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From Loneliness to Oneness (Parshat Terumah)

parsha sefer shemos Feb 26, 2020


There is a widespread problem that haunts humanity, leaving us lonely and disconnected. Many people live their lives in a state of ego- a state of mind in which one thinks they are an isolated being inside their own body, their own mind, their own world, alone. The consequences of this state of mind are obvious: You feel independent and separate from Hashem; since everyone else in the world is different and separate from you, you will feel the need to compete with them, to beat them, in order to gain self-worth, in order to convince yourself that you're good enough. This often means pushing others down just to feel like you’re better than them. You might hate certain people or even hurt them, since they don't make you feel good or perhaps because they challenge your own self-worth. But most of all, this state of consciousness leaves you lonely, abandoned, empty. However, there is another option.


Living as a Soul


Rather than succumbing to separation and isolation, you can choose to live in a state of soul, a state of oneness. This means living with the understanding that while we are each unique individuals, at our spiritual and existential core we are all one. At root, we are an interconnected self, and single consciousness, with a single soul. This is the concept of Klal Yisrael- a singular, unified self. The Rambam states that one who disconnects himself from the Jewish people has no portion in the world to come. This is intuitive, though. Klal Yisrael is one entity, a single body, a single self. If a leaf falls from a tree, it withers, if a finger is detached from its body it dies. If you remove yourself from your source of existence, you cease to exist.


We Don't Experience This


However, it is clear that most people do not experience this state of oneness. We do not automatically perceive ourselves as part of a cosmic self. In fact, the starting point of every child is ego and selfishness.Research has shown that every child experiences themselves as the center of the universe and believe that they are all that exists. It is only with time that they come to realize that they are one of but billions of people existing in this world, each with their unique life experience and inner world. However, many people stop their existential and experiential growth at that point. They don't expand further, breaking down the boundaries of consciousness, realizing that they aren't an isolated being, but are rather a part of a bigger whole. They live the rest of their lives as an ego, alone, hollow inside. So the question becomes, how do we break down the walls of our limited ego, to expand our sense of self outwards? The key to this deep principle lies in this week's parsha.


The Purpose of Gifts?


Parshas Terumah is characterized by the voluntary gifts that the Jewish people donate towards the building of the mishkan (tabernacle), the place where Hashem was most potently manifest in the physical world. The emphasis of these donations are their voluntary nature - Hashem commands Moshe to collect from Klal Yisrael whatever their hearts inspire them to give. Rashi (Shemos 25:2) explains that instead of specifying a certain amount, Hashem allowed them to give whatever they personally felt compelled to donate. Why is this so? Why not specify a required amount? To answer this question, let’s look more deeply at the nature of giving.


We Only Love Ourselves


Rav Eliyahu Dessler explains that naturally, we only love ourselves (Michtav M'Elyahu, Kuntres Ha’chessed). This is not surprising, as each of us only experiences life from our own individual perspective. I can only know what want, what need, what feel. It takes a lifetime of work to understand another person on this level, and to be as committed to their needs as you are to your own. True love, however, is when someone else becomes an extension of your consciousness, when you feel their needs and hopes and dreams as strongly as you do your own. 

The "love" that most people experience does not compare to this ideal. Just think about the way we throw the word “love” around. Someone might say "I love chicken," but then turn around and say, "I love my wife." Can these two experiences really be compared? When a person says they love chicken, do they really mean that they love chicken? Of course not! If they loved chicken, it wouldn't be dead on their plate. What they actually mean is that they love the way chicken makes them feel. It's themselves that they love. The problem, though, is that too often when people speak of love, they are referring to this same kind of love. More often than not, when we say we love someone, we really mean that we love how they make us feel. If this is true, then what is true love, and how can we create it?


True Love


True love is absolute oneness. It's when individual pieces connect in such a way that they create something transcendent, greater than the sum of the parts. The ideal is for man and wife to experience this oneness, and this ideal was modeled in the very creation of humanity. As the midrash explains, Adam and Chava were originally created as one androgynous being, a physical manifestation of a deeper existential oneness. They were then broken apart and forced to rebuild that original oneness. The ideal and goal, though, that we must learn from this is clear: each one of us is must strive to build deep, existential oneness with our own life’s partner. The Gemara in Yevamos adds a layer of depth this and explains that before a man and wife are born, they exist as a single neshama. When they are born into the world, they are brokenapart and exist as two distinct beings. The goal is to then wander the world in search of your soul-mate, choose each other, and then rebuild that original oneness. Adam and Chava are created as one before being split apart to model the oneness that we are striving towards as husband and wife. So if at root we are one, but our natural experience in this world is twoness and multiplicity, then how do we both build and develop an awareness of this oneness?


How to Create Oneness


Rav Dessler explains that the mechanism for creating love and oneness is giving (Michtav M'Elyahu, Kuntres Ha’chessed). The logic is as follows: We love ourselves. We also find, though, that parents love their children. Why is this? It’s because children are an extension of their parents. We love anything that has a piece of ourselves in it, as we personally identify with it.This is why we find ourselves loving our ideas, our pets, and all the creative projects that we’ve spent countless hours working on. When we invest ourselves into something, we see a part of ourselves manifest within it, which naturally fosters our love for that object, person, or idea. 

It's interesting to observe that parents always love their children more than children love their parents. However, based on Rav Dessler's explanation of love and giving, this makes perfect sense. Parents give an infinite amount of themselves to their children. Beyond just giving over their physical DNA, they devote endless time, energy, money, and care to their children. This is also why the Hebrew word for love is "ahava." The root of this word is "hav," which means to give. Only when you give can you experience true love, true oneness.


Oneness of the Mishkan: Paradigm of True Oneness


The theme of oneness is prevalent throughout Parshas Terumah. Rashi (Shemos 25:31) quotes the midrash which says that the menorah wasn’t created by connecting many separate pieces of gold, but rather from a single block of gold. This idea of oneness and unity appears in many other parts of the mishkan as well. This is because the mishkan (and beis ha’mikdash) is where the physical world connects to and fuses with the spiritual world. It is the focal point of Hashem’s connection to, and manifestation within, this world. It is the place where all of Klal Yisrael come together to become one, first as a nation, and then with Hashem. The Menorah was created as a single block of gold, reflective of a much deeper pattern. Just as the menorah begins as a single block of gold before becoming manifest as branches and pieces, the Jewish people are a single soul at root expressed as a multitude of individuals. (The menorah is also representative of Torah Sheba’al Peh, the concept that embodies this principle as well: Torah Shebiksav is a single static text, while Torah Sheba’al Peh is an infinitely complex and never-ending expression of that oneness in the form of multiplicity, twoness, and details.)


Terumah: Creating a Bond of Oneness with Hashem


The donation process at the opening of Parshas Terumah embodies this process of creating oneness and love. The Jewish people had to give of their own volition, to choose to donate their possessions to Hashem. This is because love and oneness can only be created and manifest through genuine giving. Hashem gave the Jewish people the opportunity to create a bond of oneness and love with Him. Only by giving themselves to Hashem, and recognizing Him as the source of their existence, could the Jewish People truly create this bond of love and oneness. It is therefore no coincidence that these donations were directed towards the building of the mishkan, the very center of oneness, and the place where the Jewish people would connect directly to Hashem.

Think about your own life. Are you walled in? Are you afraid of being loved? Of loving others? Are you living as an ego or as a soul? Are you expanding outwards, giving yourself to others, or are you isolating yourself, living empty and alone? Let us be inspired to give ourselves to those whom we care about, to build genuine love, and to endlessly expand beyond our limited sense of self into true oneness with our family, our friends, all of Klal Yisrael, and ultimately, Hashem Himself.



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