The Sanctuary of Forgiveness
Let me in!
Think back to your greatest mistake. Did it cause bodily or emotional harm? Did its effects last a long time? If the Jewish people had a Top 10 of eternal mistakes, the sin of the golden calf would certainly be in the running for #1. After all, it was a physical, emotional, and spiritual slap in the face to God. Many people died. Chaos ensued. In short, it was the worst of times.
In the order in which the Jewish people read the Torah though, those events don’t come for a few weeks in our current cycle. However, some commentators understand that the order that Jewish people read the Torah is not reflective of the actual chronology. They see the events of the golden calf preceding this week’s portion, called Terumah.
In the beginning of this portion, we are told the following in Exodus 25:8:
Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
If we accept that this command was given right after the incident of the golden calf, it makes little sense. Why would God offer us the chance to make God an abode on our grounds? God was just seething. When a grave sin is committed, amends are not usually offered right away. Unless that is, of course, the whole point of this timeline.
The Rabbis of the midrashic tradition who weave their own interpretations of Biblical text through vivid imagery and word play, paint the following picture:
This is like that which is written "I am asleep and my heart is awake." The community of Israel said that we are asleep but God is awake. I am asleep from the sin of the golden calf and my heart is awake. God knocks on the door and says "take for me the terumah." Open up for me my beloved sister. How long will I dwell without a house? My hair is full of dew. Rather, make me a sanctuary so that I will no longer be outside.
Utilizing some phrasing from Song of Songs, the Rabbis imagine the Israelites in a sort of spiritual slumber while God is awake. Taking it another step, they picture God caught in the rain outside, tapping on the glass (take that, Evan Hansen!), asking for the Israelites to build God a structure in which God’s presence can reside.
I was gobsmacked when I first read this text. First off, its application in how we conceptualize our relationship with God is revolutionary. If I told you how often I am greeted with, “I am such a bad Jew” when I tell people I am a Rabbi on an airplane, I would be rich. It’s an extension of this idea we have that the more we err, the farther away God is. This text says the opposite. That even with our greatest sinning, God is still there waiting for us.
On an interpersonal level though, this text can really sing. When we harm others, distance is naturally created. But, many of us are guilty of intensifying that distance because we think there’s no way the other person is interested in continuing the relationship. Sometimes, that may be the case.
What about the other times though?
What about the metaphorical tapping on the window?
I can think of at least two relationships where a connection was reestablished in my own life. It certainly takes work. Forgiveness is challenging. The Israelites had to give from the deepest parts in order to make this project feasible. It had to come from the heart. This text shows the potential upside that exists in this spark. If we can awaken from whatever slumber we’re in, then the chance for sacred relationship still exists and from there, history can be rewritten.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend, friends!
Exodus Rabbah 33:3