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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, Issues with the In-Laws?, The Undoing of Captivity, Shift Beds – Part II, Pharaoh’s Assimilation Policy, Passion vs. Pleasure, Loving in Reverse, Music is Female, Fecund Fluids and Revelation, and Sexism in the Commandments.
This week, in the parshah Terumah, the Jewish people are given the commandment to build the Tabernacle in the desert and to fill it with the instruments and vessels that they would later use to worship G-d, such as the altars, the Menorah, and the sacred ark.
And what was the ultimate purpose of the tabernacle? This, G-d reveals in the eight verse of the Parshah: “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them.” Exodus, 25:8. Not “I will dwell in it,” mind you, but rather “I will dwell amongst them.” The purpose was for G-d to make his dwelling, his home – not far away in the heavens, and not even in an inanimate structure, but rather – amongst us.
So here’s the story:Rabbi Yehudah the Nasi, the author and compiler of the Mishnah, had a learned son, for whom he was trying to arrange a match. He found one in the daughter of Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra, and the match was made. The parents agreed that, as was customary, the groom would spend twelve years studying Torah before the young couple married. (I know – a twelve-year engagement is really hard to relate to.)
But then the bride ended up passing before the groom. The groom was so overcome by her beauty that he decided, “perhaps I’ll spend only six years studying Torah, and then I’ll marry her.”
And then he caught a second glimpse of her.
This time he said, “I cannot wait any longer. I’ll marry her first, and then I’ll study Torah.”
At this point, the groom was ashamed to face his illustrious father. Rabbi Yehudah the Nasi was not only the leader of the Jewish people, but he had a reputation for having never derived any physical pleasure from the this corporeal world. Given Rabbi Yehudah’s asceticism, what would he think of his son’s weakness, and how easily he succumbed to his lust for the physical beauty of his betrothed?
However, his father reassured him that he had done nothing that was any cause for embarrassment. “Indeed,” Rabbi Yehudah said, “you are of the same mind as your Creator!”
Why? Because after G-d split the Red Sea for the Israelites and drowned the Egyptians, he said first:”You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O Lord; [then] the sanctuary, O Lord, [which] Your hands founded.” Exodus, 15:17. In other words, G-d planned to make his sanctuary once the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land.
But what happened next? “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” Exodus, 25:8. Now. In the desert. G-d could not wait until the Israelites got to Israel; He had to be with them now.
That’s the end of the Talmud‘s story about G-d’s irresistible need for the Jewish people, which paralleled the young groom’s lust for his bride.
But it’s not really the end of the discussion. What was the “glimpse” of the bride that G-d saw that overcame him, that aroused his need for immediate intimacy with the Jewish people? What was it that inspired the instruction “make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”?
According to many commentaries, this Parshah appears out of chronological order, as the commandment to build the Tabernacle came after the sin of the Golden Calf, which is discussed in Parshat Ki Tisa, two weeks hence.
After the sin of the Golden Calf.
In other words, it wasn’t our state of near perfection, as we stood out Mount Sinai, that inspired G-d’s ardor. And it wasn’t when we were fresh and wide-eyed, following Moses out of Egypt into the desert. You know when it was?
It was after our first huge fight. When our relationship with G-d was on the rocks. Where we succumbed to our baser instincts, and it looked like we had destroyed the foundation of our relationship.
But then we returned. We acknowledged our wrongdoing. Most importantly, we made clear to G-d that he are His, and we are in it for the long haul if He would still have us.
And that was the glimpse that made us so irresistible to Him. A sign that our love for each other runs too deep to be severed. A sign that our bond is strong enough to weather the storms of infidelity. That though we may stray, our true selves to which we will always return are G-d’s people.
When He saw that, G-d could no longer wait until we got to the Promised Land to be with us; He needed to be with us right then and there, on the sandy dunes of the Sinai desert.