Thursday, 15 Feb 2024

Written by Andrea Kulikovsky

Inside out

When Rabban Gamliel was the head of the Yeshiva, he used to say that any student whose inside was not like their outside, was not allowed to enter the house of study (Berakhot 28). However, it is difficult to establish what this sentence really means and how a gate keeper could possibly identify which of the students had their inside and outside matching.

When giving the first instructions for the building of the Mishkan (tabernacle), God tells Bezalel to build an ark of acacia wood and overlay it inside and outside with pure gold (Exodus 25:10-11). The inside of the Mishkan should match its outside. However, the Tabernacle was not a place of public worship. On the contrary, it was only accessible to the higher hierarchy of the priesthood. “It was conceived of as an elaborate and costly residence for the divine presence”, as explains Dr. Carol Meyers in her introduction for Parashat T’rumah in “The Torah, a Women’s Commentary”.

Although the public would not see the matching inside and outside of the ark, this is how the place where God would dwell among the people should be built. The gold and other materials for such a luxurious construction, as well as all the work involved in its building, would be provided by men and women from the people of Israel, whose heart were so moved. Volunteer work and donations for the visible and the invisible aspects of the Mishkan was the driving force that would turn into reality the project for a Divine dwelling place.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Building a sanctuary, a Mishkan, is only possible when we match inside and outside, when we build our communities and our bodies covered with pure gold outside and inside, we provide a space for God to dwell. What we say must be reflected in what we do as people and as communities.

For communities this means only accepting donations of the heart, having fulfilling activities for members; always improving religious services to create inspiring environments for those who come to pray; looking after one another; having a purpose, a goal, a plan. But first, it is important to create the space, call everyone to take part with what they have to offer, keeping in mind that what we show must be equal to who we are.

What then can we derive to be “tocho k’voro” – an inside which matches the outside look? When using the description of the Mishkan to understand this expression, one may draw the conclusion that it is something special, a place where God would live. Therefore, “tocho k’voro” should be a goal to reach for anyone who wants to be part of the community, who wants to enter the house of study. Nonetheless, it is only possible to build a “tocho k’voro” with the help and participation of the community.

This is the teaching of parashat T’rumah: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:2) The outside gifts should match the inside intention. Everyone is called to be part of the project, but only those whose hearts move them will be fully able to take part in the community, because their actions are equal to their intentions.

After Rabban Gamliel is deposed from the Yeshiva and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah replaces him, his first action is to allow all people to enter the study hall, no matter whether their inside and outside are compatible. For, according to Rabbi Eleazar, the community environment could help people build “tocho k’voro”, therefore, it was not necessary to have it beforehand. Then, “tocho k’voro” is a target, a benchmark to be obtained by studying, re-establishing habits, re-thinking actions and thoughts. It is something that we can only achieve when our hearts move us to engage with communal life.

For that to happen, the gates have to be opened. We need to call people in and accept them for what they are, and how they can contribute. Sometimes we see people who come to our communities for one life cycle event. They take a course, do only the necessary, make one donation, and disappear. The connection isn’t established, there is no heart involved. On the other hand, there are also some people who come invited to a random service, immediately feel touched and become part of the community – they are moved by their hearts. Once they are moved by their hearts they will begin to long for a “tocho k’voro”, they will long to be part of the visible and invisible work of building a Mishkan.

Building a sacred space is an ongoing process of making the inside and the outside equally covered in pure gold. It is the never-ending work of becoming a better person and building a better community. “Tocho k’voro” is an opportunity for growth of both individuals and communities.

Shabbat Shalom.

Andrea Kulikovsky LBC rabbinic student


The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.