Reflections on Parashat Terumah
By Rabbi David Soloff, Chief Executive Officer
Sandwiched between the re-telling of the Revelation at Sinai and the description of the Golden Calf incident are Terumah and then Tzaveh. Terumah includes instructions about the Tabernacle to be built in the desert followed by Tzaveh with the priestly assignments and duties.
Jewish literacy demands that we try to understand each text in its context and unpack how those who first heard these words might have understood them. However we do not stop with this first level of reading. As heirs to generations of readers, writers, and teachers we can engage with these Torah texts through many lenses. Chapter 25:1-9 is one of those sections of Torah that has inspired bookshelves of reflections and commentaries. One of my favorites is Studies in Shemot, by Nehama Leibowitz, for the terrific commentaries with lots of references for further reading on these specific verses.
In 25:8 we read:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם
And let them make for Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.
Nehama brings these questions: How does this story fit between Sinai and the Golden Calf? In what ways does the language of building the Mikdash parallel the language used in the beginning of Beresheet in the Creation Story? What does it mean for G-d to dwell in a Mikdash? Enjoy the exploration as you look for the answers in the Humash and beyond.
For a moment I suggest that we look carefully at the word Mikdash. The Mikdash in Parshat Terumah refers to the Tabernacle to be built and assembled in the desert. Mikdash in King Solomon’s time refers to the Bet HaMikdash, the Temple to be built in Jerusalem. With the emergence of the early synagogue and then after the second Temple is destroyed, we read about the Mikdash becoming the Bet Knesset and the Mikdash M’at becoming the Jewish household. Under the Huppah the Bride and Groom are married in a Mikdash M’at, which then becomes their Jewish home.
The Mikdash becomes the sacred space in Jewish life. This word, this concept of Mikdash, has traveled through time and geography to accompany Jews wherever we might be.
Our text in Terumah is filled with details, almost blueprints, for designing Jewish sacred space in that time. For the past three summers I have visited numerous overnight camps in northern Wisconsin and day camps in cities across the Midwest. There is something very special about visiting a Jewish camp and seeing a mezuzah at the entrance, an Israeli flag flying along with the American flag, a piece of sculpture depicting Jewish history or images of modern Israel.
Ramah Wisconsin is thoughtful about the details for making our spaces a Mikdash for our community. When you enter camp you see a beautiful mezuzah and the staff in the Welcome Center greet you with “Shalom!” All around camp, Jewish art created by campers and staff adorns the outer walls of many buildings. One hears Hebrew songs and conversation and sees Hebrew signs. Inside the dining halls, the Hadrei Ochel, the meals begin with HaMotzi and finish with Birkat HaMazon. The multipurpose spaces that also house morning tefillah (prayer) groups are filled with images made by campers interpreting Jewish themes.
Think of the challenge of transforming 150 acres in the middle of the Northwoods – filled with 500 kids and 200 staff, thunderstorms and rainbows, a climbing wall and softball field – into a Mikdash. Can it be done?
For the answer, let’s look to the beginning of our text in Terumah 25:2, “You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” The genius of this concept is that the Mikdash is not only built by the leaders. It is the people of the community bringing their gifts together that makes the Mikdash become reality. Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and Ramah Day Camp build our Mikdash with each of the campers and each of the staff bringing their gifts every summer. There is intentionality about this.
During Israeli dancing on Friday afternoon, at Kabbalat Shabbat davening by the lake, when Family Camp gathers for Havdalah, when Tikvah and Atzmayim participants come together for a Shabbaton with their friends, everyone is making a gift to build a Mikdash at Ramah.
The command to build a Mikdash taught by Moshe to B’nai Yisrael at the beginning of our formation as a Jewish people is a command we hear today. It is a guiding principle for all of our work in Ramah.
Hodesh Tov v’ Shabbat Shalom