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Torah Sparks

February 16, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, Ph
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 25:1-27:19; Hertz, p. 326; Etz Hayim, p. 485
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 25:1-40; Hertz, p. 326; Etz Hayim,p.485
Haftarah: I Kings 5:26-6:13; Hertz, p. 336; Etz Hayim,p.499

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(25:1-9) God commands that (set-aside) gifts - terumah- be taken from the Israelites for the building of the Tabernacle - Mishkan.

(25:10-40) Instructions for making the Ark (Aron) and its covering, the Table (Shulhan) and its accessories, and the Menorah.

(26:1-30) Detailed instructions for the making of the Mishkan: the cloth covering, the gold clasps, and the goat hair tent over the Mishkan. Instructions regarding the 48 planks of the Mishkan, and their joining above by means of the rings, and inside by means of wooden bars.

(26:31-35) The curtain (Parochet) dividing the Mishkan and screening the Holy of Holies (Kodesh ha-Kodoshim) where the Aron was placed.

(26:36-27:19) The screen (Masach) for the entrance, the Altar (Mizbeah), and the enclosure or courtyard (hatzer) of the Mishkan.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Where is God?"

"Let them make Me a sanctuary so I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8)

  1. O God, where shall I find You?
    All hidden and exalted is Your place.
    And where shall I not find You?
    Full of Your glory is the infinite space (Yehudah Halevi, 1080-1142?, poet, philosopher, author of Kuzari, Spain)
  2. There is no place without God (Sa'adiah ben Yosef, 882-942, Gaon, head of the major yeshivah - academy - in Pumbedita, Babylonia)
  3. "The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that you may build for Me? No house can be My resting place, for all these things My hand has made." (Isaiah 66:1-2)
  4. Since God is infinite, how can we say that the Tabernacle is the dwelling place for the Shechinah? The Kabbalists utilize the concept of Hashem's *tzitzum (contraction) to resolve this enigma. The All-Powerful God chose to withdraw the intensity of His presence unto Himself. The Tabernacle become the focal point of this concentration. He did this out of the love for His Chosen People so that He could establish His dwelling among them in order to lavish upon them His protection and His blessing. (cf. Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, Shemos, p. 366) *Note on the Contept of "Tzimtzum": Jewish mystics believe that the same process of God's tzitzum (contraction) also occurred with the universe's creation. Before Creation, the cosmos was totally filled with God, leaving no room for anything else. To create the material universe, God, who is incorporeal and omnipresent, provided a vacuum or "space" for Creation through the act of tzitzum - "withdrawal" into Himself. (Author)
  5. "Where is the dwelling of God?" This was a question with which Rabbi Mendl of Kotzk once surprised a group of learned people who happened to be visiting him. They responded as one, "What a thing to ask! Do we not say in the Kedushah prayer that 'the whole world is full of God's glory'?" The Kotzker Rebbe answered: "Yes, that is true. But the greater truth is that God dwells wherever we let God in." (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, The Later Masters, p. 277)
  6. The Kobriner Rebbe once turned to his Hasidim and asked: "Do you know where God is?" Then he took a piece of bread, showed it to them all, and continued: "God is in this piece of bread. Without God's manifestation of His power in all nature, this piece of bread would have no existence." (M.S. Kleinman, Or Yesharim, p. 87)
  7. Why did God reveal Himself to Moses in a bush of thorns? In order to make manifest that there is no place where His radiance is not. It may even be found in a thicket of thorns." (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 2:9)
  8. Pantheism is a theory which holds the view that God is not a separate being, but is either the entire natural order or an aspect of the entire natural order. Either the universe as a whole is God, or the power or force that pervades the whole of the cosmos is God. God is everywhere, and is everything, or is in everything. Perhaps the most famous presentation of pantheism is the metaphysical system of Baruch Spinoza (1634-1677, Amsterdam). He sought to establish that God and nature were one and the same substance and that everything that exists or takes place in the world is an aspect of God... According to the Spinoztic view, God has no personal qualities, since He is not a being independent of, or separate from, the universe. Thus, through comprehending the structure of the universe, by grasping the vast scientific system, one is expressing the intellectual love of God. (R. Popkin, Philosophy Made Simple, p. 113)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

Where is God to be found? Our Torah reading indicates that God commanded the Israelites to establish a ifan Mishkan dwelling place - for Him so that He may be in their midst. For the Hebraists among us, you can see the connection between the word ifan - Mishkan and the word vbhfa - Shechinah (the Divine Presence).

This concept seemingly creates a problem theologically. The quotations above represent different and some very unique answers to the question of God's presence. (God is in a piece of bread!) Though Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish community, one can detect some commonality between his pantheistic-type thinking and Jewish mysticism/ Hasidism.

Given all of this, let us ask what is the meaning behind God's command to build a place for Him to dwell? Does this have any contemporary relevance to us vis-a-vis the establishment of synagogues? Do we believe in sacred spaces? What does Catholicism have to say in this matter? Other Faiths?

Finally, what other theological possibilities do you see in the concept of oumnhm - tzimtzum (God) contracting inwardly? What practical applications do you see? I see one. I believe good teachers will occasionally practice tzimtzum so as to allow room for their students to grow by their own intelligence. So too does God practice "tzitzum" with humankind.


It occurred to me today that I might spend a whole year in Shul, reciting morning prayers, afternoon prayers, evening prayers, and never have a religious experience. A discouraging notion... Yet, I must not ask for what cannot be given. Shul was not invented for a religious experience, In Shul, a religious experience is an experience of religion. The rest is up to me. (L. Wieseltier, Kaddish, p,119)

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