Reminders of Creation
“Build me a sanctuary so I may dwell among you” says God to Moses and the children of Israel at the opening of this parashah, Terumah. How can God, the source of all Creation, need a place to dwell? As King Solomon said upon the dedication of the First Temple, modelled upon the Tabernacle whose construction is first told of in this parasha, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built.” (1 Kings 8: 27) If God dwells in all that is, it seems superfluous to create a sanctuary in which to dwell. However, what our ancestors knew is that God’s infinite presence can only only be approached and encountered by finite humans through space and in time that is constructed with right intention.
Many commentators have noted that the construction of the tabernacle parallels the story of creation. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “The tabernacle was, in other words, a micro-cosmos, a symbolic reminder of the world God made. The fact that the Divine presence rested within it was not meant to suggest that God is here not there, in this place not that. It was meant to signal, powerfully and palpably, that God exists throughout the cosmos. It was a man-made structure to mirror and focus attention on the Divinely-created universe. It was in space what Shabbat is in time: a reminder of creation.”
The funding for the construction of the Tabernacle comes from the gifts, or “terumot”, that give this week’s parashah its name. “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (Exodus 25:2) The word itself means “to raise up”, teaching that each time we give, we are elevated spiritually. Further, the word contextually translated in English as “bring” in the Hebrew is actually “take”. One of the main lessons our which commentators have noted is that the gifts we give were originally God’s – everything we possess, our very lives, are basically gifts. As we give, we are raised and we receive; the personal benefit of generosity is greater than its cost.
Our sages have understood that since the time of the destruction of the Temple, every synagogue and study hall is considered a mini-sanctuary (See Talmud, Megillah 29a).In a sense, every communal institution – from those who provide for the elderly, the ill, or our children’s learning – are mini-sanctuaries worthy of our support. Each time we give something of physical value we gain something of spiritual worth.