In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Terumah, Hashem tells the Jewish people exactly how to build the Mishkan, the portable, temporary structure which we carried through the desert. “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (Shemot 25:8). This may be one of the most detailed portions in all of the Torah. The entire reading is dedicated to describing how the Mishkan should look down to the finest detail. It’s an interesting contrast to the rest of the Torah; The Torah covers a lot of laws and summarizes our story as a nation, but it doesn’t go into great detail about these things. For that we have the Oral Torah. However, in this Parsha, we know exactly what Hashem wanted for His earthly dwelling place. Allow me to show you an excerpt:
You shall make a menorah of pure gold; the menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the menorah and three branches from the other side of the menorah. On one branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals, and on the next branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah. And on the menorah itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals: a calyx, of one piece with it, under a pair of branches; and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the second pair of branches, and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the last pair of branches; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah. Their calyxes and their stems shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single hammered piece of pure gold. Make its seven lamps—the lamps shall be so mounted as to give the light on its front side— and its tongs and fire pans of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these furnishings, out of a talent of pure gold. Now see and make according to their pattern, which you are shown on the mountain.Shemot 25:31-40
I doubt you read the entire detailed description, but I urge you to go back and give it a read. There is a lot to learn within the seemingly technical details. First of all, let’s all agree that Hashem loves detail and beauty. The spiritual is a reflection of the physical and vice versa. There’s a saying: Messy bed, messy mind – and it’s true! How we tend to the world Hashem gifted us is how we position ourselves in our relationship with Him. If a university student goes to class in their pajamas and flip flops and slouches in their chair, they are creating an aura of laziness and carelessness. Hashem cares how much we put into making the physical world a better dwelling place. Of course, it would only make sense when it came to building the Mishkan, the dwelling place of Hashem here on earth, it should be beautiful and precise. The point? Details matter.
Let’s return to the specific excerpt about the menorah. There is something very interesting to note. Hashem gave so many instructions, and at the end of the above excerpt, Hashem says, “Now see and make according to their pattern, which you are shown on the mountain” (Shemot 25:40). Hashem showed Moshe on Mt. Sinai exactly how He wants the menorah to look. What else do we know? We know we had to build it! Hashem showed the menorah but didn’t leave it with us. He wanted us to do the hard work. The question which naturally arises is, why? If Hashem showed it to Moshe, why couldn’t He leave it with Moshe?
The answer is simple: that’s not how Hashem desires for this world to work. Hashem exists outside of time. He has laid out the blueprint for this entire world, from the beginning to the end. As the saying from Kohelet goes, there is nothing new under the sun. There really isn’t! Hashem already laid out the groundwork for everything that exists, existed, and will exist, including the menorah in the Mishkan! However, it’s our job to bring it into fruition. Why, one may ask, should we do something Hashem already knows about? It is important to understand that Hashem wants a relationship with us. Yes, Hashem can program us to do the right things, think the right thoughts, and say the right words, but that would make Him egotistical. He would be doing it all for Himself, for His own pleasure. Hashem wants to have a real, authentic relationship with us. This involves loving us for who we are together with our flaws, our strengths, our challenges, and our talents. For this relationship we must toil, we must work hard to actualize it here in the physical world. Hashem gave us 613 mitzvot in order to make this relationship real, unique, and holy. Take note, most of the mitzvot do not involve prayer, meditation or the like. Rather, many of them obligate us to involve ourselves in the physical world. They range from what to eat, how to treat our parents, how to treat our spouse, and how to treat our children, to how to conduct our business dealings, how to treat a stranger, etc. Hashem cares about the details, He wants us to experience Him in every facet of life. He wants us to struggle and work hard to reveal Him.
If we were given everything on a silver platter we would be spoiled. In fact, we would probably forget about Hashem altogether, G-D forbid. Imagine for a second: Hashem, the Creator of the universe, the Almighty, wants to have a relationship with you. He doesn’t care if you fail or if you don’t believe in Him. He still wants a relationship. However, it is not enough to say that Hashem exists. This would mean the theoretical opposite can stand true, that He doesn’t exist, G-D forbid. He is beyond existence, He just is. And everything we see around us is the manifestation of His blueprint for us. These things already exist in the spiritual realm, but it is our job to bring it into this world. How crazy is that? Hashem, who is beyond comprehension, who just is, wants a relationship with our flawed selves. He wants our hard work and effort even if it doesn’t meet his ideals! And although He has the power to do so, He doesn’t want to force us to do the right thing; rather, He wants us to desire to do the right thing. He wants a genuine relationship. He not only desires, but He prefers to give us lowly beings attention, patience, and love – even more than His angels who are far more perfect in serving His will.
The more one reads the Torah, the more one realizes Hashem’s desire is not for us to seclude ourselves, deprive ourselves, and pray and meditate all day. Why, one may ask? What is wrong with that? Wouldn’t it give one more time to focus on Hashem? Isn’t leading a spiritual life something that Hashem desires for us? No! Ultimately, there is no distinction between physical and spiritual. Remember, Hashem just is. He created this perceived divide between physical and spiritual so that we may bridge the gap, not avoid the gap. That is our relationship with Him: the struggle to bridge that gap. The physical, which seems mundane, is filled with sparks of holiness, Hashem’s desire for this world. And He expects us to uncover these sparks using His Torah.
The Torah is Hashem’s blueprint for the world. The same way the menorah Hashem showed to Moshe on Mt. Sinai was the blueprint for the real one, so too the Torah is the blueprint for how Hashem wants the Jewish nation, and the world at large, to work. However, it is important we do not stay at the level of blueprint; we must make the Torah practical. Allow me to explain. What is the outermost layer of earth? Gas. We are not a meteorite orbiting in space; ultimately, earth is just a bunch of gas rotating around itself in the middle of the solar system. But where does all the action take place? On the solid surface. Yet without the gaseous exterior, there would be no life. Next, any invention began with what? An idea! An abstract idea; you can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, taste, or use it in any way. And what’s the point of the idea? The invention! The physical, tangible invention. Yet, without the idea there is no invention.
The point of showing Moshe the menorah was so we can then toil over it, beautify it, and serve Hashem. Hashem did not show Moshe the menorah so that Moshe can go down to the Jewish people and brag, “Hey guys! I saw the menorah, the one straight from Hashem. Pretty cool looking. Maybe if you get on my spiritual level you will get to see it, too.” No, quite the contrary: the Torah is tangible for each and every Jew.
Surely, this commandment which I enjoin upon you this day is not concealed from you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may fulfill it.Devarim 30:11-14
The menorah had to be built by our own hands for its mission and purpose to be revealed; it had to be brought down into the physical world. The ideals of the spiritual world must lead the complicated, often times muddled physical world. But without the hard work put into the physical world, the spiritual world cannot be revealed.
The Torah may be the spiritual blueprint for our personal as well as national mission as a people, but without the physical observance of its commandments, our relationship with Hashem is not actualized; it would be left at the blueprint level just as the menorah Hashem showed to Moshe on Mt. Sinai. Hashem’s will is not fulfilled until we toil over the Torah just as we had to toil to build the menorah.
There is only one place which has the potential to actualize this relationship: the Land of Israel. There is a reason we call anywhere outside the Land of Israel galut, or exile; Crown Heights, Miami, or Los Angeles are not our homes. There are countless mitzvot which can only be observed in the Land of Israel, even today, without the Beit Hamikdash standing. The Land of Israel is “a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12). Living in the Land of Israel itself is an obligation, “You shall clear out the Land and settle in it, for I have given you the Land to occupy it” (Bamidbar 33:53).
The mitzvot, which solidify our dear relationship with Hashem, are meant to be observed in the Land of Israel.
I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances which you will teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess.Devarim 5:28
And we cannot ignore the fact that the Land of Israel will be the focal point of the ultimate redemption: the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, the Third Temple, may it come speedily in our days. The desert is blooming once more, the Jewish nation is being gathered into our land like never before; prophesy is unfolding in front of our eyes. The nation of Israel cannot fulfill its potential relationship with Hashem anywhere but the Land of Israel. Believing we can is like Moshe bragging to the nation of Israel that he got to see the menorah from Hashem, but never building it, thus never being able to fulfill Hashem’s desire.
Ascending to the land Hashem gave to you and me is a dream our ancestors prayed for three times a day every day for 2,000 years. It is our destiny, and an opportunity our ancestors would have taken without question. There is no better place to actualize Hashem’s Torah, and no better place to wait for Mashiach than Israel. Just as an idea needs to manifest itself in an invention, and the gaseous envelope surrounding earth needs a physical surface for life to exist, so too the Torah needs a place to become manifested, so the blueprint of our relationship with Hashem has room to come to fruition – which can only be the Land of Israel.
I urge you to read the Torah cover to cover. Take fifteen minutes a day, every day, and you will likely finish it in a year. It’s an easy way to introduce oneself to Hashem’s desire for you and the nation you are a part of. Through this, we bring Hashem closer to ourselves and the world at large; the culmination being Mashiach. Then the bridge between physical and spiritual will completely collapse and we will know Hashem in the most authentic way, better than anything we may know in this world.