Making sense of the sedra: Terumah

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Making sense of the sedra: Terumah

We need to follow the instructions in order to unify

The Ark reminds us to be consistent
The Ark reminds us to be consistent

Here are your instructions for a ‘Build Your Own Mishkan’ set.  Very useful in the desert 3,000 years ago but seemingly irrelevant to us today. Why bother with this extensive and seemingly irrelevant information? Yet the Torah, the timeless source of instruction to Jews throughout the ages, devotes verse after verse to the minutiae of construction details we will never need again. Why would this be?

Do you ever find yourself singing along to a song you haven’t heard in years? Or a friend says “remember when…?” and you are beside yourself with laughter? Or a whiff of perfume transports you back to your Grandma’s lounge in vivid detail from her smile to the tassels on the couch?

We are human beings and we forget easily. To counteract this natural forgetfulness, we are provided with the wonder that our memory triggers. I am frequently awed by the brain’s ability to pull up lyrics, jokes and experiences from the tiniest reminder.

With the perfect aide memoire, the full memory, in all its depth and practical application comes into full focus. Each of the Mishkan’s building instructions serves as a prompt for a timeless message of one of the myriad ways we can connect with God in our lives. Its ultimate purpose was to allow God to be felt in a tangible way in the world. “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8)

Metaphors were part and parcel of the design. While the physical structure did need to be constructed correctly, ultimately the message for all time isn’t about loops, hooks or acacia boards. It is a series of lessons, such as the Ark’s internal and external gold covers serving as a reminder to be consistent in our private and public behaviours. Through these lessons, we can perfect the world and create a deep, meaningful and real relationship with God.

Rabbi Sacks teaches that as well as the details, the process of Mishkan-building itself should serve as a prompt. All Jews participated with enormous enthusiasm. Moreover, there were no complaints about lack of resources or labour division. Incredibly, there were no arguments with each other or with God whatsoever! There was an unusual sense of unity, magnified by their deep recognition of their own unique part to play in this crucial endeavour. Unity is intrinsically connected with the value of each individual being recognised by themselves and others.

The goal was to create a reality where God could show Himself openly.  Fragmentation obstructs that goal, perfect unity of parts clears the path to achieve it. Sadly, fragmentation is all too easy and it has taken recent difficult times for incredible demonstrations of unity to surface. The ‘Build Your Own Mishkan’ instruction set demonstrated that we don’t have to wait for a negative reason to unify. We just have to follow the instruction manual we’ve been given.

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