Parashat T’rumah: Bringing Gifts

Posted on February 16, 2024 by Ed Malbeg

The Israelites, so recently slaves forming muddy clay and straw into bricks under the lash of their Egyptian taskmasters so that grand monuments might be built for the gods of Egypt (including the Pharaoh), are now bidden to offer gold, silver, fine linens and precious jewels to build a portable sanctuary for God. Why? Didn’t Adonai’s presence on Mt. Sinai provide sufficient awe? Weren’t the stark colors and vistas of the desert wilderness at sundown and sunup enough to stir the people’s souls with a sense of wonder at all Creation? If Adonai could be found everywhere, why do the people – and why does Adonai – need to come to a specific ornate place?

The 19th Century Biblical commentator Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal) explained: “It says (Ex. 25:8) Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among, or within, them – in them, the people, not in it, the sanctuary.”

In other words, what invited God’s presence is not the inspiring structure we create, but what we show ourselves to be in creating it. In building the sanctuary, the people of Israel learned what they, as God’s partners could accomplish.

Even though some of its structure and ritual objects are reflected in today’s synagogue furnishings, the Mishkan was not a house of worship. It was off limits to all but the highest echelon of priests It was an elaborate and costly residence for the divine presence, a residence to be prepared and maintained in each individuals’ soul.

In the Wilderness, the Israelites pooled their resources to create this Mikdash, the distinct place of separation for Adonai and the consciousness of the Adonia’s spirit.

The Israelites brought precious metals, gems and spices; we bring instead the gifts of heart, mind, spirit, and time.

We bring the compassion we show our loved ones, the patience we extend to our friends, the support we offer to those in need.

We bring the gifts of our intellects – the study or Torah, of Talmud, of the many guides bequeathed by our tradition.

And as Rabbi Stephanie Alexander has written: we bring the gift of faith – in our collective and individual powers to change the world around us, we bring the gift of hope – that some day this will be the world that Adonai wanted to create.

The challenges keeping us from that world seem daunting at the moment, especially in the state of Israel. The Jewish people everywhere yearn for a sense of re-invigoration. The Israeli educator and blogger Shalom Orzach sees this parasha as showing us a way. Just as T’rumah, giving gifts and building the sanctuary, re-invigorated the newly emancipated Israelites, giving of ourselves and working for the rebuilding of Jewish institutions everywhere will galvanize our efforts to remake the world. “As was the case with the Tabernacle, our anguish is transformed to awe.”

The details lovingly recounted of the construction are impressive, but the simple statement of Adonai’s purpose is overpowering: “Let them make a sanctuary (Mikdash), that I may dwell among them.”


Kein Y’hi Ratzon

Ed Malbeg

Guest Service Leader