This week’s blog is in memory of my mother, Dorothy Crust. Devorah bat Mordechai haCohen v’Rachel Leah was a woman imbued with beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and love of Judaism. This week’s parashah deals with building a home for God and introduces the concept of giving with an open heart. My mother z”l gave with an open heart and strengthened the community around her. Her memory is a blessing.
This week’s parashah is called “Terumah”, which means an offering, denoting something set apart as a donation. God says, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me contributions; you shall accept contributions for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). The wording is precise, “אשר ידבנו ולבּו”. “Those with a willing heart” are invited to contribute to the building of this important sanctuary. The building materials are to be given with generosity and joy rather than coercion or compulsion (like taxes and levies.)
Up until now, the Children of Israel have been entirely dependent. They were slaves in Egypt, and they did nothing for themselves in the desert. They were given manna, water, and led each step of the way. Finally, the Children of Israel are invited to do something for themselves and God. They step up to contribute energy, creativity, and materials to create a community hub.
In a functioning society, people are responsible for themselves and others. They must come forward to help things run smoothly. People give when they feel they have enough for themselves and enough to share. Whether helping with small tasks or major undertakings the contributor is empowered to share. When giving or sharing, you are forging a link with the person receiving. The recipient, in turn, is strengthened and can give to others.
When God asks B’nei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, He invites them to become partners with Him. God says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם׃ (Exodus 25:8). The words “shikhanti” (I will dwell), “Mishkan,” and “shekhinah” (Divine Presence) all come from the same root word, which is found in the Hebrew words for neighbour, neighbourhood, and dwell. God wants to be a constant presence among the people and knows that human beings need visual reminders and beauty to awaken a joyful soul. “Neighbour” is in the word for God’s holy dwelling, and “neighbour” describes God’s Presence.
The bottom line of God’s message is, “Be involved. Don’t be a spectator.”
In this parashah we see the emergence of a group that is growing into a cohesive community. They will combine their materials and skills to make a mishkan, a sanctuary. God does not live in a building, but rather in the hearts of the builders. As He said, “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).
Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya
P.S. The painting at the top is based on a ketubah from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. It shows boats floating on the Bosphorous River. If you want to enlarge the image at the top of the ketubah below, you can click on them.
Kings I, 5:26-6:13
King Solomon – Succeeded David as King in the year 967 B.C.E.
King Solomon ruled for 40 years. He was known for his wisdom, his wealth and his writings. The haftarah and Torah portion both discuss the construction of HaShem’s “home”. In parshat Terumah G-d tells Moses that the children of Israel should make G-d a sanctuary (called a mishkan in Hebrew). Beautifully, G-d includes EVERYONE who wants to be included the project. He says to accept contributions from everyone who has a willing heart.
This announcement is followed by a list of materials that are needed to build the mishkan. It is quite an undertaking to build a portable sanctuary in the desert, but the plans are dictated and this how it may have looked.
The haftarah is about the construction of King Solomon’s most famous achievement – building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The construction of the Temple under King Solomon’s reign began around 958 B.C.E. The trees (cedars and cypress) and stones were imported from Lebanon. I began to imagine how the materials were transported from Lebanon southward to Jerusalem- over mounatins, through forests, all uncultivated terrain. The idea is daunting. There were huge numbers of men involved in the production. Thirty thousand men went to Lebanon in shifts of 10,000 men, one month at a time. Seventy thousand men carried the loads. Eighty thousand men quarried the mountains. 3,300 men were appointed as overseers. It made me think of the building of the national railway in Canada!
The haftarah doesn’t describe how the stones and lumber were carried to Jerusalem. I thought about the technology of the time. Would the material be carried on ox carts? On flatbeds with wheels? With a pulley system? It seemed impossible. Then I realized- these large, heavy materials were probably transported on the Mediterranean Sea down the coast to the nearest port, and then overland to Jerusalem. The logs could have been floated down and the quarried stone could have been taken by ship or rafts. I immediately remembered a beautiful ketubah- a favourite design of mine- from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. It shows two large, beautiful trees on the banks of the Bosphorous River with boats sailing in the water.
This image seemed perfect for the haftarah with its abundance of trees, elaborate structures and many side chambers extending from the central building. And the flowers and the leaves! We see the vivid florals and fruits within the foliage. (We know that there were pomegranates and lilies on the columns in the Temple.)
This ketubah, unlike many other historical ketuboth, is painted on paper rather than parchment. The artist used watercolour and gold leaf on the artwork. The profusion of foliage is typical of ketuboth from Turkey and other Muslim countries. The leaves and flowers are painted very closely together and the dark green of the leaves creates a wonderful undulating movement in the decoration. As is typical of these ketuboth the text is written in tiny cursive lettering centered within the arched opening allocated for lettering.
All that building and transportation mentioned in the haftarah text resulted in a beautiful structure. Unlike the mishkan which was dictated by G-d, the Temple was designed by people.
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