“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying 2 “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. 3 And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; . . . . 8 “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. 9 Exactly as I show you — the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings — so shall you make it.”
— Exodus 25
My husband and I and a friend are attending a Torah study series at the synagogue behind our house (the senior rabbi is a neighbor and friend). In a delightful coincidence yesterday, we studied the above passage — in which God instructs Moses to solicit from all the people to build a tabernacle that they will carry with them in their travels — immediately after we heard a homily at mass that addressed new financial needs at our parish due to increased facility costs. All parishioners are being asked to consider how we can contribute to offset these new expenses, and this Torah portion presents beautiful imagery to aid in such reflection.
The rabbi noted that the tabernacle is the first Jewish institution, and from this text we see that it belongs to everyone; therefore all are responsible for contributing to build and maintain it. It’s a requirement of community that extends to time and talent, not just money. The name for this portion is “T’rumah,” which comes from a Hebrew root that means “to raise up,” meaning to set aside for and dedicated to a sacred use. As arms were raised in the Temple to present a gift, contributing to the tabernacle is a way of giving of oneself to God for the community. It elevates the gift (i.e. money) beyond its materiality. (We immediately connected this image with the priest’s gesture of elevation in the mass.)
Although there is expectation of everyone, the text also states that gifts come from those “whose heart so moves him.” (or her) In Judaism the heart encompasses the totality of a person, especially the inner self, so the gift to build the sanctuary is meant to come from that center. Underscoring the relationship between individual action and community result, later rabbinical sayings are that all gifts from the heart are equal no matter what their amount and that if everyone doesn’t give, the sanctuary can’t be built.
Why does God need a building anyway? If you read it closely and note the grammar, the text actually says that the people should build the sanctuary so that God can dwell among them, not in it. We the people need a physical place to go to experience God — in community — even though God is everywhere.