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Torah Commentary
T'rumah (February 1, 2014)

By Rabbi Rena Y. Rifkin, Coordinator of Faculty
& Family Engagement

IT TAKES ALL KINDS to make the world go round.
And it takes all kinds to build a tabernacle.

This week’s Torah portion, T’rumah, contains the instructions for building the Tabernacle. God’s tells Moses about the various jewels, woods and materials that will be needed to construct this Holy Ark and asks for people to bring these things as gifts. God asks for gold, silver and copper…for yarns of blue, purple and crimson…for dolphin skins and the finest goat’s hair. God asks for the most beautiful of riches, the most precious of items. Each person is commanded to take his or her gift, to give it to God and to contribute the gift to the building of the Tabernacle…all kinds of people, each bringing a different gift. It is not until each person’s gift, each person’s terumah, is sacrificed to God that the Tabernacle is completed.

We often forget how important it is for each person to contribute. When we look to one person, one leader, one member to guide us and do the work, we forget the importance of community and of working together. Moses cannot build this Tabernacle alone. Nor is it the sole responsibility of the 70 elders. It takes every member of the Israelite community to build this place. Each person has a unique gift, and what’s more, each person has a unique kavanah, intention and reason, for his or her gift. Even if two people give the same crimson yarn, that crimson yarn will have meant different things to each, and both are essential in finishing the Tabernacle.

How often do we really invite people to give of themselves toward the building of our community, of our tabernacle? Do we treasure each other’s gifts and relish in all the different things that each member of our community brings? Do we make the most of each gift, no matter how big or how small?

Grace Chapel, a mega church in Lexington, Mass., asks one community leader to stand in the common area after services and greet all new members, each time asking them what gifts they can contribute to the community. And every gift is utilized — whether it is teaching, print making, car repair, cooking or fundraising. Every gift is utilized, and every gift is important because when every gift is utilized and every gift is important, then everyone can contribute to building a holy community.

The goal of building the Tabernacle was to have a place for God to dwell among the people — a place that showed the world how important God was to the people, how much they respected and honored the Divine. And they succeed in making this Tabernacle a place for God to dwell in precisely because everyone’s contribution was valued.

This building effort is completely opposite from the last time the text told us about people building toward God. When they constructed the Tower of Babel, the people neglected one another and let their own egos come first. They cared more about reaching a goal than making a holy space. But here, people and their unique gifts are the focus.

So this time, the outcome is different. We don’t have to seek out God or hope to build a tower that will reach divine heights, because as we embrace one another, we embrace all that is beautiful, holy and divine in our world. When we forget about our own egos, we create divine relationships. When each one of us participates and contributes, no matter how different our skating styles, then we have taken our community to a new level. When we make ourselves a holy community, then God seeks us out and wants to dwell among us.

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