Thursday, February 10, 2005

Parashat Terumah

Happy Adar!!!

Book of Exodus, Chapter 25, begins with the formula: "And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying..." which is the standard introduction to new mitzvot. Tha Abarbanel observes that this phrase does not occur again for five chapters. He reads the entire section from here until Parashat Ki Tissa as a single long command from G-d to Moshe, laying out the the design of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle we are to build in the desert. And the command to create the Mishkan opens with a curious expression: (Chapter 25, verse 2) "Speak to Bnei Israel, let them take for me a contribution / offering; from each man whose heart will be generous they shall take my contribution / offering."

In last week's parasha, we saw Moshe so motivated to receive Torah that he tried his own hand at drafting the text. And the midrash tells us that G-d did not give Torah until Bnei Israel came thronging to Mt Sinai, all of us passionate and desperate to receive Torah, and nothing else. And the Midrash tells us that, on our way to Sinai, as we approached the mountain, all our limbs straightened -- cripples and the maimed were cured, and so all of us were able to stand at the foot of Sinai and receive the word of G-d. And the text tells us that we were so prepared that even before G-d handed the stone tablets to Moshe, we cried with one voice, "Everything that G-d has said, we will do, and we will hear!", that we were willing to take on all the Mitzvot, even those we did not know.

This is full generosity. For what is giving? The Rambam gives us stages in the giving of Tzedakah -- charity -- starting from those who give only grudglingly, and only after being asked and prodded repeatedly, and who still have a bad attitude about those to whom they give. At the top of the chain are those who, unsaught, onasked, give enough to enable a poor person to become financially independent -- they set people up in business, they help people get college degrees, and all without asking for a reward, for mostly these people give anonymously. And those who are truly generous give with the intention of attaining their goal, rather than of giving a fixed amount.

And so G-d specifies "All those whose hearts will make them generous". Torah is an undertaking best suited for those who are willling to give their all.

The act of making the Mishkan occupies the balance of tthe book of Exodus, and there is a very real way in which it can be seen as THE theme of the balance of Shemot / Exodus: all the narrative can be seen as interwoven with the ultimate setting up of the Mishkan which will take place at the very end of the book, a re-enactment of G-d's first act of creation.

The Mishkan is built in a three-stage process. Today's parashah gives the design, and there are firey midrashim about G-d showing Moshe heavenly drawings, a menorah of pure flame, and the like, when Moshe asks for clarification of the instructions he is being given.

The actual fashioning of the components of the Mishkan takes places in Parashat Vayakhel, and the construction is completed in Parashat Pequdei. These are the last two parshiot of Shemot, and are often read together.

Today we are focused only on the concept. We are given the blueprint for the Mishkan -- much as the midrash tells us G-d took the blueprint for Creation out of Torah, we are now given, in Torah, the blueprint for our own re-enactment of Creation.

And even though the mishkan will be built as a physical structure -- and the Torah is acutely aware of the tension inherent in the dual system, the world of Space Time and Motion, paired with the world of spirit where none of these exists -- the ultimate lesson for us is the spiritual one.

Watch closely, as you read the Parashah. Look at what stands at the heart of the heart of the mishkan. Do you see? Can we see Sacred Space? And this is the ultimate message of Torah: that when we learn in our hearts to create sanctified space, that is where G-d will meet us.

shabbat shalom

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