What we give to make space for God: thoughts on Terumah

UrlHere’s the short d’var Torah I offered yesterday at CBI for parashat Terumah. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


This Torah portion contains one of my favorite verses in Torah, a verse I choose to preach on every year: “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I might dwell within them.” We build the sanctuary not so that God can dwell in it — no matter how beautiful its design or furnishings — but so God can dwell in us.

And yet, the beautiful design and furnishings seem to be important. Because the Torah spends a lot of time talking about them.

For some weeks to come, we’ll continue hearing about the wood and the hammered gold, the supple leathers, the fabrics woven in the most precious of colors, all donated as gifts from those whose hearts so moved them.

What this says to me is: it’s important that we give freely, offering up to God things which are precious to us. We’re not building the Shekhinah (the indwelling Presence of God) a secondhand home out of scrap. In order to prepare our hearts for that Presence, we have to give something that matters to us.

The children of Israel gave their most precious items freely in order to build a place for the Shekhinah — in order to open up space for the Shekhinah in their hearts. What would we give, if we were similarly called?

Would we build a home for the Shekhinah out of iPads and Droid phones? Out of expensive clothes and shoes? What would be most meaningful for you to offer? What would make space in your heart for the unfolding of something new?

This morning, each of you is giving ninety minutes of your life to be in community together, to sing and pray together, to try to make a minyan together for those who grieve. Maybe the most precious offering we can give today is our time.

Ninety minutes for Shabbat services. Or half an hour for Torah study. Or five minutes before bed to say the bedtime Shema and look back over the day, to connect with God before sleep. Or fifteen minutes of daily morning prayer — or of simply sitting and cultivating gratitude for the gifts in your life.

You might wonder, what does God need with these minutes we offer up? But you might as well ask: what does God need with hammered gold and acacia wood? We open our hearts through the practice of giving. When we give, we let God in.

We read this morning about the poles which allowed the Israelites to carry the ark together. We receive the same call: to shoulder the burdens of holy community together. As our spiritual ancestors came together to build and carry the mishkan and the ark of the covenant, so we come together to build and carry our community.

“Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I might dwell within them.”

What if we made a mishkan, a dwelling-place for the Shekhinah, out of our attention — our intention — our collaboration — our time? How might holiness dwell within us, then?

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