Whether in the home, the office, or the house of worship, when your actions are intended to serve God or improve the world around you, you create an atmosphere of holiness.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is Teruma (Exodus 25:1–27:19), and in it we read about the construction of the Mishkan (the “Tabernacle”), the portable synagogue with which the Jewish people traveled during their 40 years of wandering in the desert.
The Mishkan included such famous furnishings such as the Menorah, the Holy Ark, several altars and more, including the focus of this article: the mysterious Cherubim. The Cherubim were those two child-like statues, one female and one male, that were fastened onto the covering of the Holy Ark, which was situated in the Holy of Holies — the holiest place in the Mishkan and later the Temple.
We are told that when the Jewish people were doing the will of God, the Cherubim would embrace one another. When the Jews were sinning, they would turn away from one another.
Our sages tell us that when the Romans invaded the Holy Temple and entered the Holy of Holies during their spree of death and destruction, one of the things they noticed was the romantic embrace of the Cherubim. Upon seeing this, they began to mock Torah and Judaism, accusing Judaism of being some kind of sexual cult. They claimed that there is no bigger sacrilege than to have a romantic scene in what is supposed to be the holiest place in the world.
Did they have a point?
Of course not. The construction and layout of the Mishkan, and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, were Divinely decreed in the Torah, right here in this week’s reading. Obviously ,God wanted to have this “romantic scene” in the Holy of Holies, but the question is why.
It is explained that everything is a matter of perspective. People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. The evil Romans, who were themselves masters of immorality, saw what they wanted to see. They had a “one-track mind” and quickly associated everything with lewdness. The Jewish people, and Torah philosophy, however, is to always see everything with an eye for holiness, an eye for Godliness, with the intention of trying to learn and grow from everything we experience.
While the Romans saw inappropriate behavior, the Jewish people saw something else. Sure, the embrace of a female and male can be seen as profane, but it can also be viewed as holy. Judaism teaches that the physical relationship between husband and wife is as holy as any other mitzva (commandment) of the Torah. It’s called the mitzva of “Onah,” in fact. Not only are marital relations holy, but we are told that marital relations should preferably be engaged in on the holiest day of the week: Shabbat!
Furthermore, the Talmud tells us that God’s love for the Jewish people is similar to the acts and pleasures of husband and wife. This is what Judaism is all about: making what appears to be profane, mundane, secular and routine, into an act of holiness. There is no aspect of human routine or pursuit that can’t be made holy.
Whether it’s in the home, the office, or the house of worship, when things are done with an attitude of serving God or helping to improve the world and those around us, these are mitzvot, holy mitzvot. It isn’t too difficult to turn your entire day into a holy experience!
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below: