This past week, we had the first experience of Honi spending his whole day with a nanny. Phreddy was the one who handed him off and picked him back up, but both of us were receiving texts from the nanny all day long. One in particular was a video of Honi in the park on a swing – smiling from ear to ear and kicking his legs vigorously, his whole body consumed in the sudden magic of flying!
Phreddy and I were both shocked by this video. We couldn’t believe how much our little boy had (suddenly) grown up, that we hadn’t ever thought to bring him to the park ourselves, and most importantly… that he was having NEW experiences without us.
This is, I’ve come to realize, a universal experience of parenting. Our children inevitably “grow up” and grow into independent beings – beings with their own will and their own way of being in the world.
I was reminded of this as I studied this week’s parsha, parshat Terumah, in which B’nai Yisrael is instructed to build the Mishkan for Hashem.
On the line ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם – build me a temple and I will dwell in your midst – there is a midrash about a King and his beloved only daughter. Another king wants to marry her and thus take her back to his home country, and the King reluctantly agrees saying –
בִּתִּי שֶׁנָּתַתִּי לְךָ יְחִידִית הִיא, לִפְרשׁ מִמֶּנָּה אֵינִי יָכוֹל
She is my only! I can’t separate from her! But I also recognize that I can’t ask you to not take her with you… so please just do me this kindness – wherever you go, build a קִיטוֹן a room so that I can come and stay with you!
The Midrash explains that the beloved daughter is the Torah that God gives to us but feels reluctant to grow distant from. When I read this midrash, I thought about the relationship between child and parent. God loves us and longs to be close to us, but also knows that at a certain point She must give us space to grow on our own.
We can all imagine different parenting metaphors being applied to God – is Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu more of a helicopter parent trying to control our every move? Attachment parent, with us at all times to offer us comfort lest we experience suffering? Or perhaps God, unlike most humans, is able to strike that perfect balance between present and spacious.
The fact of the matter is, over the last two weeks of Torah portions, God has been incredibly close and incredibly communicative. We had a revelation on Sinai, followed by a thorough account of all the laws that God wants us to follow. We (or our ancient predecessors) are receptive and willing. נעשה ונשמע – we say in unison. We will do and then we will understand! God has taken ultimate responsibility for us and our lives, and told us exactly how we should live.
But that is not the way things are meant to stay. As the Mashal lays out for us, there comes a time when we have to give those we love the space to become themselves. So too, the Children of Israel will not be held so close to God’s bosom for all time. Rather, we had to begin to strike out on our own, but with a part of God to keep with us on the journey.
There is a difference between the Mikdash and the Mishkan. The verse we’ve been talking about references the Mikdash, which for our purposes can be translated as temple (ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם), but in the very next line, almost imperceptibly, the Torah begins to describe how the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle, will be built and carried through the wilderness. 17th century Moroccan commentator Or HaChaim points out that “ועשו לי מקדש” is a positive commandment for all time, whether in the desert, in the land of Israel, or in exile.
ועשו לי מקדש היא מצות עשה כוללת כל הזמנים בין במדבר בין בכניסתן לארץ בכל זמן שיהיו ישראל שם לדורות, וצריכין היו ישראל לעשות כן אפילו בגליות
No matter where or when we are, God wants to have a way to be close to us.
But the mishkan is the particular technology that God provides for the desert dwelling Israelites. It is the instructions that they need in that moment, but it isn’t the way they will worship for all time.
One night particularly fully of Honi’s wakings, Phreddy and I crouched outside his bedroom door, wondering if he was going to put himself back to sleep during this round. Phreddy turned to me and said “what if this is how God is treating us all the time? That God’s silence could actually be that she’s waiting on us just beyond the door, seeing if we will figure this one out on our own.
In this week’s Haftorah, Melachim, we see the striking difference between the building of the Mishkan and the Beit haMikdash. Shlomo does not have detailed instructions for the Temple. Instead he has to rely on wisdom or as I like to see it, intuition, that God has given him.
I think of this image now, and it is the image I want to leave you with. That God’s parenting of us is not necessarily without ears to our suffering, but rather with the hope that by staying slightly obscured from view, we will grow stronger within each of ourselves. And that God, as our parent, needs to be invited to travel along our lives with us. That each time we build a community, an assembly of Jews, we are inviting God in, and everywhere we carry God’s Torah (even when it starts to feel like schlepping) we are creating another קִיטוֹן another room for God to dwell in.