Cultural Gifts of the Heart: Encounter and Terumah

As Torah portions go, this is a big week. In Terumah we start getting the blue print for the Tabernacle. There is a clear plan for what will be built and made, but that is not where they start off this large-scale project. Rather, they start off with themselves. As we read:

‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing you shall take My offering.( Exodus 25:2)

While their gifts are going to fit into a very clear and focused plan, their gifts were not all the same. The gifts were not of the same value, but all valuable becasue they were from the heart. At the center of our national narrative is a collaborative non-profit project that celebrates the diverse offerings of every individual while working toward a common goal. And about this project God says:

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

The text does not say “make this building so that I can dwell in it“- the Tabernacle, but rather in “them”. When building the Tabernacle we were building a place for God to be with us.

Image result for encounter israel

I was thinking about it this week while I was in Israel on Encounter. It is am amazing program that seeks to grow the Jewish community’s capacity to contribute to a durable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which all parties live with respect, recognition, and rights. One theme that emerged from the myriad of lessons that I learned this week is the need to divide the seemlingly intractable political and security issues of the conflict from the cultural and human elements. Had the conflict preempted my ability or interest to see Palestinians as a people with a unique a rich culture? Did this two dimensional image of Palestinians bar my ability to see them as anything other then enemies?

While there is no clear blue print for building a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the one thing that is clear is that the Deal of the Century is not the answer. Nothing unilateral will work. Before we get to solutions that will cost a lot of money or bloodshed we need to do something that costs us nothing. We need to pay each other respect. Nothing will work if it does not allow for all of the different voices in the conflict to be heard and respected.

Encounter was filled with experiences of Palestinian education, arts, and culture which transformed me. I am not saying that this shift will erase the conflict, but I know that erasing Palestinian culture does nothing good for anyone. When we are open to what our neighbors contribute to our larger society, we start to see each others as people and it has the potential to sactify the world. In contributing to the larger society we see our national worth. In appreciating each other’s contributions we learn to respect for each other as nations. We do not need to get lost in who gave more or less, we just need to see, enjoy, and respect the gifts of the heart. When we give and receive these gifts of culture we can make room for each other and even God in our lives.

1 Response to “Cultural Gifts of the Heart: Encounter and Terumah”


  1. 1 jaackerman February 29, 2020 at 9:43 am

    Avi, thank you for these inspiring words. It occurs to me that the only way to move forward as a human race is to heed your message about respect and understanding of “other” Thank you, Jeff


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