Thursday, March 02, 2006

The People's Torah: Terumah

As many of you may know, Shalom Bochner runs a Torah class every Wednesday (4pm at Stevenson) called Kosher BLT (Bagels, Lox, and Torah). There are a number of students who take the class for credit, and they earn part of their credit by reflecting on the weekly parsha and turning those reflections in a the end of the quarter. I've had a vision to have some of those students submit their work to the JewniProj to have it published, and I'm proud to announce, this week we have our first submission, and it's from fourth-year student Erin Mann. Thank you Erin and yasher koach!
In this week's Torah Portion Terumah (Exodus 25), G-d gives Moses extensive instructions for building the Tabernacle. The portion starts with G-d speaking to Moses: "Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering." For me, the troubling part of this passage is the idea that the Israelites only needed to donate gold, silver, yarns, etc if their hearts inspired them. Aren't we, as Jews, commanded and obligated to give Tzedakah? Elsewhere in Exodus, every Israelite, regardless of class, is taxed a half-shekel to fund the supporting walls of the Mishkan. However, in Exodus 25:2, the gift giving is not compulsory but is dependent on the heart.

By presenting two modes of giving - to (1) obligatorily give a half-shekel for a supporting beam and to (2) willingly give martial gifts for decoration - the text is setting up a model for successfully creating a Jewish place of worship. One is obligated, as part of the community, to give at least a half-shekel so the organization can support itself. A synagogue will collapse if there are no member dues to fund the basic needs of the congregation. However, a synagogue is only a building without special objects and even decorations to bring it to a higher level. Likewise, if one's heart does not give meaning to the objects, they are only objects. G-d did not want the Israelites' gold, yarn, or wood if those items were not meaningful enough to become a part of the holy Tabernacle. Further in the text Moses receives so many donations that he tells the Israelites that they can stop giving. This completes the example of the model congregation: in the ideal world not only does everyone obligatorily give the half-shekel to support the organization, but everyone's heart also moves him to go above and beyond to build a beautiful, meaningful place of worship.

Thank you for your insights Erin, and if any other students are interested in submitting your thoughts on the Parsha, or anything for that matter (and you see we really will post it!), email JewniProj AT gmail DOT com.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your idea that beautification requires more than just fulfilling your obligation.

Something that caught my eye in Terumah was the line (Exodus 25:8): "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst." It's very telling that this whole parsha is dedicated to the building of this physical thing that will be the center of Jewish ritual life, and yet G-d doesn't say "Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in it" but instead "I will dwell in their midst," "their" being the Children of Israel, the Jews.

I think the essential point is, G-d doesn't really need a Mishkan to dwell in; it's more for our sake. G-d, on the other hand, really wants to dwell within each and every Jew. The Mishkan, in all it's intricacies, is only a reflection of the spiritual building and elevation that each person can create in him or herself.

Thu Mar 02, 09:12:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

You are absolutely right. This is indeed in part why the 39 melachos, the 39 forbidden activities that are forbidden on Shabbos, are those 39 activities that were employed in building the mishkan. For one day a week the shechina rests in us, so we no longer need to "build" the mishkan, which is a reflection of our selves.

Fri Mar 03, 12:29:00 PM 2006  

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