Emanuel Synagogue

Parasha Terumah

This week’s parasha teaches us the importance and purpose of building the mishkan, the portable tabernacle/sanctuary, as well as the many instructions on how to build it, what to include and where to get it from. These instructions are very prescriptive, and we get an accurate picture of what was entailed in this huge project.

One of the most intriguing elements in the whole process concerns the way the project was sponsored or paid for. The parasha opens with; “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 them.” (Ex. 25:1-2). This is followed by a specific list of acceptable gifts.

The requirement for contributions is an interesting one. All donations would be accepted, but only from those hearts so moves them, meaning that their donation should be given freely, not begrudgingly or being forced to do so. The commandment to contribute is conditional on the giver wanting to contribute to the “capital campaign”. Why is this requirement brought into the equation? Surely it is better to make sure that the mishkan is built, no matter who contributes to its construction. We learn here that in order to fully support (and donate to) a special cause, such as a synagogue, we have to feel a strong connection to that cause or organisation. Believing in the purpose of the project warms our hearts, and we experience a deep sense of pride in contributing to the project. 

Rabbi Berel Wein explains; “The demand of the Torah is not only to give from our heart but to give our heart itself to the exalted cause and spiritual greatness of the tabernacle/mishkan. It is not a donation that the Torah asks of us, rather it is a commitment of self that is demanded”. 

It is more than simply giving (be it monetarily or with our time, or both), it is underpinning our belief in the project, stating that we want to see it succeed, because we need the project even more than it needs us.

This is reinforced by the very next verse; “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8).  The mishkan being built is more than a building, it is a place for us to connect with our community, and with God. It is a place for us to draw inspiration from, seeking to promote the ideals of our community, and do the work we so strongly believe in. After all, that is the key purpose of establishing the mishkan, the physical presence. It is there so that we can be inspired by divine inspiration to do all that we do. Without the building, it is very difficult for the community to thrive, but without the community, the building is just another structure.

This Sunday we will gather to honour our Heritage Sanctuary, and commence its restoration and upgrade. Please join us (in person or online) as we celebrate our connection to the building of a mishkan, inviting all to participate in living out the messages from this week’s parasha. 

Shabbat Shalom.
Rev Sam Zwarenstein