By Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
This week’s Torah portion is Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19.
Have you shopped at IKEA? And if you have, have you ever been able to complete the project exactly as described by the directions?
When looking at the directions, we often need to interpret the pictures and figure out what Piece A is and how to connect it to Piece B. Hopefully, we wind up with a structure that looks like the picture from the directions. Our Torah portion describes the building of the mishkan, or tabernacle, in much the same way.
To construct the mishkan, the Israelites are told to bring gifts — terumah — of purple, blue and crimson material, along with copper, dolphin skins, lapis lazuli, oil and tanned material in order to construct the mishkan.
Many have asked why God demanded the Israelites to build this traveling ark that they had to schlep everywhere. The Portuguese commentator Isaac Abravanel said that it was not that God needed the ark to be built, but that the people needed it as a physical reminder that God was in their midst.
After everything that the Israelites had gone through and all the blessing they had received, they still forgot that it was God who saved them from slavery. The Israelites blamed Moses for their troubles and remembered Egypt nostalgically. They related to God like children: If they were content, they obeyed. If not, they protested.
The Israelites are given the instruction, “V’asu Li mikdash — Make unto Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
Nechama Leibowitz, a modern Israeli commentator and scholar, taught that this verse relates to Creation. In this manner, Terumah parallels Bereshit, the first portion in Torah. Just like the Children of Israel contributed to the building of the mishkan, so, too, do we participate in the building of sacred space and time every time we interact with one another.
We join into partnership with God through participating in modern day creation and ensure that Judaism will continue. We also teach that Judaism is not just a Shabbat experience but a means of living one’s life.
Through our actions of joining with God in creation, we help bring God into our midst. Our work becomes one of bringing a purpose into our world rather than just obligations we must fulfill. The mishkan that we help to create involves texts, Torah and Talmud, Hebrew, prayer and mitzvot.
By giving of ourselves, we are participating in the instruction of “V’asu Li Mikdash.” We are the builders. We are the creators. We are the guarantors. We create a holy time and a sacred space. We weave the blue, crimson and purple threads every time we interact with others.
We complete those structures from IKEA and our imaginations in order to create a sound structure.
Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is the director of the confirmation program at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria. She is also the part-time rabbi at Beth Sholom Temple in Fredricksburg.