Terumah is about building. It is about bringing gifts of the heart to help create the mishkan. It has detailed instructions as to what materials are to be brought, and where materials are to be placed. All of this in the service of God who instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to “bring me gifts” (25:2) and that those gifts should be from “every person whose heart so moves him”. The detailed instructions in the portion reflect the building of the Temple. Contained with the passage is a famous verse which, not surprisingly, has meaning for us.
“Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (25:8) The classic commentaries speak to the idea that God seeks not to dwell in the building, but among the people who come to the building. How timely! In an age of zoom services and education most of us have not been inside the synagogue for almost a year. Yet, more people are attending programs. Slowly pundits are looking at the reality that many have gotten used to the fact that the building is just a symbol. Questions abound as to what will emerge after the pandemic. Do we need all that space?
But what of that verse in 25:8 now? Let me suggest that we think about that idea of creating a sanctuary not as a call to build an edifice, but a call to build our souls. Yes, so many of our generation have discovered that their spiritual life has been enhanced as they have had time to examine what they believe and why, all in the privacy of their own souls. They miss community but not the edifice. So we are being called to create that sanctuary of the soul. We are being called to ask where God dwells among us? As a person, as a society? What type of sanctuary have we created for us, for our society? Is it one of holiness? Is it a sanctuary that is open to the sacred? That is what this portion is calling out to us. How shall we answer?
Rabbi Richard F Address