Parashat Terumah

The earth hurtles through the dark void of space in a universe of incalculable size, and yet, as far as we know, our little blue planet is the only one upon which there is life. Indeed, the wonder of it all is that we don’t just have any life on earth, of the simple microbial kind that scientists are presently searching for evidence of on Mars, but we have the most incredibly diverse and complex of species. Of course it is the amazing variety of habitats on earth that sustains all this life. Grasslands, deserts, rainforests, and the polar regions, to name but a few, are all home to species of life that depend wholly on the unique properties of their habitat. Sadly, these habitats, and therefore the species which depend upon them, are increasingly under threat as a result of human activity. Tropical rainforests have perhaps received most of the attention concerning destruction of habitat. It is thus reported that from the approximately 16 million sq km of tropical rainforest habitat that originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million sq km remain today. Only 10%-20% of the world’s drylands, including temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, scrub and deciduous forests, have been somewhat degraded too. The tallgrass prairies of North America have less than 3% of natural habitat remaining that has not been converted to farmland. Wetlands and marine areas have also endured high levels of habitat destruction. In the sea, one fifth of coral reefs have been destroyed and another fifth severely degraded by overfishing, pollution, and invasive species. Over 35% of mangrove ecosystems worldwide have also been destroyed.

While the consequences of habitat destruction often appear to be distant to human beings, in the long term the careless destruction of habitat is not only a calamity to the animal and plant life which they support, but is disastrous for human life too. All of this is a salutary warning concerning our spiritual lives. In Parashat Terumah we read, “They are to make me a Sanctuary so that I may live among them.” As is apparent, Hashem’s desire was to come down and dwell in the midst of His people. But this couldn’t take place until the right conditions for His life amongst our people were provided. A ‘Sanctuary’ had to be created and carefully maintained for this very purpose. For ‘Sanctuary‘ read ‘habitat’. While, as the Scriptures reassure us, God is with us at all times (Tehillim 139:8) it is also true that there were times when, in response to our people’s sin, God’s Sh’kinah departed from Israel and we experienced the desolation of exile. In a similar way Rav Shaul also warns us not to ‘grieve’ God’s Spirit by our sins. Do we really expect to continue to feel the immediacy of God’s presence when we sin? The fact is that sin fouls the spiritual habitat in which God’s Spirit dwells and causes Him to recoil. As Rav Shaul rightly asks, “how can righteousness and lawlessness be partners? What fellowship does light have with darkness? What harmony can there be between the Messiah and B’liya’al? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God – as God said, “I will house myself in them, . . . and I will walk among you. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore ADONAI says, “‘Go out from their midst; separate yourselves; don’t even touch what is unclean. Then I myself will receive you. In fact, I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters.’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot.”” (2 Cor 6:14-17).

God’s message to us is therefore very clear.  He loves us and wants to draw closer to us, but our habitat must be clean and unpolluted in order to welcome and then sustain His presence. We must therefore work to separate ourselves from everything that would defile the habitat of God’s Spirit. Take a look at your life and ask yourself whether there are things that you say, think or do that might ‘grieve’ God’s Ruach? I’m sure there must be, for “all have sinned and come short of earning God’s praise” (Roms 3:23). Now is the time to repent, seek God’s cleansing and forgiveness. It’s time to clean up your act. That may not be easy. But take heart, because no habitat is beyond hope on account of the cleansing and forgiveness that is available to us through Yeshua. For as Yeshua said, “I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure.” (Yochanan 10:10)

Rabbi Yehoshua