Parshat Terumah

Torah Reading for Week of February 3-9, 2019

“Healing G-d’s Broken Heart”

by Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, ’04 & ’15, AJRCA Professor of Tefillah Skills & Musical Traditions

 

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

 

T’rumah begins the odyssey of one of the most glorious projects in the history of our people, the creation of the Mishkan, a dwelling place where G-d and the human would meet. The word itself comes from the root reish vav mem meaning to elevate, an offering, or a gift. It was only two portions earlier, however, in Yitro, that this relationship was tentative at best. After G-d’s mighty and powerful appearance, “Thunder and lightning…heavy cloud…sound of the shofar was very powerful and the entire people…shuddered….Mount Sinai was smoking…Hashem descended…in the fire; the entire mountain shuddered…the shofar grew stronger…the people saw and trembled,” the people stood from afar. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we shall hear; let G-d not speak to us lest we die.” The meeting did not go so well. The people terrified reject G-d. They don’t want to see, hear, or be in this Presence. Let Moses be the one to speak to G-d. Let Moses be the one with the contact. Following their traumatic response, Moses goes close to the thick cloud, which is the place of G-d, leaving the people behind.

Once in G-d’s presence, Moses receives the ordinances and then the instructions, “…let them take for Me a portion.” But immediately we hear a hesitation, there is a qualifier, “From every person whose heart motivates him…” I have always found this to be an interesting compound sentence; give an instruction and then turn it into invitation – ‘do the following but only if you’re motivated to do so.’ Why does G-d hesitate and couch the demand with ‘if they’re willing.’ G-d doesn’t falter at any other time when S/He makes demands. When G-d wants something, G-d commands it, and if the expectations are not met there are consequences. What’s going on here? Is this a test? Why command and then pull back? What’s in the mind of the Divine at this moment? What does G-d need and why turn this into an invitation?

 

The rupture between the Israelites and G-d at Sinai always struck me as incredibly poignant. This meeting was fraught with so much anticipation and preparation. After watching G-d’s awesome signs and wonders, the miraculous crossing at the Sea, and extraordinary gift of manna, their expectations must have been very high. To finally meet the source of their blessed gift of freedom must have assuredly been welcome. But the power and enormous unbounded Presence was more than they could handle. One can imagine the disappointment that G-d feels and the pain of rejection at this moment. This called for some deep introspection and perhaps a totally different approach. I can’t help but think of Elijah’s meeting with G-d, years later, in the “Kol D’mama Daka,” the still small voice; a fraction of the Sinai experience.

At this moment in time the Mishkan became the conduit for healing. It not only would be a project that would repair the PTSD that was such an integral part of the slave experience, but it would also be a channel to heal the relationship between the people and G-d. This was a “tzim tzum” moment, a way for G-d to contract and make it possible for the people to find a way back, feeling a new level of safety and comfort in G-d’s presence. G-d didn’t just want blind obedience but hoped that there would be some desire and motivation to return and take the risk to come close once again.

T’rumah is an offering, a gift. Receiving it from those who would give with a willing heart, “Yidvenu Libo,” repaired the pain of rejection, restoring a pathway to a new and promising relationship, elevating both the one who received it and the one who gave it.