Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Jared Skoff, Rosh Tikvah 2017-2019. Jared has spent the past six summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. He has also worked at Camp Ramah in Canada and the National Ramah Commission, where he serves as Program Director. Jared is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and attends the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
Mikdash: Reflections on Parashat Terumah
by Jared Skoff
Forms of the Hebrew root k.d.sh., which for simplicity’s sake we’ll call “Kadosh,” appear all over our prayer book. We know many of these words: kiddush, kaddish, k’dushah, kodesh kodashim, and more. Most translate this root as “holy.” But while the English word “holy” is abstract, the Hebrew word kadosh is very tangible. Kadosh means something that is “set apart,” something separate, something designated for a unique purpose.
This meaning of kadosh is demonstrated repeatedly in this week’s Torah reading of Terumah, as the Israelites are instructed to build their first house of worship. God says, “Let them make Me a mikdash (sanctuary – from the same root as kadosh), that I may dwell among them.” True to its literal definition, the mikdash is meant to be set apart, a unique space to express loyalty to God.
But something about this seems odd. Isn’t God supposed to be everywhere? So why would we restrict God to this one tent in the desert? It seems inconsistent – instead of recognizing that God is everywhere, we separate our worship of God when we could be giving praise all the time and in everything we do. Wouldn’t that make more sense?
So if we are rejecting the idea of “mikdash” in favor of “always and everywhere,” let’s apply this logic to our other relationships. Take your mom or dad, someone you love. Let’s say you tell them: In everything I do and everywhere I am, I care about you – so therefore, I don’t need to call you on your birthday because, you just know how I feel; not only do I love you, but my love for you is omnipresent – always and everywhere. That might not go over so well.
Another important example is the commandment to love our neighbor, perhaps one of the most important and least controversial Jewish commandments. Now take your literal next door neighbor, and think when was the last time you set aside time and place to introduce yourself and offer them the support of a good neighbor. Not just the neighbors you like and get along with, but the ones you don’t connect with so naturally, the ones who play their music too loud, or, in camp terms, the bunkmate who won’t keep their area tidy. Loving your neighbor in the abstract is easy, we’re all on board. But loving your neighbor in practice is hard work.
This is where the Hebrew word “mikdash” contains very important wisdom. If something is special or holy to you, then you need to set aside a time and place to demonstrate it. The idea of setting aside a separate place and setting aside regular times, every week and every year, to express that our covenant with God and with each other is important, is an idea that began with this week’s narrative from the Torah. Mikdash takes the abstract and makes it tangible. If it is a priority for you – you can’t just believe it; you have to set aside a place and time, regularly, to show you mean it. Whether it is your relationship with Judaism, or with another person, we need to find those places and times, every week, and every year, and set them aside for ourselves. At Ramah, we have those moments built into our year. We designate time each summer for a unique purpose, leaving behind other priorities and communities, to create a mikdash, a place we set aside, hidden in the woods of Conover, to express how holy and important our Ramah family is to us.