Everything Has Its Purpose – Parshat Terumah 5783

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the chaotic mess that is my house. And I know I’m not the first parent to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we have at home. We organize, and we clean, and we recycle, but things still pile up. And while I appreciate the effort my children make to repurpose something rather than throw it out, our house feels like there are items everywhere largely because of their need and desire to take loose parts and found objects like shoe boxes, paper plates, coffee canisters, and countless other objects and create projects with them. These containers could be a train or a drum kit. These empty toilet paper rolls can be binoculars. My children believe that every item has a purpose for which it was originally intended, and a secondary or tertiary purpose only they can envision. I do love their creativity, but sometimes I just wish I could see my floor and countertops again.

Their ability to see potential in the world around them is one that is inherently Jewish and expressed in our Torah portion this week. 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.

Specifically, the Israelites are asked to create a wooden surface overlaid with gold to place special breads on, an ark to place the tablets in, and a menorah to light. Each of these items serves a purpose for the rituals God is instructing. On their own, they are simply objects: a table, a closet, and a lamp. However, used for the reasons God describes, they become sacred.

The table, with its beautiful cover, is a sacred space for offering, and for connecting our physical and spiritual needs. The ark is a private space, representing the need for introspection. The menorah stands to remind us of the light we can share when we come together in community. This week’s Torah portion is a wonderful reminder that just because something may serve an ordinary function, doesn’t mean it can’t also have a holy (or artistic) purpose too.

Finding Sanctuary – Parshat Terumah 5782

One of the hardest parts of living through the “stay safe at home” orders was the ability to find a sacred space to call my own. Throughout the pandemic, whether it’s just our immediate family of four, or our extended pod “family” of seven, we’ve been constantly in each other’s space. This means that finding a space for privacy, a space to work, a space of peace is exceptionally difficult for all of us.

We each have found little sanctuaries where we can find cozy comfort. For our crate-trained dog Stanley, his crate is actually his safe space, and it’s perched at the top of the stairs in a location that lets him see everything going on, while protecting himself from the often overwhelming energy of the kids.

For Matan, our five-year-old, his new “big kid” bed gives him just enough space underneath to make it a perfect hideout. Our daughter will sometimes create her own fort, hiding under an end table draped with a blanket and stuffed with pillows underneath. Having everyone home more of the time hasn’t been ideal, but having at least one spot we can each call our own has made all the difference in the world.

Where is my holy space? When I’m not in the office for an in-person meeting, whenever I can, I take my sacred space to the road, using my phone and headphones to Zoom while I walk in the outdoors, taking in the sun or rain, and moving my body. When that doesn’t work, I end up in my makeshift office, an ironing board set up in a corner of my bedroom, or at the end of the dining room table. I wouldn’t call either of them sacred, but they’re functional and practical.

Even without a pandemic, having a sacred space to focus, contemplate, and engage with our thoughts is important. It’s so important, in fact, that the Torah teaches us about it in this week’s Torah portion. 

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.

Chapter 25, verse 8 comes after we receive an initial list of gifts required to make a dwelling place for God. Notably, the text tells us that it is both the material items needed to set up the space and the notion of others respecting the space that are necessary for God to dwell among the people. In other words, the building of sacred space requires not just the right materials, but also everyone’s acknowledgement that it is indeed sacred.

While I might not love having pillow forts all around my house, respecting the needs of my children has allowed them to feel safe and find comfort in a troubling time. While Duncan didn’t love me turning our bedroom into my office, we both understood the need for a private space for me to write, connect with our team, and lead our community. Parshat Terumah reminds us to respect the space we set aside, and I hope you’ve been able to both create and appreciate the spaces you need. 

God on the Guest List – Parshat Terumah 5781

If you could invite God to your Passover seder, what would the invitation look like? If you were expecting God at Shabbat dinner, how would you set the table? If God attended your child’s mitzvah celebration, would you expect a gift?

In our earliest experiences with Judaism, we’re taught that we don’t need to “invite” God because “God is everywhere and God is one.” God isn’t like Elijah, with his saved cup of wine and ceremonial door opening. God is always present.

This idea that God doesn’t need an invitation somewhat contradicts this week’s Torah portion, in which Moses receives a very clear and detailed instruction manual for building the Mishkan, an earthly shelter of sorts for God. In our parshah this week, Terumah, God asks the Israelite nation to build a sanctuary so that God may dwell among us. As a side note, how interesting to read about God wanting to dwell among us at a time when we can’t even dwell together. But this Torah portion isn’t only about a sanctuary building; we are to build holiness among us so that God will be present in those human connections. 

Some time ago, I asked our Foundation School preschoolers what it means to build a holy, safe space, and their answers included lifting each other up, problem solving, kindness, sharing, and having fun. But more importantly, all the answers came in first person plural. “We lift each other.” “We solve problems.” “We are kind.” They answered my question with the word “we” because to the youngest in our community, sanctuary and holiness are created when we include one another in our lives. 

Parshat Terumah teaches us that God dwells among us not because of an ancient Tabernacle or a modern synagogue building, but because of the moments when our actions reflect holiness. Yes, God is everywhere, but the invitation still matters. When we treat each other with dignity, love, and respect for all of our beautiful gifts, we create a world where God dwells among us every single day.

Connected to Each Other – Parshat Terumah 5780


In some homes on Shabbat, families have a tradition of touching the challah as it’s blessed. In larger groups, the tradition is that each person touches someone who is touching the challah, so that everyone present is connected to the things that nourish and sustain us, like food and family.

Every week at Foundation School when we celebrate Shabbat, we raise up our hands, stretch our bodies, and ask the person next to us if it would be ok if we rest our hands on each other’s shoulders and create a circle of blessing from one person to the next. We then move into blessing the challah in this same embrace, as we pass the connection to the challah from one person to the next. This is one of my favorite Friday morning moments because of its intimacy and human-to-human connection. And in the process, we’re also teaching our children consent as well as the power that comes from an entire community reaching out and connecting with one another. It’s a beautiful final moment to hold onto before we disperse for the weekend.

So much of who we are as a people is tied to this feeling of intimate connection, and it stems from the Torah. This week we read Parshat Terumah. 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. Each piece is named individually, and each piece has a precise purpose. Assembled together, this will become the dwelling place of God.

As part of the discussion of the cherubs that would adorn the ark, we read, “They shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.” In other words, the cherubs all must be connected to the others, not facing God alone. The idea is that in order to fully connect as a community, we must be as connected to fellow human beings as we are to God.

It’s easy to get caught up in the routines and problems of daily life, closed off with our “wings” covering our faces so no one can connect in. Parshat Terumah reminds us that building a a sacred space together isn’t just about connecting with God; it’s about the face-to-face connections we have with each other.

Just Because – Parshat Terumah 5779


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.