2015-02-18 / Religion Column

Feeling God’s closeness in a special place

CANTOR RALPH GOREN
Beth El Synagogue/ Margate

Parshat T’ruma
Ex. 25:1-27:19

Okay, so why is a cantor giving this week’s Dvar Torah? Simple, just like rabbis, we are Kley Kodesh—vessels of holiness. We are co-clergy with rabbis where tasks are often shared and sometimes overlap. When the cantor is away, the rabbi might lead part of the davening. Likewise when the rabbi is away, the cantor might deliver the Dvar Torah. I’ve had the privilege on many occasions to deliver Divrei Torah and am grateful for the opportunity to give one here.

A few weeks ago, I gave a “Dvar Muzika,” a musical talk on Parshat B’shalach, which is Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, referring to the Song of the Sea. Cantors around the country often speak on a Jewish musical topic on that Shabbat. This year I spoke about some key Jewish composers.

Anyway, in B’shalach the people realized the finality of their freedom, then in Yitro the people find out that freedom isn’t free when they received the 10 Commandments. In Mishpatim, the laws get more specific, but coming up in T’ruma, the emphasis takes a major shift. Back at the sin of the Golden Calf, the people apparently felt a need for God to be “right there with them.” They lost faith that God is with them no matter where they go.

The directives in T’ruma are very specific about how to build a Sanctuary—the Mishkan—a wandering Tabernacle to have a place to worship God wherever they camp in their wanderings toward Canaan. Why was that important? God said, “Build Me a Sanctuary that I might dwell within.” If we know God is everywhere, the commentators speculated that the Golden Calf demonstrated a need to feel God in a special place despite knowing that God is everywhere.

Building the Mishkan, therefore, might have satisfied that need, but it came with a price—everyone had to donate a T’ruma, a gift of many objects that would be melded together to build this special place. Detail after detail is spelled out in this portion—acacia wood, dolphin skins etc., (I don’t think they were referring to modern day dolphins).

In today’s world, people often have the same feelings—we have synagogues to feel God’s closeness in a modern special place even though we are supposed to remember God is everywhere. There’s a special Sukkot song, “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere,” where the hand motions resemble that of shaking a Lulav—a direct demonstration of our awareness that God is everywhere. Still, we feel a special closeness when we congregate. While praying by oneself is acceptable, it’s more special in a group. It’s even considered more holy to have a minyan—a quorum that indicates a minimum of God’s people as pointed out by a number of special verses in the Torah.

The people who sinned the Golden Calf may have handled the situation incorrectly, but like us they were only human. Just like them, we have needs to feel something tangible even knowing that God is intangible, and yet still with us wherever we go. When we go into our synagogues, we embrace the community that helps us get closer to God. .

Return to top