A d’var Torah for parashat T’rumah

Here’s the d’var Torah I’ll be giving tomorrow at CBI. (If you’re coming to services, you might want to skip this post!)

This week’s parsha, T’rumah, begins with God telling Moshe to tell the children of Israel to bring gifts. Moshe is to accept gifts from “each person whose heart is so moved.” The gifts — leather and wood, fabric and gold — will be used to build the mishkan, the portable tabernacle: the house for God’s presence.

The word mishkan comes from the same root as the word Shekhinah, the immanent, indwelling divine Presence. Shekhinah is the aspect of God which dwells here in creation; which dwells in us. And sure enough, in the verses we read today, God says, “let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Or, perhaps, “let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell in them.”

We build the sanctuary out of our freewill offerings, the gifts of our own hearts. And in return, God dwells not in the physical structure, no matter how beautiful it may be — but in us.

So if God dwells in us, why do we need to build the sanctuary?

Maybe we build the sanctuary not because God needs it, but because we do. Because something in us is changed when we give freely. When we build something beautiful. When we set our hands and hearts to the task of creating a space for God.

I am often asked why our prayers are so filled with praise for God. Surely God doesn’t “need” us to tell Him (or Her) how great God is; why, then, is our liturgy so filled with reminders of God’s transcendence and greatness? My answer is that we say these words not because God needs them, but because we do. Because something in us is changed when we remind ourselves that there is something in the world greater than we are. That we owe thanks to something beyond ourselves.

This sanctuary in which we pray this morning is a truly beautiful place. I feel blessed every time I step into this building. Every place where people gather to pray is a spiritually beautiful space, but this is a physically beautiful space, too. We have built a glorious mishkan here: not out of dolphin skin and acacia wood and hammered gold, but out of timbers and concrete and glass.

But what makes this a sanctuary is not the beauty of the building. It’s not the elegant ark or the presence of the Torah scrolls. It’s not even the ner tamid, the eternal light which burns above us. What makes this a sanctuary is the presence of our hearts. When we come together here, we make this into a sanctuary. And in return, we are able to be reminded that God dwells within us. Here, in our very hearts.

Shabbat shalom.


Here’s the Torah poem for this week which appears in 70 faces:

THE GIFTS (T’RUMAH)

These are the gifts
leather and linen
silver and gold

each who was moved
returned these riches
to the place

every yearning heart
following the blueprint
these are the gifts

parchment scraped fine
and iron gall ink
commentaries in the margins

words intertwined
so that the tabernacle
becomes one whole

these are the gifts
that make the sanctuary
the presence dwells in us

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