By: Rabbi Daniel Aronson
If you’re a list-maker, do-it-yourselfer, contractor or Lowes/Home Depot junkie, Parashat Terumah is for you! This week God gives to Moses a shopping list and instructions for building the mishkan (Tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among the People of Israel), aron ha-edut (the Ark of the Pact, which will house the tablets with the Ten Commandments) and accouterments for the Tabernacle, the most intricate of which is the menorah (seven-branched lampstand).
The parashah opens with: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts: you shall accept gifts (terumah in Hebrew) for Me from every person whose heart so moves them” (Ex. 25:1-2; New Jewish Publication Society translation).
When I read these verses, I am struck by two things. One is that EVERY person is invited to contribute. The other is that the gifts are to come voluntarily. No one is excluded from contributing to the mishkan, but no one is required, either. If you had the precious metals, wood, fabrics, skins or other necessary materials to bring to the building site, your donation would have been much appreciated. If you didn’t have them – and I imagine great numbers of the people did not – no one would look askance at you. Later in the Torah, however, we read that the “ask” was so successful that the people actually brought more than could be used and Moses had to say, “That’s enough” (Ex. 36:5-7)!
Terumah, a freewill offering toward a sacred communal project, offers us a powerful metaphor for inclusion as well as generosity. As we begin February’s Jewish Disability Awareness month, think about the implications of this verse for inclusion of people with disabilities into our community. The Torah here is telling us that every person has something to contribute, no matter their level of ability or their station in life. While Moses asked for a very limited and specific set of donations, we are able to benefit from the much larger variety of gifts that people bring to our sacred community. It’s up to us to recognize what those gifts are if they are not readily apparent.
In addition, think about the spiritual impact of offering gifts to our sacred community. Our sages note the transformative power of such voluntary contributions. The Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary (New York, NY. The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), notes that the word terumah derives from a root word meaning “to elevate” (p. 486). Thus, terumah are specifically gifts which are willingly offered up to God. “The act of offering a gift to God,” Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev teaches, “elevates the donor to a higher level as well. (ibid.)” By bringing our gifts to the community, not only do our gifts become holy, but so do we. We grow closer to God as we raise up our offerings, whatever they may be.
How blessed are we to be part of a community filled with so many talented, knowledgeable, compassionate people who give of themselves freely. May all whose hearts so move them continue to make of our community a dwelling place for the Divine.