I have a very dear friend who makes it her mission to surprise her friends with small gifts and letters throughout the year, just because. Inevitably this gift comes on a day when I’m feeling a bit sad, or I miss this friend. Sometimes the letters come with a favorite piece of candy in them, and other times it’s just a sweet note letting me know someone is thinking about me. The best part is that I never have to ask for the gifts, nor do I expect them. My friend gives freely to others because she wants to connect, to make meaningful relationships, and show her love.
This week we read Parshat Terumah, which reminds us of the importance of giving gifts just because we want to. The parshah focuses mainly on the building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, including what the ark and decorative pieces will look like. The instructions are specific, including what materials should be used, exactly how big each piece should be, and how the floor plan should look when the building is completed.
While the instructions and builder’s manual for this project are exacting and complete with lists of materials, there is still room for individuality and improvement, as God begins the entire request for materials in the following way. Shemot (Exodus) chapter 25, verses 1-2 read, “And God spoke to Moshe saying: Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is moved to give.” God tells the people not to offer just any old gift; God wants gifts that have meaning. And, given this request, the Israelite people have a choice to make. The gifts that are brought aren’t just gifts that God put on a registry; they are gifts that the people feel compelled to give.
Furthermore, the text begs the question of what it means to give a gift based on your heart being moved to give it. God did not do anything particularly special for the people in this moment, and the people do not go out and buy presents for God. Instead, they give from their hearts, and they give from what they owned. When we give gifts from our heart, from the things that are precious to us, we are saying something important not only about the recipient but about ourselves.
Parshat Terumah reminds us that giving of ourselves in this way is a gift that cannot be measured like other tangible gifts. It doesn’t matter if you send a post card every day, or one special card just because. It is the act of giving that will be noticed. It is the act of giving that stays with both parties long after the gift itself is gone. Our purpose in this world is to give and receive openly and honestly. When we do this, we are working together to build not just the Mishkan, but a sacred and holy community in which to live.