Terumah is the portion that greets us this Shabbat. Exodus 25:1-27:9. It begins with God speaking to Moses and having Moses tell the Israelites “to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person who heart so moves him” (25:2). All of this , and more, so that God will have built a sanctuary so that “I may dwell among them” (25:8).
As you may expect, there are myriads of commentaries on this passage. Part of the current conversation among so many of us revolves around what may be implied within these opening verses. What offerings or gifts should we be bringing, as our hearts are moved? What role does the synagogue play in our lives? Is that where our God dwells, or does our sense of the Divine dwell more within us. Indeed, that verse 8 does say that God will dwell “among” them and not “in” them! And then there is that saying that God dwells or resides, or exists wherever we allow God to be.
On a recent road trip for Jewish Sacred Aging®, this idea surfaced again. Eventually, several of the conversations touched on this very present issue for so many of our generation, where does our sense of the sacred reside? Is it is a fixed place, or within our own soul, or both? This led again to those conversations about being spiritual without being “religious” (code language for I do not need a synagogue). Yet, as these conversations continued, there was the realization that the power of synagogue was, in many respects, central to who we are and will be as a community, and thus, as an individual. The fact that the synagogue, (mikdash) remains THE vehicle for the transmission of spiritual pathways. It is because, I am convinced of the power of community, which underscores the need, especially as we get older, of the centrality and need for human relationships.
The community allows for each of us to bring our own “gifts” to a common cause. This “unity of diversity”, which is a strength of Judaism, speaks to the power of the individual when linked with others in the common bond of building and sustaining community. And, despite all the challenges that exist, it is still the religious community, known as the synagogue, that remains that central transmitter of Jewish values and civilization. What is exciting in these times is the creativity and dynamism that now exists in so many variations on what that mikdash may look like. The variations on this theme that now dot our Jewish communal landscape give testimony to the creative power of Jewish survival. The synagogues of 2019 may not look or feel like the synagogues of our youth. That is good. Adaptation and change have been the hallmarks of Jewish history and the keys to our survival. Our current “age of transition” gives us the opportunity to continue to bring our own unique “gifts” of life to what is emerging. Let us not be afraid to do so.
Shalom and Todah
Rabbi Richard F Address