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Torah Commentary
T'rumah (February 13, 2016)

Rachel Brumberg, Associate Director of Lifelong Learning

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat T’rumah, we read a very detail-oriented account of God telling Moses how to go about building the Tabernacle. This portable sanctuary was to be crafted out of the finest items, which were to be donated by the community, and was designed to hold the Holy of Holies — the Ark of the Covenant. The scale, colors and materials are all very specifically described. And whereas one can see the entirety of the Torah as being a blueprint for Judaism — teaching us the values and traditions we have handed down for thousands of years and that guide us today — it is this portion we actually can use as a guide for building a sacred space. And we do.

Last year I wrote a lesson based on this portion for our Religious School’s Tribes program. Tribes takes place on Sundays for grades 3-5 as a part of their regular school day. There are four Tribes; each is run by one of our teen leaders, known as Tribal Chiefs, who are assisted by younger teens (Tribal Juniors) and teachers (Tribal Elders). Lessons are taught via experiential (or “camp-like”) learning methods. For more information about the Tribes program, click here.

Last year’s Tribe’s curriculum was based on Pirkei Avot 1:2: “On three things the world stands: On Torah (study), on Avodah (worship) and on G’milut Chasadim (kind acts).” For this particular lesson we brought the students into our magnificent Fifth Avenue Sanctuary for a scavenger hunt based on Parashat T’rumah. We wanted them to understand that even today, architects still use the instructions laid out in the Torah to design modern Jewish sacred spaces. We also wanted our students to have a connection to our own Temple, to understand its beauty in the context in which it was created, and to know that an ancient text still can have relevance in today’s world and hold personal meaning for them as well.

Our goals for the lesson included the following:
    • Torah provides a blueprint for Judaism — even in modern times —
       sacred space, sacred time and sacred relationship.
    • Torah is relevant to our lives today; we know what to include in a sanctuary
       or prayer space based on what is written in the Torah.
    • Torah connects Jews around the world and throughout time.
We broke the students up into groups of two or three, gave them a Sanctuary Scavenger Hunt worksheet and invited them up to the bimah to look for the items described in the text and to give some thought as to why they might be included in a sacred space. The verses we used, all found in this week’s Torah portion, and the accompanying questions we asked were as follows:
    • And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (Exodus 25:3-7)
    Where do you see these colors? If you were asked to bring special items to build a holy space, what would you bring?

    • And deposit it in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you. (Exodus 25:6)
    Where is the Ark? What does the Ark look like? What is in it? If you were to design a special sacred space what would it look like?

    • You shall make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the lampstand and three branches from the other side of the lampstand…Make its seven lamps. (Exodus 25:31-32...37)
    Where do we find the lampstands in our sanctuary? What do these lamps symbolize? Why is light so important?

    • You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages. (Exodus 27:20-21) Where is this “eternal light” (“ner tamid” in Hebrew)? What are some other things that are eternal (last forever)?
The students all roamed around the bimah looking for these objects and engaged in discussions with each other about their meaning, function and relevance. The amazing thing about this lesson is that it could take place in any synagogue around the world because we all have these sacred pieces within our sanctuaries. The items that we probably all take for granted as being part of the sanctuary structure — the ornate designs, ark, lampstand and eternal light — are part of temple architecture precisely because of God’s instructions to Moses in this week’s text. Parashat T’rumah is the perfect example of the Torah as a blueprint for Judaism and for connecting Jews all over the world and throughout time: past, present and future.

The next time you are in a sanctuary, whether it be ours or any other, I invite you to go on your own scavenger hunt based on this week’s parashah.. Look at the details, try to understand why they are there and then think about if you would make the same decisions given the opportunity to create a sacred space. Does the space you’re in speak to you? Why or why not? Do you feel connected to other Jews based on the fact that you are in a space created in part on what is described in the Torah, which is housed at the center of this space? And most important, how can you make your own connection to the Torah and the Tabernacle that it describes. Remember to take the time to look around, appreciate and reflect. That is this week’s parashah’s gift to us.

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