Torah from around the world #103
Parashat Truma (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
by Rabbi Miri Gold, Kehilat Birkat Shalom, a regional congregation located at Kibbutz Gezer, Israel
We are mourning one of the great rabbis and scholars of our time, Rabbi Gunther Plaut z"l, who conceived and edited The Torah: A Modern Commentary. This volume graces the pews of many of our WUPJ synagogues around the world, and serves as a vital learning source for all who are interested in exploring the weekly Torah portions. Among the gifts found in this volume are the scholarly essays and the “Gleanings“ from ancient and modern sources. We are indebted to Rabbi Plaut for making Torah study accessible and meaningful to both the learned among us as well as the beginning students of our heritage.
I draw inspiration from his commentary of this week's Torah portion, Trumah. As with every Torah portion, the hope is that every one of us will realize his/her potential and ability to contribute personal insights and understandings to our understanding of the Torah and the accompanying haftarot from the prophets.
This week we find striking similarities between the Torah portion, which describes the construction of the portable ark, the Tabernacle or Mishkan (which literally means “dwelling“), and the prophetic reading, from I Kings, which describes the building of the Temple by King Solomon in Jerusalem. We are grateful to Rabbi Plaut for placing the haftarah immediately after the Torah portion in the revised 2005 edition of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, so that we might more easily seek the similarities which often characterize the relationship between the Torah portion and the prophetic portion.
At the beginning of the Torah portion, which follows the dramatic events of receiving the Torah at Sinai (Parashat Yitro), and the enumeration of many additional rules (Parashat Mishpatim), we read:
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved“ (Exodus, 25:1-2). “Gifts“ is the translation for the word trumah, which in Modern Hebrew means a donation or contribution; “to bring gifts“ is the translation for “va'yikhu li trumah“ which literally means to take Me gifts. As noted in “Gleanings“ which follows each Torah portion, “God said: 'Take Me gifts'. For when Israel acquires Torah and Tabernacle, it acquires Me too. Hence 'Take Me…'“ (Midrash Exodus Rabba 33:6); from the Musar literature (Itturei Torah, Vol. III, p. 201) we learn: Taking and giving are placed side by side, reminding a giver how it feels to accept a gift. When one gives a gift, one takes for oneself the special feeling acquired as a result of giving to someone else. It is common to hear people say that by giving tsedakah, or doing an act of loving kindness, they receive immeasurably more. The giver may give up something, yet feel a sense of satisfaction far richer than before.
Such an atmosphere of giving to build the Mishkan may explain verse 8 of chapter 25: “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among (or within) them.“ The Malbim emphasizes that "them" means the people, and God dwells not in a structure, but rather among the people. The Malbim says that we are each to build a Tabernacle in our own heart for God to dwell in.(The Malbim was a 19th century rabbi and bible commentator; the name Malbim is an acronym formed from his Hebrew initials –Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael).
Similarly, the haftarah from I Kings says “and I will dwell among the people of Israel, and never forsake My people Israel“ (I Kings 6:13).
The newly released slaves, so trained in building pyramids for the Pharoah, were now able to use their skills to build the sanctuary with thanks to God for their redemption. In creating a “dwelling“ for God among them, they were actually creating the beginnings of a close-knit community in which God's presence would constantly remind them of the commandments, laws and rules which were to guide them in everyday life.
So too, we, as Progressive Jews around the world, are creating and nurturing holy communities in which to dwell, physically, spiritually, ethically. Not only in our synagogues do we experience a life based on Torah, but among neighbors (shechanim, from the same root as the word mishkan), and as citizens of the countries in which we live.
Our contribution, our trumah, to Progressive Judaism is also to build a democratic and pluralistic Israel in which we can all dwell in harmony and diversity. We have seen in the past that united voices have influenced policies to safeguard our right to live our Judaism in an egalitarian, tolerant fashion, with an emphasis on social justice. Progress has been made. Yet, we cannot rest; the work is not finished. The Supreme Court case, in which I petitioned the State of Israel in 2005 to recognize me as the rabbi of my community, is still pending. There is only a lull in the move to consider only Orthodox conversions as binding in Israel. Israeli citizens, not considered Jewish by the Orthodox establishment, cannot get legally married in Israel. Laws of modesty threaten the democratic right of passengers to sit where they choose on public buses.
We must all ask: what is our trumah, our gift, to a just and compassionate society? As Torat Moshe (Rabbi Moses Alshich of Safed, 16th century) proclaimed: “…the willingness of the heart is ours to give“ (Gleanings, Parashat Trumah).