T'rumah (February 5, 2011)
(1) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.
Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
In the first sentences of this week’s Torah portion, God commands Moses to instruct the Israelites to bring gifts of gold, silver, wood, linen and a variety of other materials so that they can construct a sanctuary (also called a “tabernacle,” or in Hebrew, “mishkan”). It is in this structure that God’s presence will dwell as the Israelites travel through the desert. The rest of the parashah describes in great detail the design of this sanctuary, from the sacrificial altar to the Ark of the Covenant (which will house the Ten Commandments).
Rabbi Arnold Eisen explains the significance of each individual making a personal gift to the construction of the sanctuary:
The children of Israel embark on the task of becoming a people in fact and not merely in name, and do so first of all by joining together in common labor… Moreover, in this community of labor each person must contribute something. (1)
In essence, by coming together to share in the work of building the sanctuary, it was the Jewish people itself that was built.
One can imagine the excitement amidst lofty expectations, as well as the confusion and chaos, as each person arrived with a personal offering to support the building of the sanctuary. New relationships were forged — friendships, rivalries, romances — and they formed the very structure of the new Israelite nation. In the mixed multitude that formed the Israelite people, conflicts inevitably must have arisen and been resolved as individuals learned to speak one another’s language, both literally and figuratively. Over time, a shared culture emerged, incorporating long-held family traditions and new innovations that responded to the conditions of life in the wilderness.
In our Department of Lifelong Learning, we are guided by the lessons of this week’s Torah portion as we seek to increase and enhance participation in the life of Congregation Emanu-El. We know that, as in the construction of the Tabernacle, we must make it possible for our families to play a critical role in building our school and its associated programs. Therefore, our staff, parents and students work in partnership to set goals for learning experiences that are relevant, inspirational and transformative.
You can find evidence of this approach throughout our programs — from our democratically elected Student Council, which decides upon the beneficiaries of our weekly tzedakah collection, to the meetings of parent co-chairs to set the goals for each of our family events. In our classrooms, students are expected to share with the faculty the responsibility for creating an environment that is conducive to learning. Students are held responsible for supporting one another’s engagement and keeping the classroom free of behaviors that interfere with the quality of the learning experience and its success.
Long ago, our ancestors found a shared sense of purpose as they worked together to build a sanctuary amidst their travels in the wilderness. Today, as we look for cohesion amidst the diversity of our membership, we must hold one another accountable toward the ultimate goal of creating a place where God’s presence will dwell.
(1) Eisen, Arnold. (1995) “Reimagining Jewish Community in America.” In The Reconstructionist. Vol. 60, No. 1, Spring 1995: 5-13.
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