Home / Community / Torah PortionRSS Feed
Gifts to the Tabernacle came from the heart
February 26th, 2009
I Kings 5:26-6:13
At a time when we are hearing the news of expensive government initiatives to save our economy, contemplating our waning savings, and making daily choices to sustain our lives as comfortably as possible during this major recession, this week’s portion brings us an important message.
This portion discusses the establishment of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites built and took with them through the desert, where ritual worship was performed and the tablets were housed.
The discussion ranges from the details of construction to how it should be furnished — from tables and room design, to ritual objects.
It is often noted that the chapters that discuss the Mishkan give elaborate and significant detail, including measurements, colors, and specific materials to be used. This detail even extends to who will be involved: “every person” (Exodus 25:2).
The portion begins: “The Lord 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 him’” (Exodus 25:1-2).
God does not ask here for tzedakah, an obligation, but rather for t’rumah — an offering, a gift. In the Women of Reform Judaism’s “Women’s Torah Commentary,” Denise L. Eger points out that this t’rumah is truly a “freewill offering.”
Unlike other gifts and gestures, this one is not to come “through guilt, coercion or competition.” All the gifts that the Israelites (men and women alike) bring are from the heart, and include luxuries like thread, precious metals, textiles and animal skins.
The significance of this distinction, of giving these items freely, as a gesture of the heart, is magnified by the fact that the word t’rumah is repeated three times in two sentences.
The portion continues: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
In Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Sages) 3:2 we read, “If two sit together and words of Torah are exchanged between them, Shechina [the Divine presence] abides among them.” Mishkan and Shechina come from the same Hebrew root.
The Mishkan is built as a place for God to dwell. Perhaps, then, when we give a t’rumah, a gift from the heart, we create a holy space, where God can be among us. As Eger writes, “when we bring our voluntary gifts, we bring the realm of the holy into our lives.”
In these trying economic times, obligatory giving is difficult for many of us. How can a voluntary gift above and beyond which we have obligated ourselves to be a consideration?
Just as during the construction of the Mishkan, it is the gifts that we can give to our Jewish institutions that help continue to establish them as holy places.
As the Torah text suggests, we are not meant to give anything specific or precise. There is no suggestion that the gifts we give will cause us to reach beyond our means — or even be material or monetary at all.
The gifts God asked from our ancestors in the desert are the same gifts we might ask of ourselves today; gifts from the heart. Gifts with intention. Gifts that enrich a sense of holiness in our shared spaces and lives — wherever we seek kedusha, holiness.
Perhaps we can extend this idea into our daily lives. I might suggest, in the spirit of [Martin] Buber, the Jewish scholar and philosopher, that the gifts of the heart that we give one another — including time, compassion, sensitivity, and love — create a holy space between people, a place for God to dwell.
Cantor Rebecca Robins serves Congregation Sinai.