(25:2) דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבֹּ֔ו תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי ׃
(25:8) וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתֹוכָֽם ׃
Every Shabbos we contend with a dilemma: the weekly events that we relive when we layn Torah take place in the barren Sinai desert about 4000 years ago. How can that be our story sitting in our pretty pews at our suburban shuls? In some magical way, nearly three million people built a Tabernacle to G-d, whiling their whiles and talents those forty years, ambling about and around Sinai’s desert. It may have served them well, but where is the proof? Where are their gravestones? Or also, was it only a makeshift Tabernacle that Israel built? Is G-d’s Sanctuary buried in the sand? Did G-d have it made just so it may remain underground? Is our yearly role by reading this sedra to return to it or revive it or re-excavate it?
The actual meaning of a nation commanded by G-d is found in using each day of the workweek productively. Mitzvot are placed for the one affect: build G-d’s Sanctuary. In contradistinction, we are commanded not to work on Shabbat. The 39 laws of the Sabbath prohibitions are specifically connected to not building the Sanctuary. The purpose of Shabbat is to live in the mishkan you have constructed for G-d over this past week. Our life’s mission is cumulative, to live in each week’s glorious construction, inviting G-d personally to enter the world of humankind. It is what we Jewish people do with our lives, in response to the revelation at Mt. Sinai. We answer the Creator by reifying with our bodies the written, oral, and mystical law. This is the response to our redemption: only a free human being can make of his or her life a holy temple.
Sedra Terumah begins with our soul’s rapture. “Torem,” G-d speaks solely, slowly, purposefully to each of us. “Contribute.” Tradition tells us that ensconced within the word torem is the word leharim, “to raise up,” to challenge us: “What have you arisen in your life? Re-arise, and be realized.” G-d says, “I need you to raise the Tabernacle to be solid and apparent. Building holiness within the world never finishes. I need specifically you to construct My structure where your loveliness can reside forever.” G-d made the world for us; we build the Sanctuary for G-d to reside among us.
G-d says wondrously: “V’asu li mikdash, v’shchanti b’tocham.” (25:8.) Let them build me a Tabernacle, that I may dwell with them. And so the Tabernacle was built. Millennia later, G-d’s words echo from our innermost walls. “Build a sanctuary of yourself and I, G-d, will dwell within you.” Dare not be negligent with this sacred task. The intensity and generosity of your heart’s love becomes G-d’s dwelling place: kol nediv libo (35:5.) Of a sudden, life’s purpose is ongoing. Learn precisely your harmonious melody, with which G-d composes the world. The Beit HaMikdash was full and filled by song and life replete. The intenseness of our intensity is not G-d’s but ours. This is our only free will, along with the qualities of our love. We can dare ourselves to contribute the beauty of our intensity by expressing our highest love. This is our most majestic contribution, our personal sanctuary.
We were tasked to forever build the Tabernacle, the Mishkan. Otherwise we would have remained mere estranged ex-slaves escaped from Egypt – still-life, still then and now. The soul’s ever-goal is inviting. Terumah’s letters might reconstruct more emphatically into the word “hatorem,” the contributor — what must you alone contribute? If need be, you be the lone Israelite who brings the Tabernacle out of Sinai and into the holy city of Yerushalayim. Become the metzuyan of Tzion, the Excellence of Zion. “The world without you is bereft, yet with You it’s bettered,” you and I and G-d promise one another. The Promise redounds, whispering to our RNA’s innerest mist. The lowliest wisp colours us and we are alit. We are His fire. Dark orange, yellow and blue. Witness whiteness and small black wick aflame. All silence, stillness. Know this: Because of G-d, life matters.
G-d’s word perfects us. The letters in the word terumah also refloat together to make m’Torah, “from Torah’s direct command.” The Torah is meant to interact with our very substance. We work holiness into our lives from the Torah and the Torah mirrors our Gift of Being into endless impact. Imagine yourself within the Torah’s context. The Torah chanting enchantingly invites with each aliyah a response: take up the challenge, contribute! See your interplay among the personalities of the biblical story. Dance with King David’s fervor as the Holy of Holies enters Yerushalayim. Build the Holy Temple as did Melech Shlomo. Receive the blessing of the dream fulfilled.
You might carry a fear of becoming invisible and emptied of substance. A fear of not enduring the wind and sand of Sinai’s desert, of not being brought into concretia on the terra sancta of the Promised Land. And the desert air here is sparse and arid. We, Bnei Yisrael, still haven’t raised the Third Temple in these two thousand years since its destruction. What have we been doing? We have been studying the parshiot for the details of the Temple-yet-to-be-built. This is the messianic challenge inside this sedra. This is our cumulative terumah. Most people say, “wake me up when the Messiah’s here.” And I will gladly follow then enthusiastically! But G-d says to us: “No, first I need you. Where’s your terumah? I need yours in order to actualize the Temple in your world.” After all, G-d already resides in the Sanctuary on High.
The desert in Terumah stands in stark relief from the lush creation of Gan Eden. The Jewish people may have been created at Mount Sinai or even at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, but homo sapiens, man and woman, were created from the soil of every continent, so says the midrash. This must mean that every climate and climb can be the source of birth on earth. The desert wants you to know itself. We are asked and able to contribute from wherever we stand, even and especially from the deepest of deserts.
May your terumah and mine please the Almighty so impactfully that the mishkan is resurrected in Yerushalayim today. Amen. Shabbat Shalom.