Thoughts on Terumah

This week’s Torah reading is Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19.1 The haftarah is 1 Kings 5:26 (5:12 English) – 6:13 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:25–36.

Parashat Terumah records the freely given offering (תְּרוּמָה, terumah) that HaShem commanded Moshe to receive from the people, whose “whose hearts prompt[ed] them to give.” Many sermons have been preached about this free-will offering that Bnei Yisrael was more than willing to bring to Moshe for the construction of the Mishkan. But there is an aspect of this offering that is often overlooked.

This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze,blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair,tanned rams’ skins, fine leather, acacia wood,oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense,onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breast piece. (Exodus 25:3-7)

While the offering was, in fact, free-will, it requested very specific materials that would become part of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), the place where the people of Israel could meet with HaShem. Individuals were not required, nor were they under any compulsion to participate in this offering as they the half-shekel terumah, which they were later required to give (Exodus 30:11-16). Also, there is every indication that HaShem had already prepared the people for this collection. Moshe was told to tell the elders that HaShem would bless Bnei Yisrael through the Egyptians,

I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed… (Exodus 3:21)

This promise was fulfilled as they were preparing to leave

…and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

In other words, the slaves, who had virtually nothing, were suddenly wealthy beyond their imagination through no real effort of their own. Then these same, now freed and delivered slaves were given the opportunity to freely give away what had been given to them. Social psychologists would view this action as the law or principle of reciprocity, i.e. individuals tend to pay back what they have received from others. Each of us has been gifted in numerous ways, whether they are talents or abilities or material substances. The important thing is what we do with these gifts. In April 1972, singer, songwriter Bill Withers released his song Lean on Me.A few lines from the song clearly express the need not only to help one another be to receive help as well.

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

While Rav Shaul may not have been able to sing the blues, I believe he had the reciprocity principle in mind when he wrote to the believers in Corinth,

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

HaShem did not bless Bnei Yisrael with the riches of Egypt just for the sake of plundering their oppressors. The material blessings they received became not only what was needed to construct and furnish the Mishkan, but also, and possibly more importantly, the blessings allowed those who previously had little or no material possessions to share whole-heartedly out of their new-found abundance. Those in need became those who were able and willing to give for the betterment of others.

The haftarah records Solomon’s preparations for and construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which would replace the Mishkan and the place where HaShem would meet with His people. Among the major differences between the Mishkan and the Temple, one is immediately evident. The Mishkan was built with local labor, with materials obtained as hearts were prompted to give, while the Temple was built with conscripted labor and foreign. We are not told the cost of Solomon’s Temple but, we are told that Solomon conscripted more than 180,000 workers from throughout Israel and that it took just over seven years from the laying of the foundation to its competition (1 Kings 6:37-38). Also notice that these seven years begin at the laying of the foundation, not at the beginning of quarrying the stone or gathering the wood by King Hyram in Tyre, or all the other materials. Although there is no indication in the haftarah that Solomon, with all his knowledge and wisdom, received any directions from HaShem as to how to build or furnish the Temple, the Book of Chronicles (28:11-19) indicates that the plans for the Temple were given by HaShem to King David, who in turn gave them to Solomon.

The common ground for both the Mishkan and the Temple is clear, they were places where HaShem could meet with his people. If I might borrow from my wife’s haftarah portion for the UMJC this week, we all need to “remember that the Spirit of God does not dwell in buildings, but in the builders. As Yeshua believers, we are also living stones being built together into a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.”As living stones, we are connected as a body “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,” (Ephesians 4:16).

Shabbat Shalom

1 Unless otherwise noted the Scripture readings are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

2 last accessed 4 February 2019. last accessed 7 February 2019.

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