Terumah (5781)

A Drash for Terumah

by Marc Mangel

I have been thinking about my father, Karl Mangel (Shlomo ben Mordechai), who died 21 years ago this winter, a lot these days and am dedicating this drash to his memory. 

He died on 30 Adar 1, which only occurs in leap years. The tradition is that in a non-leap year the yahrzeit is observed on 30 Shevat.  But he died in a beautiful and warm spring, rather in a lingering winter (and in Tacoma it snowed on 30 Shevat).   So in a non-leap year, I focus thoughts about him from the middle of Shevat to the end of Adar.

My dad had  a complicated relationship with Judaism.  He grew up in Vienna in a moderately observant family but later in life was most taken with Mordecai Kaplan’s notion of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization and he was not very observant. Even so,  at my classical Reform (Friday night) Bar Mitzvah he insisted and fought with the Rabbi so that he, my brother, and wore kipot.  He loved learning and being surrounded by books and we had many Jewish books in my house when I was growing up.

He was also a survivor – escaping from Austria just after the Anschluss, arriving in the US penniless more than a year and a half later, but had completed his training in electrical engineering.  After serving in the Army, he had a very successful career and was very charitable.  Today we would say that his giving was paying forward what the US gave to him.

I believe that two things about this parsha would resonate with him: giving and blueprints.

The parsha begins with (Ch 25, 2): “God spoke to Moses saying: speak to the Israelites and have [them] take contributions for me”.  We are not told what will be done with these contributions, but the verse continues “You shall take the contribution for me from every man whose heart prompts him to give”.  That is, no amount is specified – God is counting on people to pay forward whatever the reason for the contributions.

A few verses later, we are told what will happen with these donations (Ch 25:8).  Were we together in person, I would read the verse in Hebrew and then go on, so suggest that you do the same.

In the Rebbe’s Chumash, the verse is translated as  “They shall make a Sanctuary so that I may dwell in their midst”. In the Steinsaltz Chumash it is translated as “They shall make for Me a sanctuary and through it I will dwell among them”.  Note that God does not want to dwell in the Sanctuary (i.e. “in its midst”) but God wants to dwell with us – in our midst, among us, in our lives.

The Israelites are using donations to create a structure (the Mishkan)  so that God can dwell in our midst.   This is being done with donations rather than taxes! Rav Solevetchik taught that this verse teaches us to have faith in Klal Israel to step up – we’ve been paying forward since leaving Egypt; my father followed in the long Jewish tradition.

Now to blueprints.  After Ch25, v8 we have detailed descriptions of how to make the ark, the cover of the ark, the table, the candelabrum, the coverings, the tabernacle, the curtain, the screen, the outer altar, and the courtyard.  Of course, in the Torah there are only words – but in many Chumashim these words are converted to pictures (to help those who, like me, cannot visualize from blueprints).

In the most general sense, blueprints provide information about both structure and detail.  In the same way that the Israelites were given blueprints for the Mishkan, the Torah gives us structure and detail about how to make a dwelling place for God in this world.  The blueprints of the Torah tell us that our purpose is not just to serve as a receptacle for holiness but to make our material pursuits holy.

How do we do that? The parsha tells us how:  it is all in the details of how we lead our lives in this world, interact with people, and respond to situations.