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Terumah 5784

February 11, 2024

Rabbi Geier


BS"D || Rabbi Geier

Terumah 5784

The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: "Tell the Israelites to bring Me an offering; take My offering from all those whose hearts prompt them to give." (Exodus 25:1-2)

Our parashah marks a turning point in the relationship between the Israelites and God. Ostensibly, the new thing was the product: the Sanctuary, the portable home for the Divine Presence during the people's journey through the desert.

But it can be argued that the new thing, more than the product, was the process, summarized in the word that gave its name to our parashah, Terumah: gift, contribution, offering. The parashah tells us something very profound. Giving confers dignity. Receiving does not.

Until that moment, the Israelites had been receivers. Virtually everything they had experienced had been given by God. He redeemed them from Egypt, freed them from slavery, guided them through the desert, created a path for them through the sea. When they were hungry, He provided them with food. When they were thirsty, He gave them water. Apart from the battle against the Amalekites, they had done practically nothing for themselves.

Although at a physical level this was an unprecedented delivery, the psychological effect was not good. The Israelites became dependent, expectant, irresponsible, and immature. The Torah records their repeated complaints. When we read them, we feel that it was an ungrateful, petulant, and whiny people.

On the other hand, what else could they have done? They could not have crossed the sea by themselves or found food and water in the desert. The only thing that yielded results for them were the complaints. The people complained to Moshe. Moshe addressed God. God performed a miracle. From the people's perspective, complaining worked.

However, now God gave them something completely different. It had nothing to do with physical needs and everything to do with psychological, moral, and spiritual needs. God gave them the opportunity to give.

In Parashat Terumah, we learn that generosity and the spirit of giving are fundamental in our tradition. In this Torah portion, we are urged to contribute generously and willingly to the construction of the mishkan, the mobile sanctuary that symbolized the divine presence within our people.

The mishkan, in the desert, constitutes a space of unity that is not intended only for some chosen ones. It is the space par excellence to promote the generous and joint mobilization of the members of the collective, oriented by a common goal. Coordinated by the Cohanim and Levites, it is true, but it was built for the use of each and every one of the People of Israel.

Generosity is not just about giving materially but also offering our time, our skills, and our knowledge and learning to others.

In a world where antisemitism in its various guises is alarmingly increasing, it is more important than ever that we adhere to our fundamental values and continuously "teach," communicating, clarifying, countering compelling facts against the myths created through generations.

Faced with hatred and intolerance, our best battles should focus on debunking existing myths regarding the emergence of Medinat Israel, with all its mistakes and successes. Strengthening our communities and standing firm in our Jewish identity. This also means being proactive in promoting understanding and tolerance among all people, regardless of their background or beliefs.

The tremendous impact of the barbaric massacre of October 7 confronts us to navigate the generosity to which we are called to respond, which is to demand the freedom of all hostages, raising our voices in every possible way. It is to educate others about our history and our culture, and to work tirelessly to combat the stereotypes and false narratives that fuel antisemitism, whatever they may be called.

Being supportive of each other and supporting each other in times of adversity is essential to our essence as a People.

But at this moment, it is crucial that beyond our immediate surroundings, both inside and outside of Israel, we can reach those who are willing to join us in the fight against antisemitism, all forms of hatred, and the return of all hostages to their homes and families.

Together, perhaps, we can contribute our bit to creating a just and compassionate world for all people, regardless of their religion or culture. A world where things are called by their name, where LIFE is consecrated and valued, societies where terrorism has neither coverage nor place.

May the notion of a God who dwells among us, regardless of our approach to Him or the interpretation we may have of His words, guide and protect us on our journeys towards peace and justice as we continue to clamor for the freedom of the hostages and all oppressed in our battered world.

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