Rashbam: The Meaning of Mikdash (Terumah)

Exodus 25:8, possibly the most famous verse in Parshat Terumah, tells of God’s desire for the Israelites to create space for God’s presence among them.

“They shall make for Me a mikdash, and I shall dwell among them.”

What exactly is this mikdash? The word is familiar from much later in Jewish history as the term used for the Temple in Jerusalem. The structure it describes here in Exodus is more often referred to as the mishkan, the temporary “dwelling-place” for God while the Israelites wander the wilderness.

Different commentaries bring out different nuances of the mikdash. Rashi (11th century France) relates it to kedusha, “holiness.” This sanctuary will be the central holy space in the community. God radiates holiness, requiring a certain quality of ritual purity from all who come close.

Ramban (13th century Spain) connects the word to a mikdash melekh, a king’s sanctuary full of regal finery and befitting the grandeur of God. This is the divine palace rendered on earth.

Rashi’s grandson Rashbam (12th century France) takes a different approach. Mikdash “is connected to the idea of ‘meeting.’ [God is saying that “it is the place] wherein ‘I will prepare (etkadesh) and ready myself to speak to them,’ as it is written, ‘There I will meet with the Israelites’ (Exodus 29:43).” (translation Martin Lockshin)

Each of our three opinions offers a helpful perspective on the quality of God’s space.

There may be moments from time to time when we discover we have set foot in the Sanctuary. When the light shifts on the playground and joy kisses wonder at the sound of laughter. Or when the forest beckons you back into wildness. That moment when someone articulates what you’ve long felt but just couldn’t put into words. And when pain or sadness stay awhile longer than you’d want, yet then a loved one wraps their arm around you and you’re no longer alone.

Rashi guides us to notice the holiness in those moments. Ramban points us towards majesty, how deep connection illuminates dignity and nobility in each other and in our world. And Rashbam suggests that when we live our lives as if we are preparing to encounter God, God too will be preparing to encounter us.

Where do you find the Sanctuary in your life? What god-spaces do you most connect to, and with whom do you visit them? Of the interpretations of mikdash – holy place, majestic place, place of preparation for Meeting – which resonates the most?

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.