Parshat Terumah: Creating sacred space

Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
Rabbi Jennifer Weiner (David Stuck)

By Rabbi Jennifer Weiner

How many of us are Zoomed out? In the beginning of Zoom world, it was exciting. Yet, as the months dragged on, it became tedious and lonely. We are fortunate in Baltimore to live in such a dynamic Jewish community comprised of congregations belonging to all parts of the spectrum of Judaism and organizations representing a vast array of philosophical stances and offerings. If someone is seeking to become involved in the Jewish community, it is available with organizations shifting their programs to online formats. In a way, the Jewish community has created a communal mishkan, a Tabernacle.

Our weekly Torah portion called Terumah describes the building of the mishkan. In Terumah, the Israelites are told to bring gifts, terumah, in order to construct the mishkan. Many have questioned why G-d demands the Israelites to build this traveling Ark that has to be schlepped everywhere. Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) stated that G-d did not need the Ark to be built, but the people needed it as a physical reminder that G-d was in their midst. The Israelites constantly forgot how good they had it since being freed from slavery in Egypt. According to this commentary, G-d realized that the Israelites needed a physical reminder of the wonders that had occurred and those still promised.

The Israelites are given the instruction, “V’asu Li Mikdash … Make unto Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) taught that this verse relates to Creation in that Terumah parallels Bereshit (the first Torah portion). Just like the children of Israel contributed to the building of the mishkan, we participate in the building of sacred space and time whenever we interact with one another. We join into partnership with G-d through participating in modern day Creation and ensure that Judaism will continue l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. We, also, teach that Judaism is not just a Shabbat experience but a means of living one’s life.

Through our actions of partnering with G-d to bring righteousness and justice into our world, we help bring G-d into our midst every day and create a modern mishkan through acts of tikkun olam. The terumah that we bring to our community is our dedication, hard work and innate talents. It is our enthusiasm and passion, our hearts and our intellect, and, during COVID-19, our tears. In other words, we bring ourselves.

By giving of ourselves, we are participating in the instruction of “V’asu Li Mikdash” in our world today. We are the builders. We are the creators. We are the guarantors. We are creating something more than just a structure. We are creating holy time and sacred space even on Zoom. We have figured out how to create a mishkan for our community even though we cannot gather together physically in person.

Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is the interim senior rabbi of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation in Baltimore.

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