Picture us, the Israelites, at the foot of the mountain. The smell of smoke lingers in the air. The trembling of the mountain still has us trembling. We have received the 10 commandments. Here we are, saying yes to Adonai, yes to agreeing to live by the Torah and to teach our children the Torah. Our first instruction is we must remember our past and have compassion for the stranger, for others. We, the Israelites, are in the process of figuring out how to be a community.
Now, in preparation for moving on from this place, we need to take the holiness with us, take Adonai with us. And so we have to make the mishkan, the Tabernacle, a portable sanctuary.
The name of the parashah is Terumah in Hebrew, literally, something that is uplifted or elevated to a higher status. The word here is taken to mean gift or an offering that is special, holy, for a higher purpose.
At the beginning of today’s Torah portion, Terumah, page 485 Exodus chapter 25, v 1-8 say: “Adonai spoke to Moses, saying “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
I’d like to highlight two things here, which we will look at more after the Torah reading.
The first is that in this task of making a space for God among the people, the offerings were to be only from those whose heart moved them. The Israelites are not being required to give; they are being given an opportunity to contribute.
It is also significant that the words are not “let them make me a sanctuary that I will dwell within it” – the sanctuary – but rather “that I may dwell among them. This verse is also interpreted as “I will dwell amidst them.” Or “I will dwell within them”—meaning God will dwell within each and every Israelite.
As we read today about all of the specific cloths and loops and cubits and planks of wood, you might wonder: What does mishkan look like? Some have read these instructions and tried to draw the plans, literally. Some have come to the conclusion that the mishkan would have been awfully heavy and difficult to carry. But apart from a literal reading of this instruction manual, you might contemplate this image - of a group of individuals seeing Godliness –with whatever God metaphor works for you - in each other and themselves, and pooling their resources to create a community in a spirit of generosity.
Today my hope is to continue the ongoing conversation that the CDT Board has engaged us in: to think together about what it means to be a covenantal community – and to ground that conversation in Torah – because it seems to me that this parashah is all about covenantal community.
When we were kids at school, the teacher would take attendance, and we would respond “here.” What other word would we say? “Present.” The word present, being here, also means gift.
So I’d like to acknowledge that our being here today, that each of us is present, is a gift to our community. We help to make a minyan, we help to make a service, we are each participating,
lending our voices and our hearts and our prayers and our ideas to this community right now. The act of showing up for each other, of being there in times of celebration and in times of
sadness or challenge, and being there on a February Shabbat morning – this is a kind of participating in community.
I think that everyone is on a spectrum of contributing in varying ways – depending on our circumstances, our age, our family situations, our health, our work. As we go through life, and some of us have been a part of CDT through different phases of our lives, at some times we may be more or less involved, or feel that we have more or less resources to offer.
Alan Morinis, in his book “Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar” – that some of us studied a few years ago with Rabbi Toba – talks about the soul trait of generosity. He says:
“The Jewish tradition distinguishes between two types of generosity. The first is…generosity of the sort that comes neither from obligation nor rational thought nor guilt but out of an irresistible
feeling that stirs deep within. It’s a movement of the soul and it generates an openhanded response. The other kind of generosity, called tzedakah, is obligated giving such as tithing or
other acts that come from commitment, whether or not the heart is moved to act in that way…. Because we live in a money centric culture, we tend to think of generosity only as a question of
reaching into our wallets. But as with all soul traits, generosity is a quality of the soul and so it can find expression in many ways. You can be generous with money and also with your time,
your energy, and your possessions. This sort of generosity is not defined by the kind of action you take or the amount you give, but by the energy of the response itself.”
Morinis refers to Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a Talmudic scholar, and Jewish philosopher of the early 20th century, who said: “Do you give to the ones you love, or do you love the ones to whom you
give?” Morinis continues: “Rabbi Dessler places giving and taking at the center of our moral and spiritual life. We don’t have to wait until our hearts are fully open and infused with natural
generosity before we begin to give. Rather, acts of generosity awaken love and foster the soultrait of generosity. As Rabbi Dessler said, “Love flows in the direction of giving.”
There are challenges in giving and there are sometimes even greater challenges in receiving. Asking for help or support is harder than giving, for most people. I’d like to suggest that in
opening oneself to being willing to receive, you are giving someone else an opportunity to give – and that is a gift to them. I see giving and receiving as a circle of reciprosity: When we give we
also receive. When we receive we also give.
I’d like to offer you the words of Rabbi Alicia Magal, from Sedona, AZ. “We all have moments when our “hearts are moved” to contribute, but often we don’t know exactly how. Each of us is called upon to fulfill the commandment to build the mishkan in our own moment in time by contributing some of our precious and unique resources. Each donation adds to the beautiful whole of the communal sacred space. “V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham – and make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them.” And when we give from that place in our hearts, and offer up our precious stores of skills, qualities, resources, and efforts, then truly the promise will be fulfilled that the Holy One will “dwell within us.”
We have this sanctuary, this physical space, and we have the structure of our congregation, thanks to our founders, and thanks to the ongoing efforts of our members, our leadership and our staff. Building a mishkan is an ongoing process. I thought that we could take a little time to contemplate your own personal giving and receiving in the context of our Dorshei Tzedek community, in creating a mishkan, a place where Godliness dwells within each of us. I’m going to pose a few questions, but I want to emphasize this is not intended in any way to guilt trip anyone, because we are talking about what our hearts move us to do.
I invite you to do a little inward reflection for a few minutes, as I lead you in a guided visualization. Take an inward gaze. Take a couple of deep breaths, and allow a space in your mind’s eye to clear We are asked to elevate the sparks of Godliness that dwell within each and every one of us.
What kinds of gifts might you bring from your heart to this community? What might you offer in the time ahead, near and far? Is there something that you yearn to give to this community? Something you have not been able to give yet, that you would like to give? If not, maybe you are needing to receive right now. What would bring you into balance? What is your “gold”? What is your “crimson yarn”? What is your “spice”? What are your “precious stones”?* What talents, skills, passions, energy or resources are you moved to offer up?
Some texts to contemplate Parashah Terumah February 1, 2014 / Adar 1, 5774
“God dwells wherever we let God in.” – Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk Hasidic Rebbe (1787–1859)
‘That I may dwell among them.’ Or, ‘that I may dwell within them,’ in reference to the Jewish People, implying that it is a duty for each and every one of the Children of Israel to make a sanctuary within his own heart, a place in which the Holy Presence may dwell. If all Jews build such a tabernacle within their hearts, the Lord will dwell within the heart of each and every one of them. -Moshe ben Chaim Alshekh Biblical commentator from 16th century, lived in Safed
As [Rabbi Jacob Culi, commentator in the Me’am Loez, written in Ladino in early 18th century Turkey] continues, there are three types of spiritual work in this world, each progressively more difficult. One can be given an oral instruction and the work will be done. A more difficult kind of work requires a visual map; one must see it to believe it. The most difficult form of spiritual work, however, requires partnership and practice. One must not only hear of it and see it, but actually participate in its creation. - Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, Cleveland,OH
*There is something extremely personal and soulful connected to the contributions offered by each person.
What is your “gold” – shining, pure, enthusiastic assistance in visiting ill people for Bikkur Holim?
What is your “crimson yarn” - passionate, life giving social action projects that strengthen connections among people?
What are your “ram or dolphin skins” –warm, protective coverings for those without shelter, blankets, or warm coats?
What is your “spice for anointing oil” – luscious, fragrant baked goods for shared holiday meals? What are your “precious stones” – sharing your gems of knowledge and experience to teach, tutor, advise, or lead in your area of expertise?
How do you manifest those stirrings of your heart to build and sustain the structure and fabric of our Jewish communities? - Rabbi Alicia Magal, Sedona, AZ
Concluding Story (adapted by Cindy Rivka Marshall, from story found in many cultures)
Imagine that you are brought to a fancy banquet hall and a great feast is being served. You are seated with many other people at a large round table and many tantalizing dishes are in the center. What are some of your favorite foods? Yes, these are all being served and more! Your mouth is watering and you are very hungry. Everything looks so delicious and cooked to perfection. But there is a rule here – you must eat from spoons that have very long handles – they must be three feet long! So you reach over to help yourself from the platter – you can reach those with your long spoon. But when you go to put some food in your mouth, the handle is longer than your own arm and you cannot get the food into your mouth. You are so frustrated! You look around and you see that everyone in this hall is very thin and desperately hungry, while they try in vain to reach the food to their mouths.
But then, imagine that you are taken to another room. This one looks similar, with large round tables and people being served a feast. There are wonderful aromas of your favorite foods. But right away you notice that here there is laughter and conversation, and the people are plump and well nourished. You wonder why, because you see that here they also have to eat from long handled spoons. But what is different here? What have they figured out?
The people are feeding each other!