Yom Shishi, 14 AdarI 5781
Purim Friday, 26 February 2021
Parashat Terumah 2015

Parashat Terumah
20th February 2015

Apart from one interlude dealing with the story of the Golden Calf, the second half of the Book of Exodus is preoccupied with the construction of the Tent of Meeting – the mobile, portable tent of worship, ostensibly erected and dismantled as the Israelites set off and encamped on their forty year journey in the wilderness.

Some have pointed out that these chapters are about as interesting as an instruction sheet for a DIY piece of Ikea furniture.  What is one to make of the exact details and instructions of the Tent of Meeting: its external structure and measurements, its building materials and interior furnishings, the ark, table, menorah, frames, textiles, altar and enclosure? And that is only in this week’s portion. Next week’s will offer us yet more.

These chapters may not be quite as exciting as the patriarchal stories of Genesis or the earlier chapters of Exodus with the account of slavery and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, but there are some significant themes that have deep relevance to us today.  For we can translate the symbolism of the Tabernacle and what it stands for into the significance our own synagogues and communities have for us today and thereby translate those values that were core to the Israelite community in ancient times.

What are those values?

1) The Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting represents the sacred symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people.  The Tent of Meeting is the forerunner of the Temple and the synagogue – the meeting place for the Jewish people.  The synagogue - a focal point of the Jewish community is a spiritual centre connecting Jews of all generations and ages to our history, people, covenant and to God.  It is our place of prayer, learning and meeting; it is, says our Siddur, where we find inner peace, learn to understand our heritage and where we can share our joys and sorrows.

2) These chapters focus on the skill and wisdom of those who physically work together to build the Mishkan.  Those of us involved in creating and nurturing communities are working together to fulfil a common goal; not only the maintenance of a physical building if we have one, but the building and care of a community through our organisational labours.  The most significant verse in the opening chapter of this sedra is often quoted in relation to God’s presence among the people: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  Note, say the commentators, that it does not say “Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in it”, but “in them” or “among them”, to teach you that each and every human being must build a sanctuary in their own heart, only then will the Holy One dwell in their midst.

3) The centre of the Mishkan is the Ark of the Covenant and the focus of the ark in the synagogue with its Sifre Torah (scrolls) remind us of the centrality of Torah – learning and teaching the values of Judaism and bringing them into the world.

4) The name of this week’s portion, Terumah, means ‘gifts’ – the gifts that are to be brought to Moses to build the Tabernacle.  The building of a community – both its physical presence and the support and presence of its members is dependent on the gifts, generosity and freewill offerings of all of us. It is in giving of ourselves that we are enabled to create the sacred space in which we can seek God’s presence, come together as a congregation and learn to bring our values of generosity, compassion and justice into the world – so that they are not simply platforms and words, but are embodied in our daily life and conduct.