This drash was delivered by Joan Bradus at the Jan. 30, 2011 Congregation Netivot Shalom board meeting. It is also available in GoogleDocs, click Board Drash, Jan. 30, 2011 to read it there.
By Joan Bradus, First Vice President
Delivered at the CNS Board Meeting on January 30, 2011
When I opened my Torah to discover that I was to comment on the parashah T'rumah, my reaction was, "how fitting". After all this is the parasha which contains the line that Rabbi Kelman cited (and Debbie Friedman z”l put to music) which was the theme of our first capital campaign and therefore has led directly to our being here today:
VeAsu Li Mikdash v'shachanti b'tocham - And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (some would say that "I may dwell within them).
This parashah and the succeeding ones precisely characterize our real world dilemma - we are here to create a Holy Space in which to encounter God, and yet the details are almost mind-numbingly mundane.
The commentators first ask - why do we even need to create a Mishkan (and by direct association, a synagogue building), when God is incorporeal, and is not limited in space or time. Our human minds are limited, however, and even after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the revelation at Sinai, the people had a hard time visualizing how to encounter God. The idea was that, after the Golden calf, (which is introduced after this parashah), God realized that the Israelites needed something concrete on which to focus their religious attn - and in the details of construction God provided a sanctioned response to that need. Like them, it helps us to have a place to go to worship together. We are a religious community - while God is present and accessible everywhere and everywhen, we are distracted and preoccupied. Having a designated place to assemble together, to focus on encountering God, meets our human need. And, it is significant that one of the names for God is HaMakom, The Place..
What struck me most, though, about this parashah, particularly, was the first line: tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (Daber al bnai Yisrael vYik'chu Li terumah); You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.
I was stunned by this, because my Bat Mitzvah was on Shabbat Shekalim, when every drash talks about the requirement to support the synagogue (this is the basis for synagogue dues). This parashah is different - this states that the Mishkan was to be built from gifts from the heart - freely offered.
Of course - we cannot require the community to support something they have not already committed to with their hearts. Creation of a synagogue community, like the creation of the Mishkan, comes from longing for closeness – to God, to each other, and requires heartfelt commitment. And, the types of giving, as described in the parashah, are varied. Men and women gave different precious materials, according to their means and their hearts. While later parshiot describe the artisans that contribute skilled labor, the sense here is that anyone can join in this effort by giving gifts - of time, of skill, of money. The rabbis go on in their commentaries to say this explicitly. They take the passage stating that the Ark cannot be separated from the carrying poles, to mean that financial support is as essential to our continued mission as Torah study itself. "Even if someone neither learns nor teaches Torah, but supports it financially, he is considered to have upheld it" (Yerushalmi, Sotah, Ch 7) "It is a tree of Life to those who support it" refers not only to prayer and learning but to mundane financial support. (Tzror HaMor; Mishlei 3:18) But that support can only be obtained from those who first freely give from their heart-and they give because they need this Mishkan, they need this synagogue and community,
We no longer look to God for instructions on how to create a building. Our understanding of our task has grown over time. As Arthur Green says (Radical Judaism.pg 131)), our task is to "constitute a human community in which God is present, in which that presence is felt from within and seen from without. As each person is the image of God, an embodiment of divinity, so are we as a people to bear that living presence within us." He goes on to say that each of us has something that only we can supply, a contribution urgently needed to sustain the divine economy.(page 160)
Our task as board members is to search ourselves for what it is that only we can supply, a gift freely given to create a community within which God will dwell. We are also tasked, much as was Moses, and the leaders of the Israelite community, to ask our community to bring gifts from their hearts so that they too can sustain this community- gifts of time, gifts of skills, and yes, gifts, even of money.
We live in the real world - the Torah knows that, and its stories force us to stay grounded, even when we want to soar. We do not go into the mountains to commune with God. We come to shul- to pray, and shmooze, and argue, and cook, and study, and teach our children, and get married, and visit the sick, and care for the needy, emotionally and physically, We have each chosen this community in which to do this. I am honored to be part of it with you.