Just Because – Parshat Terumah 5779

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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.

 

 

Give a Little, Gain a Lot – Parshat Terumah 5778

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I forget how old Shiri was when this started, but at some point she started to collect the change around the house and put it in the tzedakah box. It became a game; anytime there was any spare change hanging around, no matter where it was, she wanted it to go into the tzedakah box. This beautiful young child had no concept of saving for herself. Instead, her entire instinct when she found money was to give it to others. I credit Foundation School for most of this, but I also like to think that Duncan and I set an example of giving that she somehow has internalized.

The freeness Shiri exhibits in giving, the pure joy and open heart she wears, is something I hope she never loses. It’s also something I hope more adults will strive for, and the Torah this week shares that hope. This week we read Parshat Terumah, which reminds us of the importance of making these 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, like what materials should be used, exactly how big each piece should be, and how the floor plan should look when the building is completed.

The text begins with a commandment to give freely of your heart, which, according to the rabbis, means we shouldn’t give begrudgingly. I think of all the times I’m asked to add a dollar to my order at the grocery store for this or that cause, or the very big asks at the half dozen charity dinners we attend each year. Sometimes I’m excited to give and support the cause, but we typically give because we feel an obligation. According to the Torah, that is simply not what counts. Giving to feel the pure joy of a three-year-old putting money in a tzedakah box is the expectation.

Dressy Casual – Parshat Terumah 5777

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I try to dress with versatility in mind. What I mean by this is I like to choose outfits that can go from casual to dressy and anywhere in between. Knowing that my workdays start on the floor with preschoolers and also include learning with senior citizens and teenagers at various times throughout the day, I need to have an outfit that can change and move with me. Luckily the fashion industry has embraced this trend with reversible sweaters, dresses that look great with boots or heals, and shiny accents to take you from daytime to a night out. Versatility means being able to roll with the punches, adapting to new situations as they come.

One of the reasons I’m passionate about and dedicated to Conservative Judaism is the versatility in a tradition that allows me to engage with my past and present together. Our Torah is filled with laws that were meant to govern a certain society, yet we can still see our current world within its words, whether they talk about how to treat each other or the environment.

This week we read Parshat Terumah, which focuses mainly on the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) including what the Ark and decorative pieces will look like. The instructions are specific in terms of what materials should be used, exactly how big each piece should be, and how the floor plan should look when the building is completed.

It’s worth noting the durability and flexibility of the materials that are called for. The Ark that is fashioned in this week’s portion is made of both gold and wood. Gold is beautiful, durable, and precious and can symbolize the unending value and beauty of the commandments that it will hold. Wood is from a living, growing source, which tells us of the importance of God’s revelation, which continues to grow with the times. The Torah is both versatile and valuable, and its clothing reflects that.

The main reason I write these d’vrei Torah is because the lessons of trust, honesty, compassion, and bravery are timeless. We are blessed with a tradition that is beautiful in its antiquity and that still manages to change and grow with us as our world evolves.

World Within a World – Parshat Terumah 5776

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Our world is filled with microcosms. Walk into a school or an office building, and you’ll observe a fully functioning miniature community with its own rules, operational procedures, and social norms. Airports are another example; I’m always awed by what it takes to operate the world of the airport, from the flight crews to the maintenance workers to the airport employees. These microcosms exist all around us, and we float in and out of them all day, every day.

We already know that the Israelites also had such a world within a world, but in this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we learn that God had one too. It seems strange to think of God needing a world within a world. Isn’t the whole universe God’s creation? Would it really benefit God to have a separate, more Godly space?

Terumah recounts for us the building of the Tabernacle, and we receive instructions for the beautification of the space. Each vessel, covering, light fixture, and costume piece is listed so that the space is constructed to God’s exact specifications. The Torah lists each piece individually in order to state the exact purpose of each individual item. Assembled together, this will become the dwelling place of God.

So I’ll pose the question again: why does God need a separate dwelling? The fashioning of this sacred space is essentially to create a separate world within God’s universe, but is that necessary? Perhaps the Tabernacle represents not just physical space, but time as well. Consider the construction of Noah’s ark in parshat Noach. The ark was a means of survival, but also represented the new beginning of humanity, a new beginning in time. So too the construction of the Tabernacle represents a new beginning of the Israelite nation, both a physical and symbolic separation of the past and the future.

Take a look at our own microcosm of Congregation Neveh Shalom. Our community – from the building itself to Foundation School to morning minyan to ALIYAH – is without a doubt both a physical and symbolic manifestation of a separate, holy place. We continue to create this sacred space, not to draw God closer to us, but to draw us, together, closer to God.