this directive." So that too, I love the partnership part about it. I love the the fact that there's a little bit of the kind of necessity for God to be in the world and a partner with us. But all of these explanations are so beautiful.

 

Adam Mintz  09:40

So let's take a step back. What does it mean that God's a partner with us? Or that we're a partner with God? How do you understand just simply what those words mean? In what way are we partners with God? And why does the tabernacle reflect that

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:01

Well, I mean, I think the easiest way to, to dance around it is the Shabbat. The kiddush thing. We somehow sanctify God, we say kiddush. On a Friday night in this world, we stop working. When we work there's sweat of the brow, when God creates the world, it's more of a metaphor. But it does seem and I think we're going to touch upon this as we survey other interpretations of these words, that there is some inexplicable need. And I think that's the real answer to your question, there is no good answer of why would God create a world that needs him or her? I mean, that at the end of the day, is the real question that we're asking. When you say a partner, a true partnership is one maybe doesn't have to be of equals. But at least there's a reciprocal relationship, a need for the two parties. And the most obvious question is, why did God need a world? Why does he need a creation? Why does he need us?

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

Yeah, I mean, what you just did is you took this question about the Mishkan, and you blew it up to be a question about everything?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:22

Well, I mean, it is a big question. And I think this concept of building a tabernacle would, on the face of it be a good time to ask a question. But by writing the verse, the way the Torah writes it, it almost forces us to to to discuss God's presence in this world. And God's presence in this world, begs the question of God's need for a world. So let me quote one more or two of these traditional commentaries that have this sense of partnership, have this sense of romance. And I shouldn't mention rabbi, in past episodes, I believe you've brought up certain Midrashim and historic texts that say that when the Jewish people are in Tzarot, are in trouble, God comes down, God is with them. And that, you know, is is part of this in terms of God making a temple and that will play out a little bit here. But that is something that you have quoted, that is a thread in Jewish thought that I think also enters into this picture. So one of the most amazing stories that I read, and I didn't have time to translate them, but they're in the source sheets in Sefaria is it's it talks about God saying to Moses, look at the plans now I need you to build this and it compares it to somebody showing a simple person, the most glamorous dress, the most glamorous habitat, and saying, I want you to go ahead and make this and it says "Kach amar Hakodosh Barachu l'Moshe asey li miskan" . Similarly, God said to Moses, make this Mishkan. And he says, and if you make this Mishkan l'mala, that I've shown you from above, and you make it L'mata, then I will come down. And it uses a word that for any of those of us who have studied the Kabbalah or the mystical tradition, it's going to make us open up our eyes, because it says,"V;yared umetzamzem shechinati benechem"  , I will come down and I will be "mitzamztem" I will diminish, I will contract, I will make small, my holy presence, and I will be down with you." So here too, you have this sense of if you'll take this bold step, and you can't say it anything but a bold step of creating this beautiful abode as if, for God. God will take the diminishing step the the reciprocal step of coming down and contracting Himself inside of it. I think that's an amazing image.

 

Adam Mintz  14:48

That is an amazing image. Now that is a definition of what partnership means. If you do A then God will do B. Partners play off one another, right they respond to one another's needs. If you do this, then God will do that "v'asu li mikdash" if you make me a tabernacle, "v'shochani b'tocham"  I will be your partner, because I will dwell in your midst. And I think the dwell in the midst means, at least according to the kabalists, that God will be "mitzamzem" somehow that he will contract Himself. Contract Himself means that he will take God which is everywhere, and kind of focus God just on the Mishkan. So  I like that a lot.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:37

Yeah, in a previous episode, I think we called it gaming the calendar or gaming the universe. We talked about the Leap Year, and how actually, you know, creating a leap year and we have about to do that in this in this particular year, of adding a month to make the whole calendar workout is kind of like almost admitting that the world isn't quite perfect. So there's another Midrash Vayikrah Rabba Robin, that says Rabbi Abuha explained the scripture to be about the five elders that convene to make the year a leap year. What does the Holy One blessed be he do, he leaves his court above and descends and contracts His divine presence among them below. So it uses the same language "umetzamem et shechinato benehem milematan" And so there is this sense of a partnership, there is this sense of being, I wouldn't say it's a partner in crime, but it's a partner in fixing something that is, beyond our control, is not perfect. It's material. It's, it's a fascinating use of, and of course, you know, traditionally, when we talk like this, we should say the words "kiviyachol" "as if you can say" that God contracts himself, "as if you can say" that God comes down, these are all metaphors. But the metaphors are beautiful. And the metaphors are definitely powerful.

 

Adam Mintz  17:12

I would agree with that, and on some level, the idea of Mishkan is the idea of visualizing these metaphors, making these metaphors real, because if we have a tabernacle, we should imagine that God comes down, you know, the ark was built with the two cherubs on top. And the idea was that God's presence comes down through the cherubs, to the ark, and then out to the people. Now, that's an amazing image, because like, this is about God and how God is "m'tzamtzem"  but yet the image is seen as being real. And I think that's very powerful.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:57

So the one image I want to share before we go and see how the Kabbalah took this, and the direction that it went, is the Midrash Tanchuma. And what it says is that "Rabbi Joshua Yahshua, of seeking said in the name of Rabbi Levy, this may be compared to a cave situated at the edge of the sea, though the sea rushes forth and fills the cave, the sea lacks nothing. Similarly, with the Holy One, blessed it be he may his name be blessed for through it is written and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Nevertheless, his glory is above the heaven and the earth, you should not say that the Holy One bless it be he compressed his sheckinah only into the tabernacle", I love this image of the vast sea, that doesn't need to fill the cave. But as as the water laps onto the shore, and this is particularly strong wave, it goes into the cave, and it comes out of the cave, and it doesn't need to fill the cave. But of course, for the cave, this is a big event. And I love that image of all of these images. Are the rabbi's playing, struggling, enjoying maybe this concept of how does the Divine Presence come into the physical world? Frankly, what I did is I went onto Sephera. And I did a search with tzimzum, this contraction, and all of the texts are pretty late, and they're pretty Kabalistic and we're going to get to them in a second. But there were a few pearls like this, that use this concept of contraction in a different way. It was a way of God making himself small and leaving a mark, making himself small and being our partner. Making himself or herself small, and being our lover. And I just loved all of the metaphors. And they really give such a profound meaning to and I will dwell within them.

 

Adam Mintz  20:15

I think that's great. And I think, obviously, and I will dwell within them, it calls for a metaphor, because without a metaphor, you don't know what to do with it, right?

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

Yeah, absolutely. And and it would have been so easy to ignore the issue, though, because everybody has a temple, you know, how do you have a religion without a temple. And this kind of focuses a little bit on some of the things that we've been talking about, which is, you know, this was not a given, this was not a kind of a reflex action, that we had to have a temple, we had to have sacrifices, we had to have prayers. At the end of the day, this was a revolution, and how the revolution chose to take certain cultural behaviors and modify them and change them is the story of the Torah that we're entering right now, when the rubber hits the road.

 

Adam Mintz  21:13

Yes, so that's also interesting, that this is the beginning of a different, you know, a different section of the Torah. And what's the relationship of this section of the Torah to what came before? Why is the why does the tabernacle follow Mount Sinai? Is it a symbol to the fact that actually the tabernacle is trying to concretize the holiness, the experience of Mount Sinai? You know, Mount Sinai was, was fleeting, it left in a second, but maybe now what we need is, we need something that will stick and that's the tabernacle.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

So I think I love what you just said. That and the story of the water lapping into the cave, is a wonderful segue to see how the Kabalists and specifically Isaac Loria, and what is known as Laurianic Kabbalah, took this concept, because the reason I say it's a wonderful segue is because the whole concept of tzimzum of this contraction, as we will see, is how the spiritual Divine Presence leaves a mark. So you have a revelation, and you have a exodus from Egypt. And those are all stories in time. But how do you leave that mark? So let's explore for a second, the way Isaa Loria took this message. And this is someone who was expelled from Spain, and went to live in Safed. This was at the Inquisition in 1492. And in Safed, they created or some people believe found these ancient texts, and they created what we now call Jewish mysticism, and what he did, and I will quote, Gershon Scholem. I will paraphrase Gershom Scholem is he took what we have been discussing where God contracts him or herself, and fits it into a temple or a narrow place. And he turned it on its head, and he says, "it is one of the most amazing and far reaching conceptions ever put forth in the whole history of Kabalism. Tzimzum originally means contraction, but if used in the Kabbalah, it means withdrawal, or retreat." Let me explain how tzimzum works. The theory of symptom is as follows. Prior to Isaac Lauria, those people who were concerned with the issue we're talking about, say, How could a spiritual God create a material finite world? And one of the theories that they came up with from Plotinus was one of emanation. And emanation means, well, you know, God didn't actually create material things. First, he created maybe the idea of a table and then there was another sphere and those of you who know Kabbalah understand spherot. Spherot  are degradations. So in a more crass way, the the head of the mob is never going to have his finger on the murder. It goes through many, many different levels until it happens. It's not philosophically that satisfying because ultimately you're kicking the can down the road, and you're saying it wasn't directly that he created or she created something physical, but it was through many different spheres of increasingly material fire light objects, angels and thoughts and so forth and so on. Comes along Isaac Loria. And he turns that on his head, he says, No, God did not emanate, he contracted. So what did he do? He pulled himself away from what was and gave space for matter to appear. From a from a humanistic point of view from a pedagogic point of view. It's an amazing concept. Philosophically, you could say it doesn't resolve it any more than emanation does. But what it does do is say that God pulled himself away. And then the theory goes on that just like that water lapping into the caves, there were klipot... there were little parts of the Divine, that were left everywhere. But there was something called Shevirat hakelim, the breaking of the vessel. So when God pulled himself in, maybe this is a little bit like the Big Bang Theory, there was an explosion. And there were parts of God that we're all over. And talking about the partnership that we started in the early part, it's man's duty to be m'taken to bring those sparks of God's divinity back together. And when that happens, there will be true salvation. But what he did was he took the same concept of God somehow contracting himself. But unlike the earlier texts where God contracted and put himself into the world, and gave man the ability to experience the holiness, in Lauria's tzimsum  he pulled away from himself, and gave man the opportunity to find and to be M'taken to cure the world. It's just an amazing, absolutely amazing vision. Do you find it as exciting as I do?

 

Adam Mintz  27:13

I find it amazing. I think that's an amazing passage as you just read .... that idea. And the question is, if I could just bring it back to where we started, how is that really just an explanation of what "b'tocham"? Right ... basically that image is explaining what B'tocham means, what God does to be amongst us? And I'm trying to figure out, how does that all work?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:41

So Shai Held my Rebbi, from Hadar, writes about the contradiction that most people believe that what the Bible says in our Parsha, about God cantracting himself into the tabernacle is 180 degrees different than God contracting himself away from the world, and letting the world become. And the way he rounds that corner, is quoting Martin Buber and others he gets back to the relationships. He says, if we're going to take away from this beautiful statement that we started with, about God being inside of the temple, and we look at it from a partnership point of view, and we look at it from a love and romance point of view. You don't want to smother the person that you love, you don't want to overwhelm the person you partner with. And so what Held does, and this is wonderful, is he says they are two sides of the same coin, that what we're learning here is that they are both right, that a relationship whether it's love or partnership or with God has to contain both the aspect of knowing that that person is present in a very profound way. But also know that that person or object or force or spirit gives you space to develop on your own. And I just love that that variation on Tzimzum, which at the end of the day becomes a variation on B'tocham, on what it means for God's presence to be amongst us.

 

Adam Mintz  27:43

I think that's beautiful. And I would just you know, kind of add that I wonder whether Kabbalah,  the whole idea of tzimzum doesn't actually find its source in the word b'tocham. That maybe the whole principle of tzimzum is an attempt to explain the way we started about why b'tocham is the right word in this context.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Well certainly Scholem when he references, the Midrash that I started with that has the word tzimzum in it, he says that Luria picked out a Midrash that no one had really focused on or studied before. So if that's the case, we give him a lot of credit. And that's the beauty of the history of ideas that ideas evolve. And so yes, it can be both things, and mean both things to everybody. So I do think that it comes from b'tocham. And at the end of the day, you know, for God's presence to be in the world is the key question that we are thinking about today, when we read Terumah, and when we discuss a tabernacle, which I love more than the temple because it is so fleeting. Because on a sukkot, which we compare to a tabernacle, we always talk about the "sukkah hanofelet" that the tabernacles can be put together and they can be taken apart. And that too, is part of tzimzum. I think what Luria pointed out was that it's a process, maybe it's a breath, in and out, present and removed. But to me, that makes b'tocham and Terumah and the Mishkan such a living message to us all in any generation.

 

Adam Mintz  31:31

That's fantastic. What a wonderful way to start these portions of the Torah that talk about Mishkan. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, enjoy "b'tocham" enjoy the understanding of the Mishkan. And we look forward to seeing everybody, next Thursday night to talk about the clothing that the Cohen used to wear. Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. So you heard it here first. Next week is the fashion episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as always, I opened up the mic on the bimah, anyone who wants to join the after-party and has any comments, you're welcome to join. Otherwise, remember that this is a podcast and it is recorded, and you can listen to it, you can look at the Sefira source sheet and explore some of the sources that maybe we didn't have a chance to cover, Michael, welcome to the Bima. And welcome back.

 

Michael Stern  32:28

Thanks, Geoffrey. Really beautiful evening. Remember when you sent me about what the Pope wrote about the little going into the little? And so I just wanted to ask you if you're still trying to get the message that God is within?

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:50

So thank you for reminding me. And what Michael is talking about is I have a custom, I  turn on high mass at the Vatican on Christmas night. And this year, the Pope was talking about why in Christianity, God chose a little baby. And it was that littleness. And I do think that there's no question about it. Whether every human being is a temple, or this temporary tabernacle, and even the dwelling itself, nothing is permanent, but it's also very small, the small voice, so I love that addition. And I think it it rings very true.

 

Michael Stern  33:38

Well, good. And I also love Geoffrey ... from now on when I made kiddish, I will be making kiddish with God. I thought it was like a nice L'Chaim ... we look at each other's eyes. But wow, it's like with God and me how the week was, what my lessons learned, and new commitments and to God and me. And that was so beautiful. Thank you.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:05

I love that. I love that. And you know, there were those that say that the reason why we have two candles is because we have an extra soul on Shabbat Neshama Yetera and I think that also reflects, no pun intended, the partnership, it's about a partnership. It's about welcoming the angels when you start it's about the two loaves so much of it as you think about it is about the duality that becomes one or even if it doesn't become one, at least it goes down that path. So I do love that. I do love that Vayechulu story. Ok. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we'll see you all next week.

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Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

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