Image: Model of the Mishkan at Timna, Israel on October 15 2008. Photo by Rafael Ben Ari/ Shutterstock. Notice that there are no human beings.
I’m always a little sad when we reach this week’s Torah portion, Terumah. I know that there is still plenty of Torah to find in the words and between the letters, but we’re out of great stories for a while. The child in me that loves stories misses Genesis and the first part of Exodus.
I normally begin the week by reading the Torah portion, and this week I was struck by all the things in this Torah portion. All of a sudden, God is into interior decorating: we’re going to build the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and it’s going to have a golden lamp, and here’s how the lamp will look, and it’s going to have a table, and a this, and a that. Then God is busy planning Aaron’s ordination: he’ll wear this, he’ll do that. Plans, plans, plans! This year, more than most years, I am irritated. I want stories. I want people.
I want connection.
Human beings need connection. We are social beings, even those of us for whom being social is difficult because of circumstances or disability. I think this is what distresses me about Parashat Terumah – suddenly Torah is all furniture and fixtures, just God dictating to Moses what is wanted in the new digs, and how Aaron’s ordination should go. I feel bereft.
Then, at the very end, God tells Moses:
The LORD spoke to Moses: See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have endowed him with the Divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft; to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of craft.
Moreover, I have assigned to him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have also granted skill to all who are skillful, that they may make everything that I have commanded you: the Tent of Meeting, the Ark for the Pact and the cover upon it, and all the furnishings of the Tent; the table and its utensils, the pure lampstand and all its fittings, and the altar of incense; the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand; the service vestments, the sacral vestments of Aaron the priest and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests; as well as the anointing oil and the aromatic incense for the sanctuary. Just as I have commanded you, they shall do. – Exodus 31:1-11
Suddenly, there is community again! Betzalel and his crew are going to be together, doing things, making things, empowered by “a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft.” I imagine Betzalel with strong, calloused hands, he and his merry band of artisans, glowing with that divine spirit, the same ruach elohim that swept over the waters of creation:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃
When God began to create heaven and earth—
the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the Divine spirit sweeping over the water— God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:1-3
The spirit of God, ruach Elohim, is not in things. It is not in golden furniture. It is not in great buildings. It is not in computers, and not in smartphones. In the modern Jewish world, we locate it in the actions of human beings who reach out to other human beings to do work, to learn, to love, and to struggle.
Let all who are able step out from behind our computer screens, look up from our smartphones, let us reach out to others for human connection. Let ruach Elohim, the spirit of the Divine, sweep over the boundaries between us.
Let us connect with our spouses, with our children, with the guy who carries away the garbage, with the lady at the cash register, with the guy wearing a baseball cap with a team insignia. Let us make eye contact, let us introduce ourselves, let us touch hands, let us connect.
For it is in those moments that we are filled with ruach Elohim, in those moments when we are most fully human, when we connect.