28 February 2020

Rabbi Winston — Parshas Terumah - Make Me a Sanctuary. . .

And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.… (Shemos 25:8)

AS I WALKED home from Mincha today as I normally do at this time, I was confronted once again by a large construction crane. It’s been there for a least a half a year, if not longer. It’s beyond my street and down a hill somewhat where they are in the middle of building new apartments. So, from my street, I only see the upper two-thirds of it, making it seem a lot closer.

Though I have studied the crane somewhat now over 100 times, today was the first time I realized what a good analogy it is for the message of this week’s parsha. This week’s parsha is “Parashas Hashgochah Pratis,” the parsha of Divine Providence, because it is the one where God tells us that He dwells among the Jewish people.

The thing about the crane is how it is so massive, and responsible for so much of the building going up. Yet to look at it from a distance it doesn’t look so, because you can barely see the wires between the crane and all the heavy things it moves around to help the construction crew do their job. It’s hard to believe that so much gets done because of the structure.

It occurred to me today that this is how Divine Providence works as well. Heaven is massive and pulls all the strings that make everything happen down here. We can see Heaven, so-to-speak, and we can see what gets accomplished down here in the world “below.” What we can’t see is the “strings”—like angels for example sent by God to do His bidding—that attach both worlds, and how they allow Heaven to guide what happens below it.

The truth is, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt”l, already used this analogy in a similar way. While explaining to someone who had asked him how he could be so successful at outreach when greater people failed to bring back a single Jew, he used the crane as an example. He explained to his questioner that the crane was like God bringing back Jews, and he was like the foreman who kept his hand on the heavy load as it moved, making it look as if was the one doing the work, and with one hand yet!

Here’s the interesting part. This week’s parsha tells us that if we want to be the “wire” connecting Heaven and Earth, and we work on meriting it, we can be it. This is essentially what God told the Jewish people about Pinchas the Zealot, who killed Zimri in the midst of his sin. The people wanted to kill Pinchas for killing a Jewish leader, but God told them that Pinchas had only acted on His behalf:

Pinchas ben Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohen has turned My anger away from the Children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the Children of Israel because of My zeal. (Bamidbar 25:11)

How does this work? The Torah tells us the preliminary steps that a person must first take:

Pinchas benElazar the son of Aharon the kohen saw this, arose from the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. (Bamidbar 25:7)

Pinchas SAW? Of course he SAW! How else could he have known what was going on and how to respond?

It means that though the nature of many people is to look the other way during times of crisis, as if doing so frees them of any responsibility, Pinchas did not. On the contrary, he LOOKED specifically to be able to assess what was happening and what to do. He was like Moshe Rabbeinu, who went out of his way to see why the bush wasn’t burning.

The next thing Pinchas did was he “arose.” Some people allow themselves to look, perhaps even show concern about the unfolding crisis, but that is it. They are moved, but not moved enough to MOVE. The idea of “getting involved” in something for which they can not perceive a personal benefit is too abstract for them. For Pinchas, it was never an issue, since wrong was being done and so far, no one was righting it.

And finally, Pinchas took his spear, which in his case he needed to complete the halachah. But everyone’s situation is different. It is the crisis at hand and the tools available at the time, that define what needs to be “taken” to act on behalf of God, to end the crisis in the proper way. The main thing is that a person has some kind of plan for following through with his good intention.

All of this impresses God. It shows Him that He has partners down here on Earth who care about His world too. He sees that He has messengers upon whom He can rely even in the most difficult of situations. That is when God Himself imbues the zealot with added koach and ability to get the job done, supernaturally, if need be. The Talmud says it took SIX miracles to make Pinchas successful (Sanhedrin 82b).

At that time, Pinchas truly became a “place” in which God could and would dwell. And once he did, there was no turning back. This is why it was only natural for Pinchas to become a kohen, the spiritual conduit through which God shares His light with the rest of mankind. The Shechinah descends and flows through the kohanim to the rest of the nation.

The truth is, the Torah called the ENTIRE Jewish people a “Kingdom of Priests,” and this makes it clearer why. The rest of the nation may not have the same laws or privileges as actual kohanim, but in this one very important aspect, we do. We may not be able to officiate in the Mishkan, but the Mishkan is able to “officiate” within each and every Jew. We can treat our bodies like temples, but in the Mishkan sense of the term, and if not ALL of the time, at least PART of the time.

We do it all the time with people and businesses. It is possible to become so devoted to something that it can literally take over our mentality. We can come to look at our personal lives and issues in terms of the people or organizations to which we have become extremely loyal. We begin to make decisions with them in mind, and only do that which we think they would approve of.

It is more than just doing what someone else wants because they are afraid of the consequences of doing the opposite. That means, that they do not really buy into what they are doing, just into not getting caught doing the punishable thing. You don’t become much a “Mishkan” for the Divine Presence with that way of thinking.

The higher level of course is that the person not only wants to fulfill the will of their object of loyalty, but they also enjoy doing it because they know it is the best way to live. Instinctually, the person may still tend to the opposite direction. But intellectually, they’ve bought into God’s idea of good and bad, and doing the good thing becomes self-serving inasmuch as pleasing God pleases them as well.

That was Pinchas in his time, and Mordechai in his. It’s called Megillas Esther, and so much of the focus is on her. But it was Mordechai, from start to finish, who took charge and devoted himself to saving the Jewish people, spiritually at first and physically in the end. He saw, he arose, and he took his “spear” in his hand. Consequently, God made him a partner, and caused miracles to happen for and around him.

We’re born into this world selfish, and spend the rest of our lives grappling with the trait of selflessness. Everyone can be selfless at some points, and a few can be that way a lot. For some, it seems like a natural product of their upbringing, but for others, the upbringing seems to make selflessness the most UNNATURAL way to act.

We all have different struggles in life, but they’re all about the same thing: “cleaning house.” We’re supposed to be refining our personalities in order to make our bodies more suitable for the Divine Presence to dwell on and within. We’re here to try and become personal and human mishkans. And believe it or not, this is really what Purim, which is fast approaching, is all about, as we will discussion, b”H, next week.

Pinchas Winston
Thirtysix.org

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