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Dan Has Questions About Portable and Permanent Synagogues: Parshat Terumah

02/22/2023 09:30:23 AM


Dan Leemon

Two weeks ago, after we were finally free from enslavement, we learned that the 10 Commandments were spoken to us by God from Mount Sinai.  In last week’s Parshah, many more laws were given to us, especially concerning how we treat one another.  In addition to our freedom, and the food and water that sustained us in the wilderness after we left Egypt, these rules and laws, and the Torah itself, can be thought of as gifts from God.  

This week’s Parshah turns that around:  It is called “Terumah” which means "contributions” or “gifts”.  It is time for us to give something to God, and God instructs Moshé to ask for contributions for constructing a “mishkan” – a portable synagogue -- so God can live among the people.

  • Why would God need a place to live among the people (especially at that time)?
  • Did the people really need God to live among them, or to be to find God in a particular “place”? Why or why not? 
  • Do we need that today?
  • Is God in our synagogues today, or elsewhere, or both?  
  • Is there a particular place or activity where you “find God” – a place or activity that you find especially spiritual or meaningful?

The Midrash gives us a few ideas about why God needs a “place”.  One interpretation is that the commandment to build a mishkan actually came after our ancestors built a golden calf to worship, which showed that that they needed a particular place to pray or a way to find or envision God.  Another says that God has given us the Torah but doesn’t want to be far away from it, and that synagogues are a place where God can be with the Torah.  

  • What purposes does our synagogue fulfill for us and our families today?  
  • How many different activities can you name that take place at CBJ?
  • What makes a synagogue a special place?  Why do we need it?

God tells Moshé to ask for contributions of a whole variety of things that will be part of the Mishkan:  precious metals, dyed wools and animal hides, flax, wood, olive oil, spices, and gems.  

  • Where are the people supposed to obtain these things?  
  • Why doesn’t God just make the materials appear, like the manna that falls out of the sky for them to eat, or the water that comes out of rocks?

Then God shows Moshé the design of the mishkan and its contents.  The instructions are very, very specific. First to be made is an ark of acacia wood, of specific dimensions, overlaid inside and outside with gold.  The ark is to have gold rings at its corners and moveable gold poles that go through them, so it can be carried easily from place to place.  The ark is where the stone tablets of the 10 commandments will be stored.

  • Why do you think  God is so specific about what will be in the mishkan and how it will be constructed?  Why not let the people decide?
  • Why might the ark – which will be closed most of the time – need to be covered with gold on the inside?

The mishkan is also supposed to contain a 7-branched menorah made of gold.  Inside the mishkan, there will be a place for sacrifices, a place for the menorah, and a place for the ark.

  • What are the main parts of our synagogue today?  What materials are they made of?
  • What’s different from the mishkan, and why?
  • Whose responsibility is it to maintain our physical spaces and the things inside them?
  • Does it matter whether our synagogue is beautiful and well-maintained?  Why? 
  • What about other places you know – your home or your school – does it matter what they look like or if they are well maintained?

This week’s Parshah seems to be telling us that our synagogue belongs to all of us, and that we each bring something special to it.

  • If you had been there in ancient times, what would you have wanted to contribute to the building of the mishkan?  If you could add to the design, what would you want to make sure was in the mishkan?
  • And what do you bring to the synagogue today that makes it special?

Now, more than ever, we appreciate opportunities to be together in beautiful, peaceful, and sacred spaces.  Wherever you find yourself on Shabbat, may it be restful.

Shabbat shalom,


Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784