Parshas Terumah: “Build It and I Will Come”

By Ellyn Hutt

What happened to all the drama? Where’s the story line?

For the entire book of Bereshit we were introduced to each of our matriarchs and patriarchs and followed the many challenges that each of them faced. The Book of Shemot began with the enslavement of the Jewish people and quickly moved through the 10 Plagues, the Exodus, the Splitting of the Sea, and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai amid thunder and lightning. It was one interesting story and one dramatic moment after the next. And then all of the excitement stops.

Last week’s parsha of Mishpatim introduced us to the many laws that govern our relationship with one another and create a safe, respectful, and just society — important concepts, but hardly exciting. (There is no movie about Parsha Mishpatim.) Abruptly, the topic changes again when we begin this week’s parsha of Terumah, which focuses on the building of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary that accompanies the Jewish people throughout their 40 years in the Midbar (Desert) and into the Land of Israel.

Parshas Terumah, and the next several parshas, read like a manual from Home Depot for your next DIY project. “You shall make the planks of the Tabernacle of acacia wood, standing erect. Ten cubits the length of each plank, and a cubit and a half the width of each plank.” (Shemot 26:15-16) “You shall make fifty hooks of gold, and you shall attach the curtains to one another with the hooks, so that the Tabernacle shall become one.” (Shemot 26:6) Where is the spirituality in this? How are we to understand the juxtaposition of these parshas and the meaning they have for our lives?

People often think that their spiritual lives would be more meaningful and complete if they could only have spiritual experiences that left them awestruck – something akin to being able to witness the splitting of the Sea or the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. To be sure, these were powerful experiences that revealed Hashem’s Presence in a profound way. Yet, they are not the model or even the ideal way we are to experience the Divine Presence in our daily lives.

“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them,” says G-d to Moshe commanding the construction of the Mishkan. The people need to give of their own hearts, souls, and material resources and direct all of that toward Hashem. We need to build a framework for our spiritual lives. Spirituality cannot be conferred on us without having a structure to support it. Each of the details of the building of the Mishkan was an actual direction for construction as well as a metaphor for building ourselves into the type of people among whom Hashem would want to dwell. For example, the wood planks mentioned above were to be stood upright in the direction that the trees from which they came grew. Trees represent people and according to the Or HaChaim, the placement of the planks going from bottom to top symbolizes reaching upwards from earth to heaven and reminds us of our our goal of binding together the earthly and the heavenly spheres.

Every single detail of the construction of the Mishkan instructs us and inspires us to remember that spirituality found in dramatic moments is fleeting, while the spirituality that is built from the ground up in everyday life makes us into a home worthy of the Divine Presence.