By Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
This week’s Torah portion is Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19.
How many of us are Zoomed out? In the beginning of Zoom world, it was exciting. I even enjoyed not having to drive to meetings. Yet, as the months dragged on, it became tedious and lonely.
We are fortunate to live in such a dynamic Jewish community. If someone is seeking to become involved it is available online. In a way, the Jewish community has created a communal mishkan, a tabernacle.
Terumah describes the building of the mishkan. The Israelites are told to bring gifts — terumah — to construct the mishkan. Many have questioned why God demands the Israelites to build this traveling ark that has to be shlepped everywhere. Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) wrote that God did not need the ark to be built, but the people needed it as a physical reminder that God was in their midst.
The Israelites constantly forgot how good they had it since being freed from slavery in Egypt. They blamed Moses for their troubles and remembered Egypt through the lens of nostalgia. According to this commentary, God realized that the Israelites needed a physical reminder of the wonders that had occurred and those still promised.
The Israelites were given the instruction, “V’asu li mikdash” — “Make unto Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) taught that this verse relates to Creation in that Terumah parallels Bereshit, the first Torah portion. Just like the Children of Israel contributed to the building of the mishkan, we participate in the building of sacred space and time whenever we interact with one another. We join into partnership with God through participating in modern day Creation and ensure that Judaism will continue from generation to generation. We also teach that Judaism is not just a Shabbat experience but a means of living one’s life.
Through our actions of partnering with God to bring righteousness and justice into our world, we help bring God into our midst every day and create a modern mishkan through acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world), including acts of social action and social justice. The terumah that we bring to our community is our dedication, hard work and innate talents. It is our enthusiasm and passion, our hearts and our intellect and, during COVID-19, our tears. In other words, we bring ourselves. By giving of ourselves, we are participating in the instruction of “V’asu li mikdash” in our world today. We are creating something more than just a structure. We are creating holy time and sacred space, even on Zoom. Unimaginable to our ancestors, we have figured out how to create a mishkan for our community even though we cannot gather together physically.
Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is the interim senior rabbi of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation in Baltimore.