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Trumah(Exodus 25:1-27:19)

God Dwelling on Earth Below

Some years ago, while teaching Jewish Ethics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I gave my students a difficult assignment: They were to go through an entire day without talking. (In classical Judaism, this is called a "taanit dibur" - literally, a "talking fast.") During the day, they were not allowed to speak to anyone unless absolutely necessary.

When the students reported back their experiences, they expressed shock at what they discovered about interpersonal relationships. For example, one woman named Stephanie said she had held a "conversation" with a friend for over an hour. The friend, unaware that Stephanie was on the "taanit dibur," just kept on talking. At the end of the "conversation," the friend thanked Stephanie for "one of the best conversations I've ever had!"

Many people would rather hear themselves talk than listen to what others have to say. However, Judaism teaches that hearing - going beyond oneself - is more important than self-expression. This is one reason why Torah study is deemed superior to prayer. While prayer is an expression of our thoughts, the Torah is the embodiment of the Almighty's thoughts.

In contrast to many other religions where the primary dynamic of the religious experience is man finding God, in Judaism the major focus is the giving of the Torah, where God made Himself known to man.

This concept of God "coming down" to be with man is explored in this week's Torah portion. Much of the Parsha describes the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary which contained the Ark and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Regarding this Mishkan, God tells Moses, "Make for Me a tabernacle and I will dwell AMONG THEM." God is not distant, He wants to dwell among the Israelites.

This dwelling of the Almighty among the Israelite encampment was manifest in many ways. For example, it was from between the Cherubim (the golden figurines atop the Ark) that Moses and Aaron would hear the voice of the Almighty. The Midrash says that God's presence which came down upon Mount Sinai, then contracted and moved itself to the Mishkan where it rested on top of the ark. In this way, the Mishkan was a permanent manifestation of the revelation at Sinai.

This is particularly significant in light of the sin of the Golden Calf. After that tragic event, the Almighty withdrew Himself from the Jewish People. His return to the Mishkan, however, signaled reconciliation between the children of Israel and their God.

Another Midrash, however, gives an entirely different reason for God's presence in the sanctuary. The Midrash describes a king who loved his only daughter dearly and never wanted to be separated from her. In giving his daughter's hand in marriage, the king stipulated one condition: that the young couple agree to build a small portable guest-house, so he could travel with the young couple wherever they might go.

The Midrash explains this was the intention behind the building of the Mishkan. Anxious to maintain proximity with His only daughter, the Torah, God had constructed a Mishkan in which both He could also "dwell."

The nuances of this Midrash are of course many. But an essential point is that through the Torah, the Almighty gave that wisdom to the Israelites which was dearest to His heart.

Published: January 11, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) R J Burton, February 13, 2013 8:30 PM

this was good!

There are so many nuances to our relationship with G-d that it is best for me to seek G-d in different ways. My relationship with G-d is enhanced through prayer, Torah reading, parasha study, and other studies in mainstream Judaism. I was familiar with the Torah reading, but it was not until I read Rabbi Appel's parasha did I receive a much richer, deeper understanding of this reading. Thank you Rabbi Appel for your insights. Reading your example of the king and his daughter helped me to really begin to fully understand how G-d longs to be close to us here on earth.

(5) David Gr, February 5, 2011 6:00 PM

On prayer

Mark I see prayer as making your feelings, hopes, desires, etc more real to you. Yes, G-d knows those thoughts. By verbalizing them to Him you can give them greater clarity, feeling, and meaning to yourself as well. You may want to consider prayer in addition to Torah study. To me, the key to prayer is meaning the words of the prayers you say time after time. It's hard, particularly at bed time when you are tired and want to sleep.

(4) Mark Alan Johnston, January 30, 2011 7:58 PM

Torah Study IS Prayer!!!

I would like to expand on a previous comment made some time ago that "Torah study is superior to prayer." The Torah is the heart and soul of our Creator that created all that is! Prayer is our response to the gift of Torah that was given to our great Teacher, Moses, spoken from the very mouth of its Author and Finisher! Of course, we should be passionate about studying Torah, because through its very words and letters, the Almighty communicates with His Beloved, and reveals to us His Will and His Ways. When we pray using the words of Torah, we are coming into agreement and union with the thoughts of His heart, and the passionate relationship that He desires with us. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and Torah study is the greatest quality time that we can invest in that relationship! Torah study is listening to what He is saying to us, rather than us talking to Him, for He already knows our very thoughts, words, and deeds before we do! The more we study Torah, the more we realize how little we know, and how unneccessary our words really are. If I talk to God, it is to thank Him for revealing more and more of Himself through my Torah study, and to learn more about His Ways, rather than to insist upon my own. So Torah study comes before prayer, because Torah is God's eternal revelation to us, and without Torah, God would remain hidden for eternity. God established prayer when He gave us the Torah, He spoke the words to His servant Moses, and Moses relayed them to the people who heard them, and the people then responded back to God through Moses. Thanks to Torah, we can respond directly to God, in grateful prayer, by studying Torah for ourselves and then sharing Torah Light with others.

(3) Ezza Amittai, February 23, 2009 9:54 AM

It depends.

Yossi, you can read each Parsha online at under 'Parsha'. You can also have a Daily Lift sent, which I do, and I find them so amazingly appropriate every day. I don't think praying takes precedent over writing, I think that both are very important, and are intertwined, like the silver IN THE gold. G-d spoke to Moses and told him to write the Torah, and we have been speaking and hearing with HaShem ever since. In my life, sometimes an email from a loved one tells me more than a conversation does, because they are not being interrupted. And yet I also want to see and be with my loved ones. I feel the same with G-d. Shalom

(2) Michal Evenari, February 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Torah study is the fundament, but prayer is more.

"Torah study is superior to prayer"???
No! When you love someone its good to read his letters. But reading his letters could be better than having contact with him, talking to him, say him you love him? I agree, in case they started to know each other only by letters, you must know what he wrote. But while reading, and after that, you start loving him. The contact is build on the former letter-reading. But then talking to him is more. And being near him (in our case be Olam haBa) is the best.
Besides of that, its true that people like to talk more than to listen.
But with G-d you are not talking about yourself all the time. You can be happy about his greatness and telling him.

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