Parshat Terumah: Making room for God

Rabbi Evan J. Krame
(Courtesy of Rabbi Evan J. Krame)

By Rabbi Evan J. Krame

I make room for God in the dining room. No, I didn’t buy an extra seat for the table. The dining room is in the southeast corner of the house where we can see the sunrise. There, each morning, I am reminded to begin my day by acknowledging God.

In Parshat Terumah, God instructed Moses that the people should make a sanctuary so that God may dwell among them. At first glance, it might seem that God wanted a place to rest. Perhaps the demands of the Israelites were so great that God just needed a place to put God’s feet up and take a snooze.

Building the sanctuary was not to fulfill God’s needs. A sanctuary is for our benefit. Humans crave a physical spot to approach God. A structure like the mikdash (sanctuary) gave the people a place to directly access God.

You may recall that the Hebrew people, born of slavery in Egypt, had difficulty connecting with an unseen God. They lacked the capacity for connecting with God in the spiritual realm. That makes sense. After centuries of slavery, the Hebrews felt distanced from God. The miracles of ten plagues, parting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai were not sufficient to sustain belief and connection. The people needed a physical place, a mishkan, to connect with God.

Later, the mishkan was replaced by the Temple. After the destruction of the second Temple, the rabbis reimagined where God would reside. Jewish ritual moved from the public to the private realm. For today’s Jews, the most impactful Jewish experiences may be occurring at that table, whether it is a Shabbat dinner or Passover seder.

As public worship spaces closed for the pandemic, life cycle events shifted to back yards and living rooms. Synagogue communities reassembled outdoors, in tents or in local parks.

Much of Judaism moved to the small screen. Some progressive Jews substituted Shabbat suits for cozy pajamas, watching services on YouTube while sipping coffee.

Ultimately, I predict that God will best be found outside of a building or room of a house. Rather, our connection with God will be right inside each of us, where God has always been. Where does God dwell, asked the Hasidic master, the Kotzer Rebbe? Anywhere we let God in.

The first light of sunrise enters my home through the windows of our dining room. That is where I begin my day with the words Modeh Ani. I acknowledge God who restored me to life this morning, yet again.

If you’ve had trouble finding your connection to God, remember that the ancient Hebrews who saw plagues descend, the Red Sea part and Sinai quake, still needed a structure to access God’s presence. Start with your dinner table this Shabbat. Welcome the Divine Presence to rest there with you. And perhaps your dining room will become a sanctuary too.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame is rabbi of The Jewish Studio.

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