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Taste of Torah: Terumah

Parashat Terumah, known for its detailed laundry list of instructions for the construction of the Mishkan, begins in a slightly different tone than the verses that follow: God requests that B’nai Yisrael build the Mishkan as a willing offering from their hearts.

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ 

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ 

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.

Exodus 25:1-2

While what follows are exact instructions for each and every step of the Mishkan’s construction —from which materials in what sizes to the exact measurements of each part of the structure itself—the fundamental message remains: this must come from an honest and heartfelt desire on the people’s part to make this offering in the first place.

How might we reconcile these two distinct expressions of giving as presented in the text—bringing from the generosity of one’s heart and bringing from a desire to follow God’s instructions? In her publication, The Five Books of Moses: Contemporary Issues and Classic Perspectives, the late great theologian Rabbi Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, z”l’, wrote:

“Each person has the potential to give something unique, a distinct contribution offered toward building the sacred enclosure. This act of giving contains two discreet and connected kinds of investigations: Discovering what is one’s unique contribution; and, at the same time, assessing the offerings and contributions of the others such that one’s own contribution will complement the others, and it will even be possible to build the Mishkan.”

Indeed, perhaps this is the core of what it means for us humans to be God’s partners: the need to feel called to bring our own terumah—the offerings of our own free will—combined with a need for Divine guidance so that our offerings will be effective in creating a better world. After all, the text implies, what use are all of these prescribed gifts—the gold and copper, the silk and the wool, the spices and the wood—if they’re not given in tandem with our own heart’s desire to be part of the divine process? 

May we each learn to connect our own gifts to that which is greater than ourselves: to the Divine vision of a more just world, and the community’s potential to realize that vision.