Build Me a Sanctuary

Parshat Terumah says “Build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”[1] Why does God needs us to build a sanctuary? Why can’t God just do it? Furthermore, isn’t God dwelling in our midst with or without a sanctuary?

Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, a 16th Century Italian commentator, comments on this verse as follows: “The Torah itself, for which the Holy Ark served as repository, was in an ark constructed of wood but overlaid with gold on the inside and on the outside, to reflect the saying of our sages[2] that every Torah scholar whose external appearance did not reflect his internal stature is not a Torah scholar at all.”[3] The way I interpret this is that it is not enough to look at one’s external structure but rather who an person is in his/her essence. After all, externalities fade away over time-one’s legacy is determined by who s/he truly is.

Sforno goes on to say “The levels of sanctity in the Tabernacle, beginning already with the courtyard around it, were not sealed off from one another, but, on the contrary, were connected to one another all the way to the innermost sanctuary to demonstrate that sanctity is attainable progressively.”[4] The way I examine this is that like the Temple, each and every one of us is interconnected. As each of us is interconnected, so too is each and every one of us responsible for the well-being of others. [5]

This is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. An important point, as Dr. Hanoch McCarty remined me, is that many disabilities cannot be seen. There are some people for whom holding up a pen and writing or being able to speak are beyond their abilities. Similarly, there are those with emotional disabilities, who are out of touch with what they are feeling or who cannot empathize with others. We are all interconnected and need to give our attention to all disabilities, both those which we see like autism, down syndrome, being a paraplegic or being hearing impaired to name a few; or mental or emotional disabilities. The goal is to be authentic-to make our inner spirit match our outer strength.[6]

As Yosi Kahana, Director of the Jewish National Fund’s Task Force on Disabilities, writes, “people with disabilities make up the world’s largest minority group. Globally, around 10% of the world’s population lives with a disability of some kind. Twenty percent of people in the U.S. have some disability and 1 in 10 suffer from a sever disability. Over 10% of people in Israel have some form of disability that can make life’s daily activities a struggle.”[7]

Neil Jacobson, who became disabled at age 59 due to his cerebral palsy, writes “This week’s Torah portion reminded me that we all need assistance. Even God needed help to build the Temple. Not only is it OK to ask for help, but it is also required. The text clearly shows us that while God knew precisely what was needed, it was only through requesting assistance that God’s needs could be met. Terumah goes on to show us how each one of us has our unique skills. It is only when we all offer to use the skills we have to build a better world can true progress be made.”[8]

As we continue reading about the Mishkan, the Tabernacle which was God’s home, we should recognize that every person, regardless of one’s ability, had an integral role to play in the Mishkan’s construction. Had I lived back then, I would not have been a builder, as I have a “brown thumb.” However, I could have contributed in other ways. Even if our abilities are not currently prized by society, we should find ways to value them and recognize that each and every one of us is needed in order to bring a congregational project to fruition.

          It is now my pleasure to call on Shari Zeff to share some personal words of gratitude for how Mosaic Law Congregation has been there for her family.

[1] Exodus 25:8

[2] Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72a

[3] Sforno on Exodus 25:8

[4] Ibid.

[5] Shavuot 39a

[6] See Yoma 72b on tocho k’baro

[7] Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month – Jewish National Fund (