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God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to donate materials and to make a sanctuary – a Mishkan – in order that God may dwell amongst the people as they journey. The parasha then outlines extensive details about how the Mishkan is to be built.

Terumah by Samuel Klein :: 5770

Samuel Klein is Executive Director of The Coexistence Trust, an international parliamentary interfaith network, and Community Director of London’s Carlebach Synagogue "The Saatchi Shul". Samuel is a Five Rhythms dance practitioner with an interest in the dialogue between existential and gestalt psychotherapy and art of movement.

Among the scattered red clown noses and glitter I danced.

It was the closing hours of Limmud Los Angeles earlier this week and Craig Taubman, of Sinai Temple's "Friday Night Live" fame, was holding a Rosh Chodesh Adar get-together. With the cascading electric guitar riff of "Lord Get Me High" by Shlomo Carlebach melting my limbs, I imagined the new month of Adar washing over, with its promise of joy, general abandon and spirit of community at play. On Rosh Chodesh, that spirit found expression in exquisite and delicious dance.

Dancing with me were children, teens, singles, young marrieds and grandparents, drawn from across the Los Angeles Jewish community and internationally; the room reverberated with their laughter and their song.

I imagined then, that this physical moving-in-and-through-others might be among the multivalent meanings of the Hebrew word Terumah, which characterises our Sedra this week. Not a gift or offering born of duty, not a desire to please or curry favour, not an attempt to impress, but an unconditional and open-hearted personal response to the call of community:

"[…] Of every person who gives it willingly with their heart, shall you take my terumah" (Shemot. 25:2)

Volunteering - in no matter how small a way - is the hallmark of Parshat Terumah as it is of all Limmud events and conferences. A Torah commandment – and yet, it cannot be commanded in the literal sense. It must be fulfilled "with a full heart" and this quality of unconditionality forms the backdrop to the second Mitzvah;

"And let them make for me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them". (Shemot 25:8)

Drawing on kabbalistic tradition originating in the Zohar, the 19th century Russian rabbi and scholar R. Meir Leibush Malbim in his little known work Remazay HaMishkan (Secrets of the Sanctuary) equates the Sanctuary, article by article to the human body. In his analogy, God’s presence is compared to breath, which animates every living being:

"And the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and there was within Adam a communicating spirit" (Bereishit 2:7 trans. Targum Onkles). Breathing is vital to the art of living. And communicating is vital to the art of living among others. Although breath itself may be an unconscious activity in the healthy body, use of that breath for communication is both conscious and intentional.

This is what the Mishkan represents.

The choice of how we choose to communicate is in our hands. We can give baubles and trinkets with our words or we can experience intense, richly layered conversation and dialogue with those among whom we live and work, when "...the glory of God’s presence (in each of us) fills the Sanctuary" (Shemot 40.34) and we are fully communicative in our encounters with those around us.

For Malbim therefore, the Mishkan itself is metaphorical rather than literal. What is being constructed through symbol and ritual is a manifestation of the intentionality of each community member, who is asked to give freely and joyously without reservation.

This is a pertinent and contemporary message for those of us involved in community-facing projects such as Limmud. Consensual community building needs more than vision and visionaries; it needs to be inclusive of all members of the community, no matter their social or personal status, their levels of knowledge or observance or whether they are giving in gold, silver or brass. Such inclusivity is the quintessence of what can truly be called a Makom Mikdash – a place of sanctity.


More by Samuel Klein

Other Divrei Torah on Terumah

  • 5766 (Clive Lawton)
  • 5766 (Joel Grishaver)
  • 5767 (Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5768 (Eliot Kaye)
  • 5768 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Fiona Brodie)
  • 5769 (Steve Kay Kupietzky)
  • 5771 (Adam Overlander-Kaye)
  • 5771 (Jacqueline Nicholls)
  • 5772 (Dina Pinner)
  • 5773 (Shaiya Rothberg)
  • 5773 (Daniel Vulkan)
  • 5774 (Tzemah Yoreh)
  • 5775 (Jeremy Tabick)
  • 5775 (Daniel Lichman)