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.

Greater Than The Sum – Parshat Terumah 5775

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I still love Legos. There is something oddly comforting in sifting through lots of little pieces, finding just the right one to add to a plastic block creation. Without each piece in its place, my creation wouldn’t be complete. Going brick by brick is like a jigsaw puzzle. If there’s a piece missing or out of place, the whole things feels just a little bit off.

I often get that feeling about everyday life too. If there’s a part of my regular routine that hasn’t happened, the day feels incomplete. Even the Torah has its moments when we’re looking for just the right piece to complete the puzzle. This week we read from Parshat Terumah. The Torah gives us commandments to give gifts as we build the Tabernacle. We receive the instructions for the beautification of the space as we put the ark, covered with cherubs, in its proper space. Each vessel, covering, light fixture, and costume piece is listed so that the space is completed to God’s exact specifications. The Torah lists each piece individually in order to state the exact purpose of each individual item. Everything must be in its place.

With all of these pieces coming together, the Tabernacle is like a big puzzle, but the Torah text works to ensure that each piece isn’t just a solitary component, but a part of the bigger picture. In chapter 26, verse 6 the text states, “So that the Tabernacle becomes one whole.” The Tabernacle is only whole when it has all of its parts, in the same way that the Israelites are composed of many individual people, but must form one harmonious “whole” in order to be a nation.

And even though our community as a whole, like the Tabernacle, is greater than the sum of each individual, our community is also only as strong as our weakest link. Our Torah reading this week reminds us that we all play a critical part in the “whole” that is our community. Each voice, opinion, smile, handshake, and hug matters. When we all work as one, assemble our whole together, then our community is strengthened.