Outside In

Parshat Terumah begins the story of the Sanctuary with God’s request for gifts of materials so that artisans might make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).

The God of the Red Sea and of Sinai wants a house in which to dwell.  The way that we think about God in the world prompts us to say that it was Israel, not God, who needed an inner space.

And yet, weaving his reflection into the words of the Bible’s great love song, an ancient teacher imagines God, the lover, pleading to be let inside:

Let me in, my sister, my darling (Song of Songs 5:2).  How long shall I continue without a house? For my head is drenched with dew (ibid.).  Make me a sanctuary so that I will not be outside(Click here for the midrash in Hebrew and English).

The Vastness yearns to be contained, to be brought inside, away from the elements.

The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, also reflects upon the implications of turning the outside in.  His poem relies not on the Song of Songs, but upon the simple and profound perspective of his child:

I remember a stern warning that I gave [my children]
not to stick a hand out of the window of a moving bus
and once we were traveling and my little daughter yelled, “Abba
he stuck his hand into the outside!”

This is how it should be:  To stick a hand into the unending outside
of the world and to turn the outside inside out,
the world into a room and God into a tiny soul
within the unending body.

(Click here for Amichai poem in Hebrew and English)

The ancient teacher and poet, the Song of Songs and the child agree:  To bring the outside inside is to appreciate depth and unending possibility.  Enthusiasm, en-theos, is a sign of the God within.  Only if such Vastness is inside can it be manifest outside.

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4 Responses to Outside In

  1. Our struggle with life is to become one with the endless. As children it is an easy task, accomplished by sticking one’s hand out of a window on a moving bus. As adults we often fear to even get on the bus. How to bring the two together.

  2. Ed Friedman says:

    I’m thinking that we might connect this discussion to the one in the Talmud Berachot 21b on the need for ten for a minyan where the connection is made between two verses containing the word “tokh”, “within”. One has to bring together a group of people’s “inwardnesses” to create a place for holiness to dwell.

  3. Aliza says:

    It is such a beautiful concept to think that Hashem needs a place to dwell, just as we need a place to dwell. A concept to think that Hashem needs us as much as we need Hashem. That concept to me is just amazing to think about. How the relationship can be something of a give and take, because Hashem needs the people just as the people rely on Hashem to be there for them. What a glorious concept to think about, and a huge concept to wrap ones mind around at that!
    I believe there is a story in the Bavli that I read in high school that Hashem needs the people for the watches in the night, to mark time, to show that they are there. How interesting it is to think that Hashem needs to know that we are there just as we need Hashem. In some ways it makes it easier to carry around that piece of Hashem with me, knowing that Hashem is always there, and that Hashem needs ME just as much as I need Hashem.

  4. Jonathan Breitzer says:

    Thank you for the essay. And it was my first inclination to say that it was indeed Israel more than God that needs the sanctuary. Then again, one could say that it is ourselves more than God that needs prayer. So I guess what it comes down to is that the terumah idea forces us to think again about how we imagine the divine. What were Heschel’s ideas about the terumah?

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