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Home » Terumah

Teruma: In the Trenches

Submitted by on January 28, 2007 – 4:50 amNo Comment | 2,987 views

The Pawn

What is your favorite piece on the chess board? The queen, horse, castle and bishop are all important, but the pawn has one capacity that the others don’t, growth. The pawn is not at all versatile, it crawls forward one step at a time, yet when it reaches the other side, it can be transformed into anything the player chooses. It can even become a queen.

There are angels and humans. Angels are holier and loftier than humans. They are passionate about G-d, ecstatic in worship and thrilled to bask in the divine presence. Their melodies reverberate through the skies and their prayers make the hosts of heaven tremble. Yet they are forever chained to their original state. They cannot upgrade to a higher level. They cannot improve. They cannot grow.

G-d’s Sanctuary

G-d promised Moses, “Make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell in it.” This promise does not apply only to sanctuaries of mortar, brick, silver and gold, but also to sanctuaries of heart and soul. G-d promised to dwell in the hearts of those, who transform their lives into sanctuaries for him. (1)

Some Jews live exalted, spiritually-holy lives. They are altruistic, honest and devout. Great scholars of Torah and absolutely committed to Mitzvos; they are rapturous with love for G-d. Such Jews certainly turn their lives into sanctuaries for G-d.

What of the rest of us? What about you and me? We struggle every day against our selfish inclinations. We are beset by jealousies and rage, phobias and fears, weaknesses and pride. Every day we struggle to overcome our human vicissitudes. At times we succeed, at times we don’t. Can we also become sanctuaries for G-d? Can our existence also be termed holy?

G-d’s answer is, yes. G-d’s temple was built one brick at a time. His sanctuary within our hearts is built one struggle at a time. Unlike the officers on the chess board we cannot take mighty leaps or undertake fancy maneuvers. Much like the pawn, we crawl forward one step at a time, but with each step we draw closer to the ideal. With each step we are transformed into miniature sanctuaries for G-d.

Every time we overcome our base natures and do something for G-d we add a brick to his sanctuary. Every struggle is holy. Notwithstanding tomorrow’s struggle, today’s triumph is an eternal brick in G-d’s magnificent sanctuary.

The Infantry

The great scholars and pious Jews are the primary constructors of G-d’s sanctuary. How important are the efforts of ordinary Jews? The answer is, vital.

Consider a military analogy. An army must have many weapons at its disposal. Tanks, planes, artillery and guns are all important, but they are not enough. To conquer the enemy you need foot soldiers.

The general, who plans the overall strategy makes a crucial contribution to the war effort. The admiral, who oversees the navy makes a similar contribution. Fighters and bombers destroy large swaths of the enemy’s infrastructure. Long range guns and artillery leave large gaps in the enemy’s lines. An army cannot progress without these formidable tools.

But these tools are not enough. To win the war, foot soldiers must be placed on the battle field. in the trenches - innerstreamThe infantry fights in the trenches. They subdue one enemy at a time. They conquer one inch of territory at a time. Bombers and tanks wreak more havoc, but the infantry wins the war.

Their fight is not always pretty and they don’t win every skirmish. Comrades are often lost to injury or, even worse, death. They falter and stumble, they are often sullied and dirtied, but they engage the enemy directly. They bring triumph to the cause and victory to the country.

This analogy can be applied to our discussion. The great tzadik and the famous scholar are Judaism’s big guns. They do wonders for G-d’s sanctuary, they lay the foundation and establish the infrastructure, but they cannot build the sanctuary.

To build the sanctuary you need bricks. And bricks are shaped by the hard work of the foot soldiers. Every time we overcome our egos, control our tempers or reign in our temptations we lay a brick in G-d’s sanctuary. The righteous cannot reign in their temptations because they are never tempted. Only the foot soldiers. Only the foot soldiers can shape and lay G-d’s holy bricks.

Like the pawn, our struggle may seem inconsequential in the greater scheme, but our growth and resulting contribution, is vital. We, the foot soldiers, through our slow, but steady growth, through our limited, but inexorable transformation, build G-d’s eternal sanctuary.

The Underdog

In one way G-d enjoys the daily struggle of the ordinary Jew more than he does the vast achievements of the extraordinary Jew.

A talking bird attracts attention, a talking human doesn’t. Why is that? Because human interest is stimulated by the remarkable and unexpected.

This is also evidenced in Professional Sports. When the better team wins, they are given short shrift. When the underdog wins they are cheered for weeks. Why? Because that which is expected doesn’t interest us. Only the unexpected sparks our interest.

A cardinal principle in Jewish theology is that much about G-d can be inferred from the study of human nature. Job wrote, “From my flesh I perceive the lord.” (2) The Chassidic masters taught that this particular aspect of human nature is highly instructive. The reason we enjoy the fresh and the novel is because G-d does. (3)

The angels pray to G-d, they worship and are highly devoted, but G-d expects that from them. The righteous are also highly devout in prayer and worship, but G-d expects it from them too. This is not to say that G-d doesn’t enjoy their devotion, just that the enjoyment he derives from it is limited.

We, ordinary Jews, who are conceited and proud, self-centered and short-sighted, narcissistic and arrogant, command G-d’s attention. G-d doesn’t expect much from us; we are the underdogs. But when we succeed, when we transform our apathy into love and, our fears into determination, even G-d is enthralled

Every struggle draws divine attention. Every victory stimulates divine joy. Every deed is important. Every time we sacrifice our interests on the altar of our love for G-d we lay an eternal brick in G-d’s magnificent sanctuary. (4)


  1. Exodus 25: 8.
  2. Torah Ohr (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813), 21b
  3. Job 19: 26.
  4. This essay is based on Basi Legani, a Chassidic Discourse from the former Lubavitcher Rebbe (R. YY Schneerson, sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1880-1950) that was prepared and disseminated in connection with the date of his passing, 10 Shevat, 1950. Sefer Hamamarim, 1950, p. 111.