Parashat Terumah is one of my favorite in the Torah. It is not a parashah filled with drama and action, there is no murder, intrigue, death or sibling rivalry, it is a portion about construction. The children of Israel are building a building. Cecile B. Demille will not be rushing to make this movie and Harrison Ford won’t be calling his agent to beg for the part of Moses but despite this lack of action, the imagery
is some of the most beautiful in the whole Torah.
I imagine the scene. It is a warm, sunny day, the kind of day which makes you stop and pause from the routine of daily life to breathe and just feel the energy of it. The children of Israel have temporarily stopped from their continual movement and wanderings to build a mishkan, a sanctuary. Since daybreak, a line of people have been slowly weaving their way across the desert sands, bearing their terumah, the gifts from their hearts, gifts for the holy work of creating a mishkan. The colors are spectacular; crimson cloths waving in the breeze, mingling with the purple yarns and the blue silks. The sunlight glints off the golden pieces being brought to construct the lamp-stands and rings, tapestries and pieces of cloth, jars of golden oil, wicks and bowls to make the lamps, stone masons carrying their tools, all in a line waiting for the instructions about where to put their contribution, what to do with the pieces they brought forth.
I imagine the feelings of the Israelites; the ones who had been freed from slavery, heard the voice of God, witnessed the power of God’s miracles. They did not have much, for each of them had fled the fleshpots of Egypt with little more than the clothing on their backs, some gold and jewels from the Egyptian women. But each of them gathered their belongings, items of sentimental value, things which
reminded them of Egypt, of family, friends, loved ones who toiled beside them during the arduous years of enslavement, those who were no longer beside them. God had asked for terumah, but not just any gift, a gift from the heart, a gift which, when placed in the tabernacle would infuse the space with a small piece of the people who constructed it. More than their material wealth, this mishkan was made from raw emotion, from the memories and feelings of a nation who had experienced slavery, intolerance and injustice as well as deliverance and freedom. When the people brought their gifts they added a piece of themselves to the sanctuary and made it their own. Each of them was engaged in holy work, the work of building a dwelling place for God.
This Shabbat, as we read the words of this parashah and imagine the creation of the mishkan, we see around us a world which is heavy with pain and suffering, a place crying out to be infused with holiness. Our task is to create a mishkan on earth, a place where God will dwell amongst us and we do that when we give gifts from our hearts, when we reach out and touch one another with goodness and kindness, when we hear the cries of humanity and act. God called upon our people once in the desert, “make me a sanctuary,” a holy place for me to dwell. Do it by bringing gifts from your hearts. God is calling us again to build a sanctuary, to make our world a place of shelter, of peace, brushed with holiness and goodness. Will we hear the call? Will we bring our pure gifts of the heart?