by Linda Hoffenberg, Director of Institutional Advancement
If you look on a shelf in your closet or dig deep in a neglected drawer, will you find something you – or maybe your child – made at camp? Do you have a bowl made on the pottery wheel or a challah board made in woodworking? Do you still have a faded tie-dye t-shirt made with camp friends years ago? If you’re like me, the answer is yes.
Why do we keep these things? One response comes from social scientists, who find that an object we create ourselves is often treasured way beyond its actual value. When we take a piece of clay and shape it into a bowl we are changing an inanimate object and creating something new. But that’s not all – the work we put into that creation changes us and the way we feel about it. And if we create that object together with a friend or with someone we love, we value the object even more.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l expands on this concept in his commentary on the Torah portions devoted to building the mishkan (tabernacle). We probably shouldn’t compare the construction of the mishkan with tie-dying a shirt, but there are some real parallels.
The mishkan was the first thing the Israelites made in the wilderness. Before this it was God doing all the work. God struck Egypt with plagues, took the Israelites out to freedom, divided the sea and brought them across on dry land. God gave the Israelites manna from heaven and water from a rock. And, with the exception of the Song at the Sea, the people did not appreciate it. They were ungrateful and they complained.
In parashat Terumah, instead of God doing things for the Israelites, God commands the Israelites to do something for God. Did God really need their help to build a structure to serve as God’s dwelling place? Of course not. Terumah describes God giving the Israelites the chance to make something with their own hands, something they would value because they made it together. Everyone who was willing could contribute whatever they had:
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
God spoke to Moses, saying:
דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃
Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
For the first time God was asking the Israelites not just to follow a pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness or obey God’s laws, but to be active: to become builders and creators. And because it involved their work, energy and time, they took ownership of the experience.
As Rabbi Sacks notes, “God was giving the Israelites the dignity of being able to say, ‘I helped build a house for God.’ The Creator of the universe was giving His people the chance to become creators too – not just of something physical and secular, but of something profoundly spiritual and sacred.”
The name of this parashah, Terumah, means contribution. It actually comes from the root Ramah and in this case it means something we lift up. According to Rabbi Sacks, “The builders of the mishkan lifted up their gift to God and discovered that they themselves were lifted.”
This is an idea that we can relate to every week as we prepare for Shabbat. Just as with our camp treasures, the greater the effort we put into something, the greater the love for what we have made. The effort we put into “making” Shabbat – at camp, in our community and in our home – enhances our Shabbat experience and changes us. The greater the work, the greater the love for what we have made. And when we create Shabbat with family and friends (virtually or in person) we treasure the experience even more.