Looking for some new thoughts on this week’s Torah reading? In this series, Daniel unpacks some of the questions that we can ask about the stories in the Torah. Below are his reflections on Parshat Terumah:
This week’s parsha contains two of my favorite Jewish themes. In this parsha, God asks the Israelites to contribute their gold, silver, copper, and other high value items in order to build the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle. Then, God gives Moses specific instructions and specifications on how to build the Mishkan so that it can be dismantled, transported, and reassembled as the Israelites journey through the desert towards the land of Israel.
The first important theme in this parsha can be found in its name: Terumah. In Hebrew, the word terumah means contribution. This is an extremely simple, yet fundamental, part of Jewish life: the idea that in order for our community to flourish, each person must contribute. We even have a ceremony that celebrates the commencement of each Jewish teen's ability to begin to contribute to the community: a bar/bat mitzvah. This can be found throughout Jewish life – from the need for ten people to form a minyan (quorum) in order to pray, to our prayer structure where each blessing must have someone to say amen in response. Each person brings their own background, their own personal prayers, and their own voice to the table, and the community cannot thrive without each individual contribution to the greater whole.
The second theme that resonates for me is Judaism’s portability. Moses and the Israelites are commanded to build the mishkan so that it can transported from place to place as easily as possible. I believe that Judaism is constructed in a way that allows us to bring it with us to any place that we travel. We can bring with us the values we receive from the Torah, as well as the stories and traditions that we learn from our community.
These two ideas allow each Jewish person to evolve and grow, while still being able to immerse themselves in Jewish life. No matter where a person is on their Jewish journey, their changing ideas and understanding of Judaism does not affect their ability to contribute to the community. Both contribution and portability allow flexibility for each person to live a fulfilling Jewish life, wherever they are in the world. Just as we can pack up the mishkan and bring it where ever our journey takes us, we can take all elements of our Jewish life with us wherever we go, and use them to inform our lives. As we go into Shabbat this week, let’s all take time to reflect on what we try to bring to our own Jewish communities, and how we bring Judaism with us throughout our lives.