Terumah: What People Give

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger
Torah Portion: Terumah 
 
Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. . . (Shemot/ Exodus 25:2)
 
Dear Friends: 
 
Sorry about my absence from the internet last week but glad to be back with you today. 
 
The Torah portion Terumah begins the third act of the book of Exodus: the building of theMishkan, the portable Sanctuary, experienced as the place of the Divine Presence. At the beginning of the portion, Moshe is told to tell all the people to bring the gifts or voluntary offerings needed to build the Mishkan: precious metals, jewel stones, wood, fabric, skins, etc. The portions that follow go into great detail about every aspect of the building and maintenance of the structure, but for today let’s just reflect for a moment on the idea that all the people were to give, but they were to give as they were moved to do so. The word terumah, in this case, means an “offering” like other obligatory offerings (see more on that here) but the verse is very specific that each person was to offer what they had and what they wished. 
 
A perennial question arises out of this story: where did the people get the materials with which to build such a fancy Sanctuary? On the one hand, we might say that it was ordained from above that the people would take from the Egyptians and find in the wilderness what they needed to build the Mishkan-maybe it was all part of a Divine plan. That explains how it such precise instructions could be given to a bunch of former slaves in the desert, but it lessens, at least for me, the sense that the Mishkan was built out of the people’s love and reverence and desire to make a spiritual center for themselves. 
 
So perhaps we might say, instead, that the instructions for the MIshkan were given according to the people’s resources- that is, God told them to build a Mishkan based on what they had at that moment, so they could give freely out of love and free choice. This, in turn, suggests that what makes the Mishkan the holy center of the people is that it was build by all of them; some gave much and some gave little but the Divine Presence was made manifest when the gifts of each person were accepted and honored. 
 
Think of how our synagogues and Jewish communities would be if we decided we weren’t finished building community until each person’s gifts –  of mind, heart, spirit, money and time- were accepted and honored in joy. How could the Presence of the Sacred not be felt among such a community? 
 
Shabbat Shalom, 
 
RNJL 

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