Terumah: Our Real Gifts

Plaut p. 544

Source Sheet by Yair Robinson



Exodus 25:1-8

(1) יהוה spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. (3) And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; (4) blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; (5) tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; (6) oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; (7) lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (8) And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.


שמות כ״ה:א׳-ח׳

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ב) דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ (ג) וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵאִתָּ֑ם זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֹֽשֶׁת׃ (ד) וּתְכֵ֧לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֛ן וְתוֹלַ֥עַת שָׁנִ֖י וְשֵׁ֥שׁ וְעִזִּֽים׃ (ה) וְעֹרֹ֨ת אֵילִ֧ם מְאׇדָּמִ֛ים וְעֹרֹ֥ת תְּחָשִׁ֖ים וַעֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּֽים׃ (ו) שֶׁ֖מֶן לַמָּאֹ֑ר בְּשָׂמִים֙ לְשֶׁ֣מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָ֔ה וְלִקְטֹ֖רֶת הַסַּמִּֽים׃ (ז) אַבְנֵי־שֹׁ֕הַם וְאַבְנֵ֖י מִלֻּאִ֑ים לָאֵפֹ֖ד וְלַחֹֽשֶׁן׃ (ח) וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃


Several years ago, after doing my workout at the J, I stopped for gas on 202. There I ran into a longtime congregant who is sadly no longer with us. As it happened, another congregant, a peer of this individual and a colleague–they’d worked together for years–was in the hospital. I asked if he knew and had gone to visit him. The congregant shook his head, and looked at me as if he’d seen a ghost. These two people had known each other well, had worked together on projects, had a lot of shared history, and considered each other friends, but he hadn’t visited. In fact, he behaved in such a way to suggest that doing so would put him in some kind of mortal peril. When I asked him why, he replied, “Rabbi, I just can’t see him like that.”


I suspect many of us are the same way. The thought of visiting a friend or relative in the hospital, even pre-covid, for many, feels bad. We don’t want to see our loved ones in that state; not only that, but for many, just being there reminds us of their mortality, of OUR OWN mortality. Likewise, many of us are resistant to being visited, seen in some schleppy gown, our hair a mess, entirely vulnerable. We’d rather drop off soup to the spouse, or call on the phone, or send a card. But the truth is, visiting, even for just a few moments, is one of the greatest things we can do. The rabbis discuss the importance of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, and no less than Rabbi Akiva declares that failing to visit the sick means we may as well be contributing to their ailment. Which sounds outrageous except for the fact that we know that visiting the sick–reminding the sick person of the community that loves them and surrounds them with support–does a great deal of heavy lifting in the healing and recovery process. Visiting the sick is among the greatest gifts we can give someone, better than any tangible, physical offering.


This Shabbat we read parashat terumah, Exodus 25, Where God asks for the people to bring gifts as they are moved, and through those gifts–gold, lapis lazuli, different cloth materials–the Tabernacle will be constructed. And not only that, but, we are told, that through this work, God will dwell amongst us. Make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among you. We could understand that literally, or we might understand that this is, in fact, a metaphor–that the gifts we bring of ourselves allow God to be present in our midst. And what is more precious a gift that being with someone in their time of need. Not only when things are good and stable, when our friends have recovered or we’ve recovered and can put our best foot forward, but when we aren’t at our best, and could use that TLC, that reminder that we’re not alone.


Now, it may be that it’s a stretch to say that bringing Lapis Lazuli to help make the Tabernacle is the same thing as bringing one of those ‘get better’ balloons with you to the sixth floor of Wilmington Hospital. I get that. But hear me out: if the bringing of gifts is supposed to help facilitate the creation of sacred space and through it, sacred community, shouldn’t we be bringing our gifts–including and especially the gift of our compassion and care–to fulfill that same purpose? I invite you to consider what we can all do to fulfill that mitzvah in our lives, to make a sanctuary of support and care for one another, and thus allow God to dwell among us. Amen.