Parshat Hashavua

Parshah Terumah: More Than Just a Building

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parshah opens up with Moshe Rabbeinu after he has spoken with Hashem. Moshe begins by asking his constituents, bnai yisrael (the children of Israel) to give. If they are so emotionally inclined they should give what they can. RAMBAM, the famous physician and philosopher, codified eight levels of giving charity. One reason why RAMBAM has done this is to identify who is a Jew, as according to RAMBAM giving tzedakah is an integral component of Judaism. How can we relate inclusion to parshah Terumah? In our modern world the question gets thrown around a bit, “is he/she Jewish?” Especially in relation to athletes and celebrities. With there being so many expressions of Judaism including but not limited to Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanist, etc. how is Judaism defined? My answer is similar to RAMBAM, though a bit broader, action.

The name of this parshah is Terumah, what does this word even mean? Rashi translates this word as something that we separate in order to set it aside for a higher purpose. Rabbi Hirsch, a noted German grammarian, identifies the root of terumah as the letters reysh, vav, mem meaning to uplift. Everything that we do is in service to the creator. This begs the question how do we serve? Many religions and traditions have an individual relationship to the creator, unmediated by place or person. In this week’s parshah Exodus 25:8 we read, “They shall make a sanctuary for me-so that I may dwell among them”. The instructions are exact about how to build the sanctuary. This implies that to focus on God’s service a physical structure is necessary.

Rashi mentions that this sanctuary structure is dedicated to the service of God. This does not simply mean prayer, but coming together as a community. Many times society builds beautiful edifices, but forgets the essence of their purpose. Though upon reading the pshat (surface) this parshah may seem best suited for an engineer or an architect, someone who uses precise measurements and materials, we will see that there is more than what meets the eye. In Exodus 26: 1-2 the Torah informs us, “You shall make the tabernacle of ten curtains-linen twisted with turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool with a woven design of cherubim shall you make them. The length of a single curtain 28 cubits, and the width 4 cubits for each curtain, the same measure for all the curtains.” According to the Ohr HaChaim, a book by famous commentator Chaim Ibn Attar, the ten curtains symbolize the ten utterances with which God created the world. Rabbinic tradition often engages in using numerology to add spiritual meaning, this is just one example.

In Judaism we build communities. These communities often consist of a synagogue, a Jewish community center, Jewish schools, a Jewish cemetery, kosher restaurants, Jewish homes for the aged, etc. Each building serves a vital function for the Jewish community. These institutions are more than just buildings, they allow for Jewish life to thrive. While a spiritual retreat can help us to facilitate a sense of spirituality, to sustain a Jewish community requires centers to engage us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and culturally. It is not enough for us to identify as Jewish, we must support these institutions that in turn allow Judaism to thrive.

Parshah Terumah is not simply about asking for charity and erecting a building for God to dwell in. If we look deeper and think about the creation of the world and our purpose in life, we understand that as a community we are responsible for infusing meaning into our world.