Posted on March 23, 2011
by Judah Kerbel
February 28, 2009/4 Adar 5769
This week, we read Parashat Terumah, which begins the section of the Torah dealing with the mishkan – the tabernacle. Though the discussion of the mishkan is notorious for its length and repetition, it is an essential discussion because it describes the process through which the Israelites established a connection with God through non-miraculous and divine signs (i.e. through a more tangible means of connection, a concept that still forms the cornerstone of Judaism today).
As we will see in the story of the Golden Calf and we have even seen with the Israelites having complained about lack of water, the Israelites cannot have any authentic connection with God if it is only maintained through the performance of miracles; rather, they need a means through which they will reach God on a daily basis. In order for the mishkna to be convincing of its holiness, it must be constructed out of the finest materials, and the immense detail here demonstrates how the mishkna is a big deal and can serve its holy purpose, according to the needs of the people.
“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts.” (Exodus 25:2, Etz Hayim translation)
Rashi: “Something set aside, they should set some of their money aside for Me as a contribution.” (Artscroll Sapirstein translation)
The pasuk comes from the beginning of the parasha, in which God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to set aside gifts for Him. Rashi comments to define the meaning of terumah – namely, that it is “something set aside.” The word terumah also can mean “raising” or “elevating,” so Rashi comes to inform us of the meaning in this context. As noted in the Etz Hayim Humash, the items to be set aside were in fact the gold, silver, and jewels that the Israelites received from the Egyptians when they left Egypt, and these items were not to be used for personal purposes but rather holy and communal purposes.
In our lives, we are often called upon to set aside possessions for a greater cause. On one level, Jews are commanded to set aside at least 10 percent but no more than 20 percent of their incomes for tzedakah, to give to those in the community. However, there are possessions of a less tangible nature that we must set aside in order to live complete, Jewish lives, such as time, diet, and ability to act according to free will. We set aside time to daven and to celebrate Shabbat; diet to eat a kosher diet; ability to act according to free will, in that we have mitzvot that command us to feel and act a certain way towards other human beings. The ability to deliberately set aside certain things of value to us will help us understand how to live among a community, and will ultimately give us a strong appreciation for the value of those possessions. I challenge you to take this Shabbat to think about the things you can set aside for the sake of community and for maintaining a strong connection to God.