I was honored to give the D'var this morning at services. I see that it was last Terumah that I wrote so this may sound a little familiar but I hope to write more here moving forward.
There once was a small village in a country at war. There was an expectation that if a soldier was coming through town from the front lines the village must feed him and find him comfort. Now when people of a certain village saw three tired and war weary soldiers coming they did not want to give up their food and hid it in their homes. As the soldiers approached the town square they were met with many village leaders and were told the town was too poor to feed them and that they should move on. The soldiers were too tired to think of walking more that day and begged for a small crust of bread or something. When the town folks said no they simply asked for a large pot and to draw water from the well. The people of the village watched curiously as the soldiers gathered wood and made a fire, filled the pot with water and put it on the fire and then added three large stones to the water. When asked they were told that they were making Stone soup. The people were intrigued and asked how they could make soup from a stone. The one soldier answered that it is difficult to get the flavor, it would need to boil for quite some time, but what would help would be a bunch of carrots. Wanting to get in on this amazing soup, one villager went home and came back with carrots. As people helped slice them into the simmering water the soldier told of a stone soup where carrots were added and onions brought out special flavor. Soon another villager produced onions and this went on with celery, barley and finally some dried beef. By the end of the day there was beef and barley soup for all, cooked with three large stones in the bottom of the pot. The villagers all felt a connection with the soldiers and with each other as they ate and later found cots for the soldiers and in the morning sent them on their way after an oatmeal breakfast and with bread and cheese for the road. The village kept the pot in the town square and once a week they made stone soup in what became a sacred time for all of them and they fed many soldiers on their way home from then on.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, the moving village of people, the Israelites, also come together to create something for their community, the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary that Israelites used in the wilderness. This large undertaking was one the required a great deal of the resources of the people to create. You would think that at this time, Moses would be instructed to collect from all the people for this endeavor. But that is not what happens, in fact, in Exodus 25, God is explicit that gifts should come only from those whose hearts moved them. People who give should want to give and give from the heart. Why wouldn’t God tell Moses that ALL the Israelites must give to building this sanctuary?
Let us remember what is going on here. The Israelites have fled Mitzraim and are forming a new people. No longer slaves and they had been distance from their God of their ancestors for generations and still struggled with their relationship with the gods of Egypt, as seen in the Golden Calf incident earlier in the narrative. So to help this new worship style take root it must have the interest and sacrifice of the people. No mere a tax would help serve this purpose, what was needed was a desire of the people to build this place of Holiness among them. So like the people in the story, they found in their hearts a way to build something that was important to all and was in fact part of who they were.
There was no minimum to what people could give and in fact Moses returns that which he doesn’t need. The gold, copper, silver, fabric and other materials were gifts of the people from their personal possesions, some sure to have meaning. A piece of each family is woven into the physical structure of the Mishkan and that I believe leads to their spiritual essence being part of this as well. That is what makes this a place worthy of God in the world.
Now one can say that God is everywhere and frankly the narrative seems to suggest that God was giving the people what they wanted, some physical manifestation that will later become the pillar of cloud and fire. But the Torah uses words that shakan which does not suggest a permanent home. More a place to rest. This is a place where the people create a space of Holiness, a place to find holiness in the world. They did so with their gifts of the heart.
When we talk of giving in the Jewish context we think of tzedakah and Tikkun olam. Tzedakah is part of who we are, regardless of how religious we see ourselves, we, as a people, give to better our community. While it is in its original definition not an option, it has become the way we think about personal giving, some thinking of it as one thinks of charity. In this context it is from the heart. The root of tzedakah is tzedek, righteousness or justice. Tikkun olam is an idea that the world is incomplete and broken and we are to repair it. Make it better. When we give tzedakah and when we act doing tikkun olam we are acting from the heart with the idea of creating a space of wholeness in the world, and I would argue holiness. I would argue that when we give of ourselves from the heart we imitate the actions of our ancient ancestors who built a place for God, inventing the essence of God into their community bringing their connection with God closer. So today when we give of our hearts and build something for others we too bring God closer to us. We are partners with God as the Torah tells us those Israelites were as well. We are building our own places for God to dwell among us through our positive actions. We enact God in the world by these actions and make manifest the presence of God for all to see. Our own metaphorical pillar of cloud and fire. May we all go on to continue to build a places for God to dwell, it can’t be any harder than making a large pot of soup, using only stones. Shabbat Shalom.