Terumah – The purpose of the Sanctuary

After Israel had been redeemed from bondage, and G-d had proclaimed His laws to them, the communion of G-d with Moshe and Israel was not to cease. Moshe was requested to erect a Sanctuary which would be a visible emblem to the people that G-d dwelled among them.


It was a portable structure to accompany the Israelites on their wanderings. It was primarily a tent, with a wooden framework and divided into three parts. There was an outer court, and within the court was an altar and a laver for the priests. In the western part of the court was the tabernacle which was divided in two by a veil. The first part was the holy place containing the table, the candlestick and the altar of incense. Only the priests could enter this space. The second part was the Holy of Holies and only the High Priest could enter this space and only on Yom Kippur. It contained the Ark of the Covenant, and was precious metals and finely woven materials.


The Sanctuary was a symbol, and its purpose was to impress the people with spiritual teachings. Rambam wrote that the purpose was to wean the people from idolatrous worship and to turn them towards G-d. The Sanctuary and its ritual played an important part in moulding the Israelites for their spiritual mission. It reinforced the laws which Moshe had presented to the people, and kept before them the thought that G-d was within their midst. Their lives, individually and collectively, had to be influenced by that knowledge. As G-d was holy and the Sanctuary was holy, so must the Israelites make the sanctification of their lives the aim of all their endeavours.(1)


With the command “make Me a Sanctuary so I may dwell among them” Rashi commented that it would only be a Sanctuary so long as it remained dedicated to the service of G-d. The word for dwell, “veshachanti” is connected with the word “shechina” , the Rabbinic term for the Divine Presence. If G-d was to abide with the community, the people had to be distanced from everything which was defiling. The Sanctuary was therefore the fountain of holiness for the Jewish people.


The Soncino Tanach edited by R’ JH Hertz. 1985. 

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