Trumah: Creating Holy Moments

Daber el B’nai Yisrael v’yikchu li trumah me’et kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et trumati…V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham.

Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me gifts – you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them…And you shall build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst. (Exodus 25:2,8)

Prior to revealing the Ten Commandments and their accompanying ordinances, God explained that if the Children of Israel fulfilled these mitzvot (commandments) they would become a goy kadosh – a “holy people.” (Ex. 19:6)

The word kadosh – “holy” or “sacred” – is a central term in Jewish life, and even if you do not know any Hebrew you are probably familiar with its variants: we recite Kaddish in memory of the dead, we recite Kiddush over the Shabbat wine, and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was the Beit Hamikdash, the “House of Holiness” – all variants on the root meaning “holy.” Clearly our assignment as Jews is to manifest kedusha – holiness – in the world.

In the language of the Torah, kedusha is a place or moment in which we experience the presence of the Divine. Judaism is acutely aware of the paradox inherent in this formulation. Is not the entire world already suffused with Divine Presence? And yet we humans are uniquely capable of being oblivious to this sublime truth. We are actually capable of desecrating God’s creation. We can be so self-centered that we treat others as objects for our self-gratification, and we treat the world as our possession to exploit. Even though an awareness resounds “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Creator of All, the whole earth is filled with Divine Glory”, we are capable of willful ignorance.

It is in this sense that Judaism teaches that God “needs” us. God needs us to create holy spaces and holy moments in which the Divine Presence can dwell. God needs us to become aware of the glorious potential of every moment and interaction. Rabbi Heschel called it “radical amazement.” If I am able to be amazed by the person or place before me, then I have invited holiness into the world. I have made a place for God to dwell in our midst. Aware of this infinite bounty before me, how could I in that moment respond with anything but reverence, gratitude, and generosity? This is a holy moment, a blessing for both the giver and the receiver (and who is actually the giver or the receiver in such moments?)

This week’s parsha, Trumah, instructs us to build a Mikdash, a holy space in our midst. The chapters are filled with the details of construction: the ark, the menorah, the altar, the enclosure. We can easily get lost in these details, and forget their symbolic purpose as reminders of the Divine potential inherent in our shared lives.

The crucial directive is expressed, as is often the case, in the opening instruction of the parsha: me’et kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et trumati – you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them. The first prerequisite for creating a dwelling place for the Divine in our midst is that it must be a free-will offering. Holy interactions cannot be mandated or coerced. They must come from our hearts. The sanctuary, the dwelling place for the Divine Presence that we build in our midst will always be the result of the offerings of our hearts. The Torah later mandates an annual fixed amount that every Israelite must give for the upkeep of the sanctuary. But the creation of this sanctuary can only take place through the outpouring of unforced generosity.

Think of a moment when you experienced a Presence greater than you could describe. There are easy moments: holding a baby; watching a sunset. And there are moments that take more cultivation: intimate love; deeds of lovingkindness. And there are moments that simply take us by surprise: a spontaneous insight; a beam of sunlight angling through a ruined landscape; an act of goodness from a stranger. Holy, holy, holy, it is our challenge and privilege to perceive these holy moments and to string them together like beads of awareness into a dwelling place for God in our lives.

V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham – And you shall build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan