What did we do when we were wandering across an ancient desert toward an unknown Homeland? What did we do when we were struggling to discover the deeper dimensions of our freedom and possibility? Predictably, we made a building which could serve as the spiritual focus of a growing community; an edifice from which we were to forge an identity as a religious people. And how did that process begin? Then, as now, it began with a Building Fund.
This parashah initiates the very first Building Fund to allow us to manifest the materials necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle – the Sanctuary – which would travel with us through that ancient terrain.
“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts from every person whose heart so moves him … And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (25:2, 8). An alternative reading is: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them.” Should not the text read, “… that I may dwell within it (i.e. the sanctuary)?”
Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
I wonder whether there was resistance to that first fundraising campaign. There was so much resistance to everything else related to the Exodus – the food, the enemy attacks, and Moses’ leadership ability – one would think there would be an objection to the building campaign. And yet there was not. As the story developed, there were plenty of free-will contributions, so the sanctuary was built on schedule. The community took responsibility for its own creation, even though that process of creation was not always easy. It never is. The ancient Israelites must have realized the innate value of this construction project. They must have understood that their very survival and success depended on something found within the construction and the walls of our first sanctuary.
It actually had more to do with the spiritual than the material realm. There may be nothing more important than the creation of spiritual community. But that is the key, isn’t it? We are not building a building. We are building something that will house a spiritual community, our spirituality. It somehow has to reflect our spiritual nature, our hopes, and our dreams.
And yet, our ancient rabbis apparently do not see it that way. For them to suggest that this verse in Exodus should not be rendered that God exists “among” all of the Israelites, but “within” each Israelite seems to miss the point of the importance of a “spiritual community” like I am suggesting. Their view is that each one of us individually is touched by God and has a spiritual journey we may be on. And yes, the sanctuary is not one of acacia wood, dolphin skins, gold, silver, and brass – as described in our portion – it is the one our heart and mind yearn for and that we create within. That being so, then wherever we gather to pray together, be it in a school auditorium, a living room, a classroom, or a grand sanctuary, we will experience the fruition of our prayer in our connection with God.
That is well and good. And that type of thinking helps us practice meditation, personal prayer, the joy of solitude in nature, but how does that help us build a place which can house the personal aspirations of a community? A personal connection with God is wonderful; but the more difficult, the more powerful, and the more fulfilling task is to create a space where we nod in agreement that we collectively are making a connection to a higher power.
We yearn for meaning and purpose for ourselves, and at the same time we desire love and companionship, and we long for deeper rejoicing in the lives we are living and sharing with others.
So what kind of gifts are we to bring to create a spiritual community that addresses, expresses, and supports our deeper yearnings? What are the gifts that can create the outer as well as the inner Sanctuary we seek for a community?
Think of parenting. Parents have no manual for parenting. Certainly they have the models provided by parents and grandparents. Also, we have at our fingertips on the remote access to successful and faulty parenting in TV shows. There is wisdom there to find. And then we provide gifts to our partners and to our children based on our life’s experience and wisdom to forge a sanctuary of love, kindness, boundaries, and bounty, so that in those moments and those spaces a special harmony can exist for us and members of our family. It is not one parent parenting alone. It is not a child receiving guidance through a WiFi connection. It is a joint family effort that benefits the entire family. Are we as parents completely successful in that enterprise all of the time? Does one parent disagree with the parental direction the other parent is taking all the time? Do our children, at times, feel we are being unfair from time to time? Of course. And yet, we continue on this adventure and this journey together and hope to see the fruits of our labors.
Are we at Or Chadash successfully providing the sanctuary each and every person desires when they become a member or enter our space all of the time? Of course not.
And yet, we as partners and as parents to our children, and we as clergy and members of this spiritual community, bring open hearts and helping hands. We bring our own unique visions and the special gifts arising within us. We bring our truths, and from them we weave the fabric that will sustain us on our journey. We can bring our substance that we might know we are working for greater purpose. We can bring ourselves and enter into the dance in ways most appropriate to each of us so that we create a space and a time when God may dwell among us, within us, and within it – this sanctuary!
Focus Phrases for the Week:
I take time this week to honor the deeper yearnings of my being and to celebrate visions of fulfillment.
When I am more aware of my gifts as well as my needs, I discover real ways to contribute to our shared spiritual journey.
My vision, my love, and my energies awaken now to support my spiritual path and my spiritual community.