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When God Moves In Next Door

UMJC, Rabbi Yahnatan Lasko, February 27, 2020

Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1–27:19

Rabbi Yahnatan Lasko, Beth Messiah Congregation, Montgomery Village, MD

What happens when God shows up?

The book of Exodus is a powerful series of answers to this question. When God shows up, the oppressed realize that their voices have indeed been heard. When God shows up, the unjust powers of this world are judged. When God shows up, idols get broken down, the enslaved go free and their children rejoice. When God shows up, the nations of the world hear and see and put their trust in God. When God shows up at Sinai, revelation happens, eternal covenants are made, and a way of life that leads to wisdom and blessing is given. When God shows up after the incident with the golden calf, iniquity and sin are judged and atoned for, the covenant is renewed, and the people’s way of life is restored. When God shows up, priests are ordained, artisans are filled with the Ruach to create beautiful work, and the people are inspired to bring their best to build God’s house. At the end of Exodus, God shows up when his glory fills the Tabernacle, and all of Israel sees God’s presence as a cloud, resting with them in the mishkan and guiding them forward on their journey. At every turn, Exodus is a story of God showing up in powerful ways.

This week’s parasha, Terumah, describes the various furnishings of the Tabernacle, prompting a tantalizing question: What happens when God moves in next door?

Our ancestors surely must have wondered this after God instructed Moses: “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them” (Exod 25:8). This would be a new step in Israel’s relationship with God. They had known God as the God of their ancestors. They had known God as the God who judged the idols of Egypt. They had known God as the voice of revelation speaking from the mountain. But now God was initiating a new thing: becoming “the God who dwells among them.”

This relationship of “God with us” would center on a physical structure, a holy tabernacle or tent. The cloud of God’s presence had been with the Israelite camp before, going before them to lead the way or standing behind them to guard and protect them. Now there would be a mishkan, a tent—a physical touchpoint, disassembled, carried, and reassembled by Levites—to serve as the designated place for God, as God’s home among the Israelites.

What happens when God moves in next door? Our parasha sets forth a provisional answer—a dynamic of mutuality, of giving back and forth—by means of paradox: “Tell Bnei-Yisrael to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him you are to take My offering” (Exod 25:2).

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