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Parashat Terumah 5780 — 02/29/2020

Parashat Terumah 5780 — 02/29/2020

Shemot 25:1-27:19

And Gd spoke to Moshe saying: speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for me a donation (terumah), from every man whose heart moves him to contribute they shall take My donation (25:1-2)
Or haChaim has a very long comment on each part of these verses, in which he demonstrates that there were actually three donations involved in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle):
  1. The mandatory half-shekel donation that had to be given every year to support the operations of the Mishkan (and later the Temple);
  2. An additional mandatory half-shekel donation that was used to make the sockets that held up the planks that formed the walls of the Mishkan;
  3. The free-will offering of the rest of the materials for the construction of the Mishkan, its vessels and all the other appurtenances for it to be a functioning center of religious life.
Part of Or haChaim’s comment focuses on the last part of the verse: from every man … they shall take My donation. There are three categories of people from whom one is not allowed to collect charity, nor to accept large donations:
  1. Minor orphans (unless they get the benefit of either atonement or a good name from the donation);
  2. Married women (until recently the husband handled the finances; women had small amounts for household purposes and could give small amounts from that) and
  3. The overly generous person (who will wind up in the poorhouse himself if allowed to give as much as he wants).
The phrase from every man comes to include these three categories: orphans and married women gain atonement from the contributions, and, since the Jews left Egypt with immense wealth (the gold and silver they asked the Egyptians to lend them, which was actually back pay for 210 years of slave labor), all of the three categories could easily make substantial donations without adverse impact on their material circumstances. In any event, they were in the desert and got their food and housing miraculously and their clothes miraculously didn’t wear out. There was nothing they needed to buy, which was good, because there was nothing there to buy anyway! They lived a spiritual existence; material goods were of little concern to them.
There is another aspect that Or haChaim brings out that is more hidden. Artscroll did not translate this paragraph, so you will have to make do with mine:
By way of a hint, [the verse] means that each person should cleave to Hashem by the attribute of his soul which is called “terumah” by means of action – that action which is stated in the verse: and they shall take for me a donation [terumah]. For the soul of Israel is called terumah as it is written, Israel is holy to Hashem, His first fruits (Jer 2:3), and terumah is also called “first” (Deut 18:4). By means of taking from every man etc., they will reach [a level where] Gd’s Presence [Shechinah] will rest upon them, and this is what it says: take My donation. For the Shechinah is called “Gd’s terumah.” Those who understand will understand.
There is a lot to unpack here. To begin with, the Hebrew word reishit / “first” can mean “best,” as in “first quality” or “first rate.” Also, the root of the word terumah is “to uplift.” Apparently there is an aspect of the soul which is called terumah, or upliftment, and this attribute is stimulated by “uplifting” the material in some way, to a higher level of holiness. In our case, it meant donating the various material objects to the construction of the Mishkan, that is, dedicating them to a structure that would be used to bring the nation and its individuals closer to Gd.
Gd is infinite and we are finite, so the gap will always be infinite between us. However, by means of our donations, which uplift us, Gd as it were descends and “dwells among us” (cf. 25:8), that is, the Shechinah (from the root “to dwell,” i.e. the immanent presence of Gd) rests on the nation. Now one would think that this resting of Gd’s presence on finite people would be a descent, rather than an elevation, but apparently this is not the case, because the Shechinah, according to Or haChaim, is called “Gd’s terumah,” or Gd’s elevation. Somehow in coming closer to humans, Gd is elevated, as it were.
I want to emphasize that our Sages are not engaging in cute word play here. The Hebrew language is held by our tradition to have an intimate relationship between the sounds, the words, and the various grammatical forms on the one hand, and their referents, i.e. the “real” objects they represent. Words are not arbitrary in Hebrew; rather, they capture in their vibratory qualities the basic vibratory qualities of the objects whose “names” they are. Thus, when our Sages liken part of our soul to part of Gd through a similar word, they are pointing out that on a very deep level, those two are the same thing in the sense that they have the same vibratory structure.
I think we can sum up our discussion very simply now. Terumah is the way by which Gd and human beings come closer together, and that coming closer together elevates both. We see this dynamic in our own relationships. It is by giving to one another that love grows and we come closer and closer together, and the forging of that bond elevates both partners. In the case of Gd’s relationship with us, the mutual giving, even if it is so terribly lopsided, brings us closer together and elevates both parties. Humans are obviously elevated by coming close to Gd. But Gd is also elevated, so to speak, by having a sanctuary where he can dwell in this imperfect world. No longer is Gd “confined” to the transcendent. Now He has assumed his rightful place as King over all he has created.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshat Terumah
Terumah” means “gift”or “offering.”  In this parshah, Gd asks our ancestors to give a gift of an offering from their heart and then He gives the Great Gift of detailed instructions for building a Sanctuary so that our ancestors will see Him dwelling within the Sanctuary, so that He “may dwell in their midst.”  The detailed instructions make it clear that the Sanctuary is an expression of the same pattern that is present in the universe and in the human body. In the human body, for example, Gd created 248 limbs which correspond to the 248 positive commandments of the Bible – in the Sanctuary, there were 48 beams, 100 hooks and 100 loops.
Obviously, Gd is Everywhere, Omnipresent – He dwells everywhere so this statement “may dwell in their midst” means that the harmony between their open hearts and the Sanctuary created in part by their offerings will be so great it will resonate with the personalities and physiologies of all who enter, even our ancestors who just a few days before were terrified by the sound of the Lord’s voice.
Neither modern synagogues – for example, Beth Shalom – nor modern homes seem to be built according to the plan of the Sanctuary so what can we do in order to be aware of Gd’s dwelling within our synagogues, our homes, our minds, feelings, egos, bodies?
The key seems to be in Gd’s command to Moses:
“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”
By behaving with generosity to all, we make offerings to Gd because “love thy neighbor as thyself – Self – “is inextricably intertwined with “love the Lord, thy Gd, with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy might.”
Another way to make offerings to Gd and to be aware of Gd’s Presence is through the daily prayers of our religion: waking, morning, afternoon, evening and bedtime. These have the value of opening our hearts even though we may be fatigued or stressed and the Joy of Gd’s Presence enters into the words and to our awareness.
A third way is to come to our synagogue: personally, I feel magnetically drawn to our synagogue, especially to the Torah Scrolls and so I come regularly.
Whatever way we can offer to Gd, let us offer and let us be fully aware of Gd’s Presence dwelling within us and around us.
Baruch HaShem