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Parashat Terumah

February 16, 2024
7 Adar 5784
Parashat Terumah
Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

Dear Friends,

At first blush this Torah portion could be compared to an Ikea instruction manual, as we are given a detailed description of how to build the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle that would accompany the people through the desert. The number of details can overwhelm the reader.

However, if we go back to the beginning, we discover that this is far more than an architectural plan, brilliant though it may be in its design as a structure that needs to be both built and taken down every time the people stop along the journey.

Terumah, "Donation" (Exodus 25:1-27:19), is so much more than that. It begins with the Divine telling Moses that the people are to bring God gifts to create a dwelling place for the Divine. What kind of gifts? Gifts that come from the heart of the people, freely offered, freely given. Despite having a plan of what the dwelling place should look like, the people are asked to simply open their hearts.

We know that simply opening one's heart may appear to be simple act, but in truth it is far more complicated. Opening one's heart is not an automatic response; it is easier said than it is done. Our hearts are closely guarded, yet here in this moment, as we are told later in the Torah, the people more than accept this challenge by bringing forth their very best selves.

This dwelling place is not a guarantee of God’s spirit being forever with the people; rather, it allows for the possibility of creating a place of holiness. At this moment in our world, distrust is rampant and our ability to truly hear one another is severely at risk. At this moment, we have the following text that “from every person whose heart so moves them.” (Exodus 25:2) it becomes clear that creating sacred space begins within each of us.

Rabbi Enid Lader quotes Martin Buber with the following excerpts from The Way of Humanity: According to Chasidic Teaching: “… the place where that treasure may be found is the place where one stands… Here, where we stand, is the place where we can let the hidden divine light shine… It shines when we recognize our relationship with each person, each important part of our world… If we regard nothing but the bare utility of the beings and things that are part of our lives (as we are part of theirs), and neglect to establish a genuine relationship with them, then we ourselves, miss the true fulfillment of our being.”

That is the challenge. We are not being asked to create something sustainable over the long term but to take it moment by moment, incrementally, thereby making the opening of hearts far more possible.

I end with an often told tale about the Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk. He asked some learned men who were visiting him, “Where is the dwelling place of God?”

Laughing, they responded, “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole earth full of God’s glory?” [Isaiah 6:3]
Menachem Mendel then answered his own question: “God dwells wherever we let God in.”

I will add, that wherever we are able to freely open our hearts, we are thereby creating holy time and space.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784