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February 28, 2020
3 Adar 5780

Parashat Terumah
Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), can be seen as something of a nexus of the ways in which we connect to the world. For some of us, the material world informs the way we live our lives. For others of us, it is the life of the mind and spirit that propels. And others spend their lives trying to find a balance between the two.

This week’s Torah portion attempts to find the balance between the material and the spiritual. For those who like reading an instruction manual on how to build a movable sacred space with objects to be placed within and around it, this parsha is for you. How the Tent of Meeting is built so that it will withstand sandstorms and be easy to assemble and disassemble for a people on the move is pretty amazing. Later on in the Torah, we read about who from what tribe, what family group will be assigned which job in this process.

The parsha begins with a very tangible request. God asks Moses to ask the people to bring gifts. The gifts can be of any kind, from any person whose heart moves him/her in a giving way. These are free will offerings. And here we have the beginning, in this Torah portion, of both the spirit and the tangible.

Then there are the ritual objects, made of bronze, silver and gold and the fabrics used to make the tent were dyed and decorated. The closer one got to the innermost part of the mishkan, the part that contained the ark of the covenant, the more precious were the materials that were used.

Here is where the mystery enters the description of the mishkan and its various parts. It takes ten sentences to describe what the seven-branched menorah should look like. The detail is incredible. I once asked a group of students to draw one according to the description. Although they had commonalities, the drawings were all quite different.

The Ark of the Covenant is described as acacia wood covered in gold with two keruvim (often translated as cherubim which brings to mind Hallmark cherubs – not the right image) facing one another on the top. We do not know what these figures looked like other than that they had wings. These figures are referenced in Genesis as guarding Eden after Adam and Eve are expelled.

There are parts of life that we have control over and there are parts that we have difficulty comprehending. This Torah portion combines both. The place where the material and the spiritual intersect is in the concrete description of the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the minimal of these two winged creatures that face one another atop the Ark.

This text is a potent reminder that not all can be explained or will be explained as we go through life. It is in the space in between these two figures that we find holiness, as one of the midrashim teaches. True holiness happens when we are able to face one another, creating a dwelling place for the Divine.

We live in a material world where true moments of holiness are rare and often happen unexpectedly. There is great power in the knowledge that our ancestors knew this.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, October 20 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781