Parashat Terumah: A Generous Heart

Posted on February 24, 2023 by Jim Lavranchuk

Terumah 5783

This week we read the nineteenth parashah in the cycle of Torah reading – parashat Terumah starting with Exodus chapter 25, verse 2. The word Terumah is used seventy-six times in the Tanakh which includes the five books of Moses – the Chumash, plus “Prophets” Nevi’im and “Writings” Ketuvim where Terumah is taken by the commentators to refer to “priestly dues” – that which is given to the kohenim and must only be apportioned and  consumed in a state of ritual purity. The root of the word – ר-וּ-ם implies “high-ness” or “to lift up.” Think – Romemu Adonai Eloheinu!” or “Adir bamarom Adonai!” In the ancient ritual sacrificial practice, the shoulder of the ram offering would be set apart and raised up by the priest as the so-called “heave offering” was made in the Temple (capital “T”). The content of the parashah consists of a very detailed account of the components and materials and colors of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle where the priests will conduct the offerings and where the ark of the covenant will be located – so that the Shechinah will dwell within the encampment.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), my dad and I used to build audio amplifiers, radio receivers and other electronic equipment from Heathkit ® kits. Every session would begin with collecting the right number of each part from the kit and laying them out on the bench before beginning any assembly work. If one would carry out the step-by-step instructions with care, there was a very good chance of ending up with a working device and a measure of D-I-Y satisfaction that had few equals.

The details of Terumah include similar instructions regarding which parts shall be made of which materials of which colors and how many of each must be created and where each part shall be placed relative to all the other parts. This message is implicit – “some assembly required!”

There is an alternate purpose which, though unstated, may well be the primary intent of the endeavor and it is revealed in the second verse:

Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me gifts;
you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.

Why include every individual who came out of Egypt and stood at Sinai to witness the revelation of the covenant? Why not delegate the task to a few talented and well-resourced individuals to produce this portable Tabernacle?

Shmuel Rabinovitch – “The Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel,” perhaps ironically, provides a satisfying answer in this year’s February third edition of the The Jerusalem Post:

The greatest danger to sacred sites everywhere is that they become the property of one single person of a small group within the nation. This sort of situation can turn the Mishkan into a place disconnected from wide segments of the nation; a situation that the Torah wished to prevent at all costs.

For evidence of the value of such a connection we can look to the situation in Ukraine. One year ago this week, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin inflicted a second invasion upon Ukraine in an attempt to annex it to Russia and expand his empire, but a single Jewish comedian is holding back the Goliath of Putin’s forces. Why?

Because Putin’s army of conscripts has no skin in the game, no κέφι, no takhles, while President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy (Володимир Олександрович Зеленський) leads an army of parents and siblings and adult children defending their homes and families. They are bound together by family, and nation with a common purpose to repel the invaders, to reclaim their homes and to return the sixteen million Ukrainian refugees to live in peace – And none shall make them afraid. Ken Yehi Ratzon.

Thus far in our story, the Children of Israel have these things in common: their ancestry, four centuries of slavery (nothing hardens the heart like centuries of slavery), an escape from their captors with a divine assist, and the awesome experience of God’s revelation at Sinai, but as the text that follows Terumah will demonstrate, we will need more.

How does one develop the “generous heart” needed to fulfill the mitzvah of Terumah? There is an ancient translation of the Torah called “Targum Yonaton” that contains an interesting enhancement to the translation of verse two:

From every person whose heart inspires him to generosity
– not through violence.

Every contribution accepted for the Mishkan – each Terumah Gedolah – must come from the generosity of the heart, without any trace of coercion.

I would be remiss if I did not link my words to another momentous event. One hundred years ago last Monday our beloved Goldie Mintz was born. Goldie married Ray Taub and they settled in nearby Somerville. Goldie and Ray joined with fourteen other families to bring their Terumah together to build a sanctuary – which eventually became this sanctuary. As one of our contemporary, in house sages Ed Malberg wrote:

The temple’s founders […] joyfully did everything that was needed to build the community, from cleaning the floors [of the room above the A&P], to serving as teachers in the religious school, [to] fundraising, bookkeeping, and cooking. They forged deep friendships and created the vibrant temple community.

Goldie Taub is sure to rank high among the most generous of heart and the most grateful humans that I will ever meet. We all stand upon the shoulders of Goldie and Ray and David and Jane and all those who were there at this congregation’s beginning.

Paraphrasing Rabbi Rabinovitch: The building of the Mishkan is to be done with the cooperation of the entire community because beyond the Mishkan itself, there is an educational goal. God’s will is that all of us partake in the contribution so that the entire people becomes one that acts as an example and symbol to all of humanity in its treatment of ‘the other,’ in sharing in another person’s hardship, in compassion and interpersonal relationships that are “a light unto nations” – a moral torch that illuminates the entire world.

Let us take up the torch that our founders lit for us! Each of us has something only we can give…

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

Make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell (b’tocham) within you

At the risk of repeating myself from my previous drash: “Open your heart … and let ‘em in”

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh”

It STILL ain’t over…

-Jim Lavranchuk

ישראל רונן בן אברהם ושרה