Terumah Torah Portion Sermon at RIJC, February 16, 2024
This week’s Torah portion begins with these words: “God spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts. ‘You shall accept gifts for me from every person whose heart so moves him.’”
What kind of gifts were our ancestors asked to offer to God? God is very specific about what kinds of gifts. God asks people to donate material to build the mishkan, which means tabernacle. It is the very first synagogue.
God asks that people donate wood for the ark. The ark will house the holy Torah, which the Israelites have recently received at Mt. Sinai.
There will be a menorah in the sanctuary, so people are asked to contribute metal with which to construct it. Moses asks them for contributions of oil, to kindle the lights of the menorah.
As I said God, used these words when speaking to Moses: “You shall accept gifts for me from every person…”. I like to stress that God directs that everyone contribute to the building of this holy place. Not just the wealthy, not just the educated, not only the priestly class, or just the young or just the old, but every single person.
God knows, perhaps better than we ourselves know, that each one of us has something valuable to offer up to our community. We can all offer something of ourselves which helps to create our holy mishkan, our holy RIJC Family.
Each of us has some special gift that is our unique strength. No matter how special and wonderful other people may seem, and they may indeed be wonderful and special, you too, are just as wonderful and just as special. You are able to share your unique perspective, talents and insights in a combination that no one else can.
We may feel funny or shy about giving of ourselves. We may feel we do not have anything of value to give to our community. However, we all have a tremendous amount to offer. If we only had the courage and self-confidence to believe that this is so, we could help to increase the beauty and holiness of our already beautiful and holy community. Just as our ancestors helped create the first sanctuary, you can help our holy sanctuary grow and develop.
How can you do this? You can continue to come to Shabbat services, and you can bring relatives, friends, and neighbors with you. Let them see what a warm and welcoming group of people we are. You can volunteer your time and energy towards an event here. You can make a monetary donation in honor or in memory of a loved one. You can donate beverages and food.
As we read in this week’s Torah portion, there is one condition attached to giving: The person who gives must be someone whose heart moves him or her. People can’t be forced to give a gift. God knows that the best gifts come from the heart. The road to emotional and spiritual connections is not always easy or straightforward. Those who have experienced moments of connection to another person know that such a joyous moment comes only as a result of openheartedness. Likewise, those who have felt a connection to God often compare it to the feeling of intimacy they have experienced with human beings. With our hearts open, we have the chance to connect to people and to God.
The Torah was written thousands of years ago. What is so miraculous is that what was important at that time is still important to us. We still look to our temple as a place to find God. We still value our holy Torah.
Many of you have heard me speak about Judaism’s belief in angels, and about my personal belief in them. Throughout the Torah and the Hebrew Bible in general, we find many angels. They are beings that are part divine and part human. The angels serve as messengers of God. They also help God protect us from harm.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that there will be a depiction of two cherubs on the ark of the mishkan. They are there to protect the Torah, which is in the ark. We don’t have a depiction of angels protecting our Torahs. We have a locked cage for them. Maybe we also have invisible angels protecting them.
A Chasidic Rabbi once asked, "Why does the Torah say, 'Build a sanctuary for me and I will dwell in them (which is plural)?' Wouldn't it be more correct to say, 'build a sanctuary and I will dwell in it (which is singular)?’” He answered his own question, saying that God really desires that there be a sanctuary in each one of us, so that God may dwell within us.
Another, rabbi, Rabbi Sara Pasche-Orlow said, “When we act toward
others with generosity of spirit, we create a place in our lives which is a mishkan, a place where God dwells with us. If we reach beyond ourselves and do our part to help the greater good, we create a sanctuary to bring God’s presence into our lives.”
I believe that God does live within our temple family, which is a lot broader than our mere building. God lives in the connections between our members. Love dwells in the friendship, caring and love that exists in our temple family.
Thousands of years after the Torah was written, God still wants us to give of ourselves, so that God will dwell in our midst. God wants us to continue to help keep our Temple family strong. God wants us to give in whatever ways we can. We can donate our time and our ideas. We can contribute with our membership dues and with our additional donations. We can give with our caring and our love.
I strongly believe that God wants and needs to be with us, just as we want and need to have God with us. Whenever we give to one another and make connections with one another, we are inviting God to be with us. Let us continue to invite God to dwell within our holy mishkan, within our holy Temple Family.