Archive for the '2.07 Terumah' Category


Memory is a powerful thing; it is central to our identity. However, it is interesting that our memory often has only a limited connection with the actual history of an event. This is brought to light through the words of Kodachrome, by Simon and Garfunkel. The lyrics read,

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
Brought ’em all together for one night
I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
Everything looks better in black and white

The way in which we frame a memory colors it. In this song, memory removed all the pigment of blemishes.

It is interesting to reflect on the nature of color and memory in light of Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the Tabernacle in its entire splendor. It was gold, turquoise, purple, scarlet, and more. Every year we read about the building of the tabernacle. We are forced to recall its beauty while none of us has ever seen it. In the Mishnah when discussing the construction of the Temple, there are a number of disagreements. This is striking in as much as there was an actual Temple. The Temple was not just in color and 3D, it was real.  Why would there be a disagreement about a physical reality? Like everything else Jewish, the question is better than the answer. One answer must be in the importance of memory over history.

The question for us is how do we balance a reverence for the past and present, relevance of facts and feelings, and sense of mission for the future? In this new world in which history is being “documented” like never before (as evident by the proliferation of blogs like this one), we need to approach memory with an open heart and open eyes. How we will be remembered will not be aided by any rose-colored glasses.


Contribution Beyond Continuity

It is astounding to me how much money we spend as a community on Holocaust education. Yes, I know we can never forget, but do we need to pay for other people’s children to remember? Let them pay for their feelings of guilt. As for our own children, I appreciate that the Holocaust is a part of our memory and history, but so too is the breadth and depth of Jewish literature, art, and culture. It saddens me to think how much we educate our children about how we died, over and above teaching them how we live. You can disagree with me, but I doubt that this victim’s mentality is compelling to a generation who grew up in affluence and safety. No matter what we teach our children they will have to decide for themselves how they want to live. So what will drive our children?

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read that God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “Let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivated him you shall take My portion“(Exodus 25:1). The Israelites communicate their devotion to the Jewish project by contributing to the building of the tabernacle. Out of their own free will they all gave to build a “home” for God on earth. But, what can we hope to do now that the taberbacle and subsequent temples have been destroyed?

We need to find more places for God to come into our lives. I think that we need to educate our children to see simultaneously the tremendous beauty and harsh reality of God in the world . While there is poverty, violence, and destruction, there are also everyday miracles. If we want to find a place for ourselves and God in this world, we are going to have to get our hands dirty in rebuilding it. What have we given of ourselves and of our communities to make the world a better place? Once we master the art of contribution, we will have no problem with continuity.

Finding that Perfect Gift

Have you ever had to go shopping for a gift for someone you love? For that special someone you have to actually go to the store and walk around thinking what does this person really need? And what if that person is blessed to have everything they need? Then you are left just trying to get them something that they might want. In that case it seems that you are left trying to get them something that appropriately expresses your feelings for that person.  So, even if they do not like the gift they appreciate the sentiment.

You do not need to worry that this was a ploy to get a belated birthday gift. Rather, I believe that this is a good explanation for the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Terumah.  We read that God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “Let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivated him you shall take My portion“(Exodus 25:1). What do you give to a being that created everything and gave it to you? For God, isn’t everything by definition a re-gift?

The Israelites were so close with God that they knew in their “hearts” exactly what to get God. It is hard for me to imagine being that close to God and knowing how much to spend. I love my wife and live with her and I still totally freeze up even thinking of what to get her for her birthday. But the Torah portion goes on to list many details about the construction of the Sanctuary that the Israelites build for God. God  either tells them what to give God or God is gracious enough to accept what ever they give.

To better our relationships with the people in our lives we should try harder to tell them what we need and what we want. This is the beginning of better communication. We also should strive to understand the intension of the gift even if we have limited use of the gift itself. In so doing, surely we will make space for them in our lives.

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