From Protection to Presence

February 16, 2024 / 7 Adar 5784

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we encounter a pivotal moment in the spiritual journey of the Israelites. Gd instructs Moses in Exodus 25:8 to “let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” This directive signifies a profound evolution in the relationship between Gd and the Israelites.

Upon their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were led and protected by Gd in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:20-22). This manifestation of Gd was external, a Divine force guiding and shielding a collection of individuals who had not yet coalesced into a unified nation. They were a people in transition, physically freed from bondage but spiritually unformed, requiring visible, external signs of Gd’s protection and guidance.

The giving of the Ten Commandments, however, marked a turning point along their journey. With the acceptance of these commandments, the Israelites were no longer a disparate group of former slaves; they became a nation bound by a common purpose and Divine covenant. The laws and ordinances provided a framework for their society, a shared set of values and moral principles. It was at this juncture that the concept of Gd’s presence underwent a transformative shift—from an external protector to an indwelling presence that sought to be among them, as outlined in this week’s Terumah reading.

The commandment to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) represents this shift in Divine intimacy. The Mishkan was to be a physical space where Gd’s presence could dwell amidst the Israelites, not as a distant protector but as an integral part of the community. This transition from an external to an internal relationship with Gd reflects a profound spiritual maturation. It signifies the movement from a reliance on overt demonstrations of power and protection to a deeper, more intimate connection based on faith, commitment, and the shared endeavor of building a holy community.

This evolution in the Israelites’ relationship with Gd serves as a powerful metaphor for our interpersonal relationships. Just as the Israelites had to transition from seeing Gd as an external protector to welcoming Gd into their midst, so too must we learn to open ourselves up to others, moving beyond superficial interactions to form deeper, more vulnerable connections. Although maintaining a distant relationship might feel safer at first, never letting others “in” limits the strength that arises from genuine intimacy and mutual growth. By opening ourselves up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we create space for stronger more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

The construction of the Mishkan can be seen as an act of collective vulnerability and faith. It required the Israelites to invest materially, emotionally, and spiritually in the creation of a shared sacred space. Similarly, building deep and lasting relationships with others demands our willingness to invest ourselves fully, to be open to the possibility of hurt, but also to the immense potential for joy and connection.

As we reflect on this week’s Torah portion, let us consider how we can apply the lessons of the Mishkan in our lives. Let us strive to open ourselves up, to be vulnerable with Gd and with one another, recognizing that true protection and fulfillment come from the strength of our connections and the depth of our relationships. May we, like our ancestors, learn that to be genuinely protected and to flourish, we must let Gd and others in, building sanctuaries not just of wood and cloth and shimmering metals, but of trust, love, and mutual respect. Because we are… 


Shabbat Shalom.