We are about halfway in the second Book of Torah, Shemot (Exodus) and you will notice the narrative changes now. The remaining chapters in Exodus are about the building of the Mishkan, the portable shrine which will hold the Ark and Commandments (with the notable exception of the Golden Calf incident).
This week’s Torah portion is called Terumah, which means both gift and elevate. The chapter begins with God instructing Moses, “Tell the Israelite people to bring me terumah (gifts or donations)” which will be used to build the Mishkan, tabernacle.
The purpose of the Mishkan is to offer a dwelling place for the Holy One, as a comfort to the people, who were used to idols and temples. As the Israelite nation matures, we come to understand that God cannot be found in a building. My teacher, Rabbi Mordecai Finley, taught that on the surface level it appears that the Mishkan is being built from donated materials. But there is a deeper level, where the Mishkan refers to the dwelling place we shape for the Divine within us, by raising up – or elevating – aspects of our own being.
The Mishkan – like our own temple – becomes a holy place because of the hearts and souls of the people who occupy it. You sanctify Congregation Emeth; you make it holy – through your prayers, your devotion, your care for the well being of the property and the well being of the people. Through your terumah – your gifts of time and labor and money- this holy community is elevated, creating a sacred space.