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Parashat Terumah

February 4, 2022
4 Adar I 5782
Parashat Terumah
Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion has always challenged me. I love a good story, but detailed written descriptions of how to make something tend to leave me cold.  I recall hearing a d'var Torah about this portion being given by an architect some years back, and his delight was palpable.

But as always with the Torah, it depends on which lens you use to engage with the text. Terumah takes place between God and Moses up on Mount Sinai. At the beginning, we are about to hear instructions on how to construct a portable dwelling place for the Divine presence. Before we get to the description, we are told how the materials to create this dwelling place shall be acquired.

“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 them.”

This sentence is incredible.  I invite you to read it twice. The people are not being commanded to do something, nor are they being given instructions on how to give. They are being told to open their hearts and let their hearts be their guide. We know from a latter Torah portion that, indeed, the people give with open hearts. 

The building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, was the very first time that the people were be asked to be part of a community project, where every participant would be valued. Up until this moment the people spent their time being nervous, fearful, and full of complaints, seeming to want to go back to Egypt. This desire is very familiar for many of us as we want to return to a time before Covid and for it to be “normal." But as our Torah teaches us, there is no going back, only going forward. What was, was, what will be has not yet happened, so we will content ourselves with what is and do our utmost to make the best of it.

This week was our first week back in person for our Hebrew School. Adina and I knew that the best way to begin was to create something together, much like the people did in creating a dwelling place for the Divine presence. Of course, the task we gave the children was simpler, yet important, finding a way to work together to create something that would communicate the importance of working together -- in other words, community.

When we have a common purpose where we are building something together our fear dissipates, we are strengthened. As I reflect upon the building of the Mishkan, I cannot but help reflect upon the rapid creation of the Northwest Bronx Refugee Coalition. The desire to help others came from everywhere, ranging from Manhattan College students to our neighbors and their respective religious affiliations, along with those who simply wanted to help get a family settled. In less than a month, people from all the corners of our larger community have come together with their gifts from the heart to aid Afghan refugees as they settle among us. Each participant doing their part in large ways and small.

This coming together is what building the Mishkan was all about. Each one opens their heart in common purpose, creating something even greater than a dwelling place for the Divine, creating a true spiritual community. May we learn from their example

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, December 3 2022 9 Kislev 5783