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So many of us feel disconnected so much of the time. Exile is a state of disconnect; redemption is the rectification of that state. We spin stories in our heads, filling in the blanks of desolation that often feels like desperation, because it’s chiyut (the feeling of life and connection) that we all crave and that sustains us.
I’m certainly no exception. Stories spin in my head when I feel uncertain, before I’m able to see things clearly. Anxiety is the feeling we experience when Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust) become distant. For interpersonal relationships, there are solutions to lessen the anxiety: communication can deconstruct the stories we build in our heads which are a mix of emotion, judgment, projection and worry. But in some circumstances, when we can’t speak to the other person or perhaps doing so wouldn’t offer much solace, we need to tap into ourselves and even more so the Source, Hashem, and the bitachon that all is in the hands of Hashem and that all will be for the best. We have to trust the process and the path towards a perfected state that we can align with at any point. Just as Hashem sustains and recreates the world at every moment, we too are creating the reality of our own journey from moment to moment. If we feel we are going in the wrong direction, we could turn it all around at that moment. It may take a while to feel aligned again, but we can be sure of being on a path towards alignment. Looking ahead in the right direction will allow some calm in the feeling of a storm and tapping into the emunah that it will all be alright, which will bring the feeling of “rightness” that much sooner.
If we are able to sustain and create our own happiness, and ensure the base of happiness is within ourselves, then we stop looking toward others to fulfill the feeling that only we are able to give ourselves. The foundation of fulfillment and happiness must be there in our relationship to ourselves for there to be healthy relationships with others. This allows our default setting to be happy and secure, rather than feeling sad, lacking and insecure when things with another person feel misaligned.
Feelings of richness and fulfillment
Ben Zoma asks in Pirkei Avot, “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: ‘You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper’”1 A feeling of richness and happiness comes from focusing on the positives and celebrating the moment. A feeling of sadness and poverty comes when the focus shifts to the opposite perspective and validation of such feelings is focused outward. Dr. David Hawkins articulates this beautifully in his book, Letting Go, where he writes:
Out of the recognition of who we really are comes the desire to seek that which is uplifting. Out of it arises a new meaning and context for life. When that inner emptiness, due to lack of self-worth, is replaced by true self-love, self-respect and esteem, we no longer have to seek it in the world, for that source of happiness is within ourselves. It dawns on us that it cannot be supplied by the world anyway. No amount of riches can compensate for an inner feeling of poverty. We all know of the many multimillionaires who try to compensate for their inner sense of hollowness and lack of inner worth. Once we have contacted this inner Self, this inner greatness, this inner completion, contentment, and true sense of happiness, we have transcended the world. The world is now a place to enjoy, and we are no longer run by it.”2
Healthily navigating the ascents and descents of life, is the reality of life in exile. We read this week:
קְח֨וּ מֵֽאִתְּכֶ֤ם תְּרוּמָה֙ לַֽה’ כֹּ֚ל נְדִ֣יב לִבּ֔וֹ יְבִיאֶ֕הָ אֵ֖ת תְּרוּמַ֣ת ה’ זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֹֽשֶׁת
Take from among yourselves an offering to Hashem. Whoever is generous of heart shall bring gold, silver or copper as a contribution to Hashem.”3
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that at the time of the Revelation at Sinai the Children of Israel reached awesome levels of prophecy, seeing Hashem “face to face.” Which raises the question, How did they then go on to build the Golden Calf? Rabbeinu teaches that when we are ready to ascend to a higher level, the kelipot (the outer coverings or “shells” which conceal Godly light within all creation) are aroused to attempt to prevent us from rising to greater spiritual heights. But when we conquer the kelipot, we ascend to the next level. This happens again at each level. These kelipot are the power of imagination within all of us, the power and parts that work against us. Rabbeinu teaches that to subdue these kelipot, we must give tzedakah (charity), which represents an action outward, of giving, of focusing on the other, the act of tzedakah sweetends judgment (mamtik hadin), the judgments on ourselves and the judgments on us from our Source.4 Reb Natan of Breslov adds that when we don’t subdue the kelipot of each level, they can overpower us and push us into a descent. This is what happened to the Jewish people, which caused them to choose to construct the Golden Calf. The rectification of this was the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), which represents giving charity from the heart.5
The Torah goes into an incredible amount of detail about the Mishkan, spending thirteen chapters to describe every element of the tabernacle and how it should be constructed. To put this in perspective: only three chapters are devoted to the revelation at Mount Sinai and only one chapter to the creation of the universe. It’s written in the Zohar that the language used to describe the building of the Mishkan in Exodus is identical to the language that describes how Hashem created the universe in Genesis. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in the Tanya that “This [the Mishkan] is the purpose of [G-d’s] creation and of the creation of all the worlds, higher and lower—that there be made for G-d a dwelling in the lower realms.” There’s something essential to Hashem’s purposes for the Jewish people in this structure.
In the storyline of the Torah, the description of the Mishkan and its construction in Parshas Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel, and Pekudei bookend the sin of the Golden Calf and Hashem’s ultimate forgiveness of the Children of Israel. This structure– a movable temple– becomes a sign of Hashem’s renewed closeness between Himself and the Israelites.
A Dwelling Place for God
Rambam (Maimonides, 1138-1204) explains that this “dwelling for G‑d” is a place where man serves G-d: “A house for G‑d that is designed for the offering of sacrifices…”6
Ramban (Nachmanides, 1194-1270) describes the Mishkan as a place where G-d chooses to reveal Himself to man:
The main object of the Sanctuary is to serve as the resting place of the Divine Presence. This is realized in the Ark, as G‑d says to Moses, “I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the Kaporet (the Ark’s cover)…” This is why the Torah begins its description of the Mishkan with the Ark and the Kaporet.7.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that within these four chapters we’re currently reading we find an ordered sequence of events leading up to the flow of Divine inspiration to Israel. Terumah and Tetzaveh cover the fashioning of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the priestly garb, which the Rebbe says is the אתערותא דלעילה, “excitation from above.” This is followed by the אתערותא דלתתא, the “excitation from below,” which occurs in this week’s Parashah, Vayakhel, where the commands are channeled through Moshe to Israel and executed by them. In the final chapter of the sequence, the supreme emanation of the Divine Light from Heaven to earth begins to flow: “Hashem’s glory filled the Mishkan.”8
The Rebbe also points out something curious in Parashat Terumah where it’s written “And they shall make me a holy [place], so I may dwell within them (veshachanti betocham).”9 Grammatically, the text should have said “veshachanti betocho” — “I will dwell within it [the Mishkan].” According to the Shelah (Sha’ar Ha’otiot, ot lamed), this indicates that in addition to building the physical Mishkan, Hashem wants every Jew to make himself and his home a holy place so that He can dwell among every Jew. So, we are each tasked with building a personal Temple from the inside out. The more we work on building and revealing that holiness within ourselves and each other, the more Hashem’s presence is fully revealed in the world (and the closer we get to the third and final Temple and redemption). It’s a fundamental lesson: “think globally, act locally.”
Hashem In and Out of Time
So much of Judaism and its rituals are centered around time: Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon), the Festivals, the Sabbatical, the Jubilee year and, of course, designated times for prayer. It seems odd to have so much devoted to constructing a place and space for Hashem — The Light of the Infinite– a being not bound by space or time. Both Ramban and Rambam define the concept of a physical place that serves as a “dwelling for G‑d”. They don’t explain exactly how an infinite God dwells in a finite space.
Abraham Joshua Heschel points out that one of the most distinctive words in the Torah is kadosh, meaning holy. The word first appears in the Torah not in connection with a mountain or an altar, but in describing time: “And G-d blessed the seventh day, and made it kadosh (holy)”. It’s no coincidence that the commandment of Sabbath is also in this and last week’s Parashah. After Israel grew impatient waiting for Moses to come down from Sinai and erected a Golden Calf, Hashem chose to build a relationship with them in time and space — in the Mishkan — making the mundane into the holy, the physical into kadosh.
Generous Hearts Build the Mishkan
Jumping back to the verse that really caught my eye this week, “Take from among you an offering for Hashem. Whoever is generous of heart shall bring the offering of Hashem [to contribute to building the Mishkan.”10 I love that it is written “whoever is generous of heart,” which seems contradictory to the first part which seems to be more of a straightforward obligation. Ramban explains the second half of the verse as Hashem’s offering to the Jewish people in return for the offering they make to Him: “Whoever is generous shall bring the offering from Hashem”. Meaning, Hashem sheds His light upon Israel in return for their generosity. Rabbi Simcha Zisl of Kelm stresses that in offering one’s donations, one must offer one’s heart. In Judaism, heart and action are intertwined, so “Every wise-hearted man among you shall come and do,” creating “excitations from below” through generosity drawn forth from above. It creates a reciprocal relationship between Hashem and man, and this is how “Hashem’s glory filled the Mishkan.”11
King David sings in Shir HaShirim, אני לדודי ודודי לי – “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”12 The mystical interpretation of “I am my Beloved’s” is an “arousal from below”— the Jewish people draw closer to Hashem while ודודי לי, “My Beloved is mine,” is an arousal or revelation from above. To merit the revelation, each person must first awaken our own love and fear– this is “arousal from below.” It is our spiritual task manifested through our offerings and the meticulous way in which we build the Mishkan (and our inner temples). The idea also plays out in hashgacha, Divine Providence, and hashgachah pratit, G-d’s direct personal supervision. This is when one see’s Hashem’s ongoing active participation in one’s life, the “arousal from above.” This is when a person sees, as Ramban explains, Hashem choosing to reveal Himself to man. What each person does with that is up to them, but when a person chooses to receive that revelation and offers it back up in generosity, then we fully understand what the Rambam and the Rebbe explained earlier in relation to a “dwelling for G‑d”– man serves Hashem and creates a dwelling for His revelation within himself.
We need to build and strengthen our Mishkans, our own houses, as it’s written, “The wisdom of women builds her house”. King Solomon in Kohelet writes, “One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all those have I not found.” Rabbenu Bachya comments that Solomon was referring to the Golden Calf and that, among all those who sinned, there was not one woman. Yet women played a major role in contributing to and helping to build the Mishkan, even though they had no sin to atone for. Chazal (Our Sages) state, “Hashem gave women greater understanding than He gave men.” This is seen in their righteousness in being first to contribute to the Mishkan, despite their not needing to atone for the Golden Calf.
Solomon states in Mishlei, “The wisdom of women builds her house.” The Mishkan is the home that we are tasked to build as a dwelling place for the revelation of the concealed. So, it may be that we can all learn from women how to build a temple of generosity within us and around us.
Vessels for Blessings
In Psalms it says, “How great is Your good, stored up for those who fear You.”13 The Sages interpret this to mean that Hashem gives us the greatest good that we can possibly accept. As we went over previously, one must be a vessel for this goodness. My project Don’t Block Your Blessings was inspired by The Tzemach Tzedek’s teaching of becoming a vessel for blessings which was expounded on by The Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Tzemach Tzedek would say, “Tracht gut, vet zein gut” which translates as “Think good and it will be good.” Literally the act of believing in the blessing is the vessel for the blessing. Getting your mind, body, and spirit into the mode of preparing for and accepting the blessing, and living with complete faith in its success, is the means by which you can actually gain that blessing. The converse is also true, making it all that much more important to focus on the good. Psalms also says, “I have no good but You.”14 In the Talmud, Rabbi Acha interprets this to mean “no true good exists in this world except that of G-d Himself.” This is the true blessing, the revealed good, the arousal from above, the little bits of revelation of concealment of The Light of the Infinite.
The mystical essence and the root of the word Terumah (donation) means “to lift up”. Through these parshiot, we follow all the ways in which the Israelites can offer their donations and their contributions to construct a dwelling place for the Divine, and it is exactly in those ways that the Israelites souls went from the sin of the Golden Calf and the verse, “Go descend, for your people have become corrupt” to returning to their holy origins, “Whoever is generous of heart shall bring the offering of Hashem”. This is the potential of the supreme emanation of the Divine Light that every person can tap into that emanates from Heaven to earth and from earth to Heaven.
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Notes & Sources
- Pirkei Avot Chapter 4 & Psalms 128:2
- ‘Letting Go’ by Dr. David Hawkins, pg. 48-49
- Exodus 35:5
- Likutei Moharan I, p. 25
- Likutei Halachot VII, 9 130
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Holy Temple 1:1
- Nachmanides commentary on Exodus 25:1
- Ibid 40:34
- Ibid 25:8
- Exodus 35:5
- Exodus 40:34
- Song of Songs 6:3
- Psalms 31:20
- Psalms 16:2