Yom Shabbat, 23 Av 5779
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Parashat Terumah 2013

Parashat Terumah
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

15 February 2013

In last week’s Shabbat service, our Bat Mitzvah chose a parashah (immediately proceeding this week’s sidrah - Terumah) focussing on Moses receiving the tablets of stone from God on Mount Sinai, with Aaron, Nadav, Avihu and 70 elders stationed half-way up the mountain (that one always makes me think of A.A. Milne’s ‘Halfway up the Stairs!’) and the Israelites stood at the foot.

Noting the parallels to the Temple Mount and the hierarchy of nearness to the Holy of Holies and its rabbinic interpretation found in the choreography of the Torah Service, we themed our service through Shir Ha’ma’a lot, the Songs of Ascent. Berlin and Brettler in the wonderful ‘Jewish Study Bible,’ note of these Psalms, that, “They are the clearest collection of psalms found in the Psalter. While other collections exist, they are not found in such a single block but are identified by a common ascription. It is likely that these 15 psalms were already a unit when they were incorporated into the Psalter.”

Although we are not sure exactly what was meant by Shir Ha’ma’a lot, the Songs of Ascent, the word ma’alah usually translated as ‘ascent’ was perhaps interpreted as a ‘step’ by the early Rabbis as they connect these 15 psalms to the 15 steps of the Temple in Jerusalem. Others have interpreted them variously as songs of return from exile in Babylon, related to the pilgrim festivals when all the Israelites would ascend with their offerings of the first of their produce; and still more in a spiritual sense of the ascent of an individual towards God.·

There is no conclusive rationale but I have to say that I am compelled towards the notion of these Shir Ha’ma’a lot, these Songs of Ascent relating to a place that represented intense anticipation, excitement and the inclusion of the whole community: Perhaps even a time or place when gifts (Terumah) are bought to the Sanctuary, whether it was in the wilderness or the Temple of Jerusalem, or today, our own Synagogues. If one looks at the first lines of a few of the Psalms, one finds inclusivity in the message as well. There is a Shir Ha’ma’a lot for every mood that one might oneself in:·

I hope that most our members come into their Synagogues in happiness: “I rejoiced when they said to me, “We are going to the House of the Eternal.” However, some might come in need of healing, “In my distress I cried out to God, who answered me”…“I turn my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?” Still others to find God on their spiritual journey, “To You, enthroned on high, I turn my eyes.” Some to seek strength for their work in society, “Unless the Eternal One builds the house, its builds toil in vain”…”Happy are those who fear the Eternal One, who follow God’s paths;” and those just because this is their community, “How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together.”·

As we consider the environments in which we can ascend for all our needs, of celebration and comfort of the spirit let us acknowledge that our Synagogues, indeed all the institutions of the Jewish Community are maintained by Terumah, the gifts made by all those whose heart so moves them. May we always be numbered among them, those whose hearts, minds and spirits are moved as we attend our Synagogues and communal institutions, to bring our Terumah, our gifts, our investment for the future.