Shabbat Shalom! – Terumah

Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.

Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)  begins the process of building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that will be a dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelites. It begins, as all building projects begin, with fundraising. It includes plans, the selection of builders, and more plans. Terumah teaches us about building a holy place.

Here are some darshanim with thoughts on that subject:

Terumah: Over the Rainbow? by Anita Silvert

Some Kind of Blue? Tradition, Tekhelet, and the Rav by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

The Shechinah Dwells Among Us but are We Driving Her Away? by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Offerings by Rabbi Kari Hofmeister Tuling, PhD

Building Community by Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi

Virtuous Reality by Rabbi Rafi Mollot

Bring What You Can, Be Who You Are by Rabbi Ruth Adar

 

 

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Let Us Connect! – Parashat Terumah

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.

Shabbat Shalom! Terumah

Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.

Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)  begins the process of building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that will be a dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelites. Some divrei Torah from around the Internet:

When Humanity Creates with God by Dr. Vivian Mann

Terumah, Gift-Giving, and Valentine’s Day by Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

Structural Integrity by Rabbi David Kasher

Parashat Terumah by Student Rabbi Anna Posner, Leo Baeck College

Every River Has Its Own Course by Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr

The Mishkan: Some Assembly Required by Rafael Kushik

The Torah of 40 by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Bring What You Can, Be Who You Are by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Echoes in the Mishkan

Image: A construction worker. Photo by skeeze.

This week’s Torah portion is awash in echoes. It begins the priestly story of the building of the Mishkan, the dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelite camp.

It echoes the story of Creation in Genesis. God created the world in seven days. The directions for the Mishkan (“Tabernacle”) are given in seven speeches. At the end of each, the conclusion of this important task is announced.  Both stories have an association with a New Year’s Day: the Creation is believed to have begun on Rosh HaShanah, and the building of the Mishkan concludes on “the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month” (Exodus 40:17.) That was a different New Year Day, the first of Nisan. (For more about the multiplicity of Jewish New Years, see Four New Years Every Year?!)

It echoes the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings, or prefigures it.The echoes here may reflect that the recorders of the Temple project wanted to echo the story of the Mishkan, or that our account in Exodus actually came after the building of the temple. Either way, there are striking similarities. Later rabbis were aware of the parallel, because they took its conclusion for this week’s Haftarah (reading from the prophets.) (1 Kings 5:26-32.)

We can listen to the echoes of this story in building our own Mishkan Me’at, our own little sanctuary, in our homes. Not a prayer corner, not a shrine, but a living reality in which our homes are sacred places, dedicated to Shalom (peace) and Shalem (wholeness.) The story begins by asking all the Israelites to bring gifts:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. 3 And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; 4 blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; 5 tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; 7 lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. – Exodus 25:1-8.

We can tell, from this list, that the Mishkan was going to be beautiful. And so can we make our homes beautiful: it is fine to have art, to have collections, to do what we can to make our homes lovely. At the same time, we also note that God didn’t extort these materials from the people: they gave according to their means. So if your Mishkan doesn’t have a gold-plated fridge, don’t sweat it. In fact, if your Mishkan has things that are beautiful because of their associations, or because of the people who gave them to us, that’s wonderful!

I have a friend who has Shabbat candlesticks her children made in religious school. They are as beautiful as the antique silver sticks in the cabinet. Guess which ones she uses more often?  And that is exactly appropriate.

I have a little chanukiah I love. It’s made of pot metal. It’s battered and scratched. But I love it, because I had it when I lived in Israel, and its associations are powerful for me.

And then there are the other adornments: the adornments of mitzvot performed in your home.  Hospitality is a lovely adornment. Shabbat observance is beautiful. Shiva held in the home is sad, but it leaves an aura of sacred beauty afterwards. Tzedakah checks written on the kitchen table, meals cooked for sick friends, words like “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are beautiful adornments to a home.

My little mishkan has echoes, as well: echoes of Solomon’s Temple, echoes of Creation, echoes of holy moments in my life, echoes of teaching, writing, echoes of the future.

What echoes are in your home? What makes it holy?

 

Bring What You Can, Be Who You Are

V’a’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham. –Exodus 25:8

Make me a sanctuary, and I will live in the midst of them.

These words appear in and on many synagogues. Usually they get a fancier translation, something along the lines of “Build me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them” or some such. I think there’s something to be gained from the rawer version: Make it, and I will live with you.

It appears in the early part of Parashat Terumah, when God tells Moses to ask for a free-will offering. The offering will be used to build the mishkan, the portable Ark of the Covenant, and its setting, the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. He asked specifically for a list of things I would never imagine to be in the possession of runaway slaves in the midst of the Sinai Wilderness:

These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and sea mammal skins; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;  and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. – Exodus 25: 3-7

Other writers will offer you theories on why the Israelites had these things. But for a moment, let’s just focus on the fact that much of this list is beyond precious and rare. The “blue, purple, and scarlet” dyes were so scarce that they were reserved for royalty even centuries later. I can imagine Moses thinking to himself, “Uh-oh. I don’t think we’ve got half this stuff.”

Moses transmitted the message to the people: here’s what we need. And Am Yisrael delivered. The people of Israel came through, bringing precious metals, precious dyestuffs, rare leathers, precious gems.  That’s the miracle of this parashah: God asked, and the people stepped up. The rest of the parashah talks about the people bringing such a pile of loot that it turned out to be more than was really needed.

Today we face an analogous situation. “Oy gevalt, how will American Jewry make it to the next generation?” say the pundits and pollsters. They follow this statement with a list of what the people aren’t bringing. Jews are intermarrying! Jews don’t learn Hebrew! Jews don’t come to synagogue! Oy gevalt!”

But here’s what I learn from Parashat Terumah: Look at what Am Yisrael, the Jewish People are bringing. Many American Jews are intermarrying, yes, but a significant percentage of them are raising their children as Jews. We are in the midst of an avalanche of conversions, people bringing themselves to us, jumping through hoops to become part of us, anxious to participate and build a Jewish future. Jews are bringing innovation to the table, too: Internet learning, online services, nontraditional minyanim, a thousand interesting experiments, any one of which may turn out to be durable for the next ten generations.

Perhaps our next tabernacle is not a holy place hung with linen and studded with precious gems, not a fabulous modern building. Perhaps it is a gathering of rare and lovely souls, a gathering of Jews themselves, bringing heads and hearts and hands. I know that when I am in the midst of Jews celebrating a holiday, or studying together, or doing social justice work, I can feel the presence of God, living in the midst of us.

Let us bring all that we are and see what we can build together.

Holy Places: Terumah

Our Jewish homes are sacred places.
Our Jewish homes are sacred places.

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, is pretty easy to summarize in large strokes. It records the first Jewish fundraising campaign and then an extended narrative blueprint for the complex called the Mikdash, the Holy Place. The famous Ark of the Covenant is at the center of this complex.

Notice the attention to detail in this portion! When Jews build a holy place, we must do so with the greatest care, with attention to the details of Torah. We have had only a few holy places in our history, and each was built with care: this portable desert Mikdash, which was finally set up in Shilo after the Hebrews arrived in the Land. That’s where Hannah went to pour out her heart to God in 1 Samuel 1.  (If you don’t know the story, click on the link.) Later, King David moved it to Jerusalem, where his son King Solomon built the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple. The Babylonians destroyed that building in 586 BCE and its contents disappeared. In 516, the Jews dedicated a new Beit HaMikdash, the Second Temple, built with funding from Cyrus of Persia. That modest structure was completely rebuilt and considerably expanded by Herod the Great in 19-20 BCE, and then destroyed by Roman armies in 70 CE [Common Era = AD].

Since then we have not had a Beit HaMikdash. The Jewish people have built synagogues, known as Batei Kenesset (Houses of Gathering) for communal activity, but the place designated as Mikdash, a holy place, is the Mikdash Me’at, the “little sanctuary.” The little holy place of the Jewish people is the Jewish home, no matter how humble or how palatial.

Our homes are not built according to the narrative here in Terumah, but they should be built according to other blueprints in the Torah, commandments to make the home a safe place (Deuteronomy 22:8). We moderns would extend that not only to physical safety, but also to emotional safety: our homes should always be places of peace. They are also places of hospitality, following the example of Abraham in Genesis 18. They are the place where we observe the commandments. In our homes, we observe Shabbat, we observe Passover, we observe Chanukah and other holidays. We observe the daily mitzvot, like teaching our children, giving tzedakah, and the commandments regarding our speech. We hang a mezuzah on the doorframe, as commanded in Deuteronomy 6.

This week I’m going to take a few moments to look around my home. I’m going to ask: how is this a mikdash, a holy place? What can I do to make it safer, more welcoming, more beautiful? What would make it more peaceful? What can I change? What would I not ever change about it?

How is your home a Mikdash Me’at, a little sanctuary? What single change would you like to make, to make it better serve your household and the people of Israel? What about it would you never change?