Between the Lines—T'rumah

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Andy Shugerman

Exodus Rabbah 34:3

ועשו לי מקדש אמר הקב״ה לישראל אתם צאני ואני רועה שנאמר (יחזקאל לד) ואתן צאני צאן מרעיתי אדם אתם ואני רועה שנאמר (תהלים פ) רועה ישראל האזינה עשו דיר לרועה שיבא וירעה אתכם לכך נאמר ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם אתם כרם שנא׳ (ישעיה ה) כי כרם ה׳ צבאות בית ישראל ואני שומר שנאמר (תהלים קכא) הנה לא ינום ולא יישן שומר ישראל עשו סוכה לשומר שישמור אתכם אתם בנים ואני אביכם שנאמר (דברים יד) בנים אתם לה׳ אלהיכם ואני אביכם שנאמר (ירמיה לא) כי הייתי לישראל לאב כבוד לבנים כשהן אצל אביהם וכבוד לאב כשהוא אצל בניו וכן הוא אומר (משלי יז) עטרת זקנים בני בנים עשו בית לאב שיבא וישרה אצל בניו לכך נאמר ועשו לי מקדש

"And let them make Me a sanctuary . . . " (Exod. 25:8). The Blessed Holy One said to Israel: 'You are My flock and I am the Shepherd,' as it says, "For you, My flock, flock that I tend, are men; and I am your God—declares the Lord GOD" (Ezek. 34:31). 'And I am the Shepherd,' for it says, "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel [who leads Joseph like a flock!]" (Ps. 80:2). Make a lodge for the Shepherd that He may come and guide you. Accordingly it says, "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8).

'You are a vineyard,' as it says, "For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel . . . " (Isa. 5:7); 'and I am the Guardian,' for it says, "Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps!" (Ps. 121:4). Make a booth (sukkah) for the Guardian that he may protect you.

'You are children and I am your Father,' as it says, "You are the children of the Lord your God," (Deut. 14:1), and I am your Father,' for it says, "For I am ever a Father to Israel . . . " (Jer. 31:9). It is an honor for children to be with their father and for the father to be with his children, as it says, "Grandchildren are the crown of [their] elders; [and the glory of children are their fathers"] (Prov. 17:6). Therefore, make a house for the Father that He may come and dwell with his children; accordingly it says, 'And let them make Me a sanctuary.'

How might theology help us transform American Judaism today?

The midrash above subtly makes two claims that challenge any static views on God and religion: it suggests that God's presence in our lives changes with each stage in life, and that understanding consequently requires us to build both temporary structures and permanent homes within which God can dwell among us.

This midrash develops three ancient analogies for the dynamic relationship between God and Israel, based on metaphors found throughout the Hebrew Bible. The nomadic Shepherd and the seasonal Guardian of the vineyard both require lodging to protect them from the elements. In contrast with these simple shelters, the final analogy calls for us as children and as parents to erect a proper "house" so our Father can take part in our multigenerational Jewish family.

That combination of metaphors for the portable Tabernacle of the Wilderness offers wisdom for today's world of the Internet, wireless communications, and shifting demographics. Jewish institutions must continue to learn from and about the younger generations' involvement in new spiritual communities and new communal organizations in order to revitalize synagogue life.