It’s time to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, so God will have a place to live among the Israelites.
There is a lot written about opening one’s heart to love – how can love find you if you’re not open to it? We build the walls, and they get thicker and stronger until we allow someone to find the miniscule crack that will expand to bring the wall down.
That’s not what Terumah, this week’s portion is about. Although Jewish thought teaches about letting God into our individual hearts, it’s really not about a personal connection here – it’s community. Notice the last word – “them”…b’tocham. Not I will dwell within you, but I will dwell within them. It’s almost as if God is asking permission to enter the Israelite space. Build Me a place so I can stay with you all. I won’t come in unless you make space for Me. And if you really want Me, here’s what My space should look like. Details to follow.
The specs that God gives are incredibly detailed. But running throughout the entire text is the idea that this is the people’s task to build. Everyone who wants in can find a job to do in creating the Mishkan. It’s the ultimate community-effort couched in the ultimate DIY manual.
Rabbi Josh Feigelson, in his post about Terumah, writes: “In an excellent recent book, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that the mishkan is a blueprint for community-building. Even after all the miracles of the Exodus, even after the revelation at Sinai, what truly binds the people together is the act of creating something as a community–the act of shared contribution and building. The midrash reminds us of this, and how desperately both we and God need that experience, sharing in the act of creation. That is the fulfillment of our role as tzelem elohim, God’s images on earth.” Josh Feigelson http://joshfeigelson.wordpress.com/
Terumah is like an earthly Genesis. God created the holy and unique space of our world so we can dwell here, and now we are to create a holy and unique space for God. God created a place for us to live among others, and is now letting us know that God’s work isn’t done. As a group, we need to make room for that same creative presence, generating spirituality.
We can walk through this world with a personal connection to God, all by ourselves, fully engaged but insulated. That insulation may keep us warm individually , but again, Terumah tells us to insulate ourselves even moreso by surrounding ourselves with people who are also experiencing connection and engagement. Our personal flames may flicker and grow weak at times. Others can help strengthen it by taking part in building something bigger than ourselves.
We make space for holiness in our communities, and our communities will become holy. It doesn’t have to look like the Mishkan – in fact, it shouldn’t. We have no central Tabernacle now, and that’s ok, because at its core, the Mishkan in Torah was portable. The Israelites took it down, journeyed, made camp, set it up, over and over again, making a sacred community wherever they went.
When we make a sacred space, when we build the permeable walls of a makom kadosh, we are tearing down the more impermeable walls between us, opening up that miniscule crack to let love in. Sinai was a sacred space, but as we learned last week, we don’t live at Sinai. Terumah teaches us to bring Sinai with us, not just through last week’s rules and laws, but by creating space within our greater whole for holiness to live.