Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Terumah: The Opportunity & Right to Give is Itself a G-d-Given Gift

1 Comment 14 February 2018

As a monotheistic faith, Judaism does not teach us that G-d can be housed in a specific space or building. In his dvar Torah to Parashat Terumah, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann contemplates what was meant then when G-d instructed the Jewish people to build a mikdash or sanctuary.

Jewish Tag Meir volunteer hands out flowers to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem’s Old City

By Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

The former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, reaching the following conclusion a number of years ago (2015) in speaking about this week’s Torah portion:

“A society based on rights not responsibilities, on what we claim from, not what we give to others, will always eventually go wrong. It is why the most important gift a parent can give a child is the chance to give back. The etymology of the word terumah hints at this. It means, not simply a contribution but we who are raised up (as in the Hebrew “laharim”). We survive by what we are given, but we achieve dignity by what we give.”

When in this week’s narrative the people are given the opportunity to give, they rise to the occasion and are generous. In building a place for G-d in their midst, a “mikdash,” they bring the holy into their midst by their act of contributing enthusiastically to the building – “V’asu li mikdash Veshakhanti Btocham” (“They will make a dwelling for Me and I will dwell within them”). There is a paradox here since it is not the physical building in which G-d dwells but in the builders themselves. The idea the G-d can be housed in a tabernacle or temple is theologically impossible for a monotheistic faith that rejects pagan worship, but as Rabbi Sacks teaches, the people are in need of a focus for their giving and building a tabernacle or later a temple provides that opportunity to contribute. It is a compromise with their human frailty and neediness, as the next tragic episode of the golden calf makes very clear. We are reminded repeatedly in our holy Torah that nevertheless G-d is beyond such a structure and it is absurd to think otherwise, as we read from the prophet Isaiah in the haphtarah of each new moon that falls on Sabbath. (The new moon of the month of Adar will be this Thursday and Friday this year, not Shabbat).

“Thus saith the Lord: The heaven is My throne, And the Earth is My footstool; Where is the house that ye may build unto Me? And where is the place that may be My resting-place? For all these things hath My hand made, And so all these things came to be…But on this man will I look, Even on him that is poor and of contrite spirit…” (Isaiah 66: 1-5):

On the other hand the idea that G-d dwells within us when we give, when we contribute to a higher goal, to the good of others and of society at large is a noble one, an idea that is inspiring and a source of motivation to do good in the world, to strive for “tikkun olam”. It is one thing that the activists of RHR find motivates them to act.


RHR rabbis visits Jahalin Bedouin community of Khan al Akhmar

Working for the rights of the poor, needy, underprivileged in Israeli society and in the Palestinian territories can be profoundly frustrating, distressing and difficult sometimes but it gives those of us who do so, so much; it potentially brings us in touch with the finer aspects of our inner selves and our religious tradition, and through this work we meet inspiring individuals working for justice and peace— people trying to lift themselves and their communities and families up beyond a repressive and crushing reality of social injustice, bigotry and hatred. They don’t always succeed, nor do we, but when they do, they light up the eyes of others bringing them hope and personal dignity in their struggle. Some of the Palestinian and Bedouin activists I have met in the field over the years are incredible people. They give so much though they have so little.


The mishkan we need to build in today’s Israeli society is no longer only a building of physical beauty (though beautiful structures are a wonderful thing to have) designed to compete with the beauty of impressive surrounding pagan temples. Our mikdash is rather the construction of a society of justice and hope where those are lacking; a society in which the dignity of all is respected and the divine spark of every individual regardless of racial, ethnic, religious, class or gender identity is recognized and where all have the equal opportunity to contribute and be part of that act of building. All should have a voice in what is being created here in this holy land. It is in order to give to such a building project that G-d asks of us to be generous today. Generous not only financially – though that is certainly needed – but also in our time and energy.

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is the director of organizational development at Rabbis for Human Rights

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1 comment

  1. Philip McFedries says:

    God bless you for these precious words as I begin the Christian season of Lent on far off NZ.

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