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Drash on Parshat Terumah (Sanctuary)

Feb. 23, 2007


Roger Gradess
The Torah portion for this week is Terumah. We are in the midst of
G_ds giving us the Law on Mount Sinai, at the beginnings of monotheism,
at the beginnings of our history as a People, over three thousand years ago.
It will be hundreds of years until the ark reaches its final destination in the
First Temple in Jerusalem.
In Exodus 25:8, G_d commands us to build a Sanctuary, a mikdash,
through which G_d will dwell among us. The Sanctuary contains the ark
and the tablets, and is the place from which G_d speaks. We bring for its
construction terumah - gifts. The greatness of our generosity reflected the
intensity of our spiritual intent, our commitment to our new G_d. Our
willingness to accept G_ds Covenant and fulfill G_ds mitzvot.
The Sanctuary begins the differentiation of Israel from the pagan
world. Pagan belief was a belief in the supremacy of magic (remember
Pharoahs magicians?). The many gods themselves were not supreme,
but were subject to overriding magical rules which magicians seemingly
could manipulate. Sinai, and the creation of the mishkan, introduced a
truly omnipotent G_d, and recognized G_ds GOODNESS as being the
underlying force of the universe. This was a unique understanding in
pagan times, and can be hard to grasp even today.
In George Robinsons Essential Torah, Ernie Rubinsteins wonderful
essay suggests a way of studying Torah by allowing its words to resonate
and adapt themselves to the reader. Following Ernie, the word that evoked
the most thought in me during the preparation for this service was
sanctuary. The word sanctuary has two somewhat separable meanings
a place of safety, and a place of holiness. The dictionary links sanctuary
to shelter, to retreat, and to asylum.

I have always loved the word asylum. My work as a hospital


psychologist sensitized me to it not as in lunatic asylum, but as in a place
of safe and loving shelter. I know Regina has this attitude toward the
seniors she works with in her nursing home.
So tonight I would finish by talking a bit about the psychology of
sanctuary. In my view, the command by G_d to build a mikdash applies
not only to the creation of physical sanctuaries such as the one in which
we sit, but means as well that we should provide sanctuary for each
other fulfilling the Covenant, and testifying to the Goodness that
underlies creation.
I, and the other staff saw providing sanctuary as a primary function.
Few staff would use that language; in psychoanalysis it is called providing a
proper holding environment. A person admitted to the hospital in a very
disturbed and disorganized state requires the experience of sanctuary, of
being in a safe and caring environment in which they can come to feel
understood and secure. This is a prerequisite for further healing.
A proper holding environment is likewise vital to newborns as they
emerge from the ultimate holding environment of the womb. Suddenly
confronted with a world out there, the feeling of being safely held by a
caregiver teaches early on that it is possible to feel safe when facing the
real world, and not misperceive it as an overwhelming dangerous place.
We are sitting here in a sanctuary. What kind of holding environment
are we providing for each other? It is our hands, our embrace of each
other, our warmth, our efforts to understand each other, our shared
religious spirit, that sanctifies this space and makes it a place in which G_d
dwells and speaks. We are commanded to be as a kingdom of priests and a
holy nation. As such we must hold each other in the way we hope G_d
holds us.

We are loved by an unending love.


We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.
We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.
Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled
OURS are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
OURS

are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love.

This poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro captures, I think, the nature of the
holding environment in which we participate.