March 3rd: Terumah
THIS WEEK IN THE TORAH
Rabbi David E. Ostrich
If there is a God, then living in relationship to God is inevitable. God is God, and we are part of God’s world—perhaps even part of God. We have no choice; it is just the nature of things.
The question, then, becomes one of consciousness. Do we live conscious of God’s Presence, and do we strive for a conscious relationship with the Divine?
I realize that there are many ways to understand the Infinity of God, what our Mystics call the Ayn Sof. Some people think of God in the terms and images of the Bible, while others consider the word God to be too anthropomorphic. They prefer to think of the Divine in less personality-oriented terms. Two particularly beautiful alternatives are Sibat Hahavayah, The Ground of Being, or Ma’ayan Hab’ri’ah, the Wellspring of Creation. Some prefer simply The Creator or The Divine, but, whatever our understanding of God, I think spiritually-minded people are questing in a way described by William James over 100 years ago. He described religion as the human response to an undifferentiated sense of reality—something he called the more, an undefinable, non-empirical feeling of a Presence.
Given this sensibility—that there is something out there and in here, religiously minded people are set on a life-long quest to encounter and understand and live in conscious relationship with this Presence.
The development of religion—all religions—is based on the audacious possibility that we can develop this conscious relationship, and all holy texts and ritual practices are devoted to this end.
In our case, in this week’s Torah portion, the Hebrews are asked to bring gifts to God—gifts intended for a place of habitation for God in their midst.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so inclined to this generosity. These are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; yarns of blue, purple, and crimson, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting—for the ephod and for the breast piece. Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25.1-8)
In this ancient situation, the people are asked to bring something of value to build the Mishkan, the ancient tent temple. In our case—that is, in our reading of this text for our own spiritual development, we too are asked to bring something of ourselves to God. What shall it be?
A good guide comes from one the ancient Sages, Simon the Righteous, Leader of the Great Assembly (perhaps one of the founders of what we call Rabbinic Judaism). He said, “The world stands on three things: on Torah, on Worship, and on Deeds of Lovingkindness.” (Avot 1.2)
When he says, “The world stands,” he means that a complete life—a life that is spiritually whole—requires each of these components. This is not merely an intellectual message; it is advice for each and every one of us.
When we strive to live consciously with God, we must bring ourselves to the study of our holy texts. They contain the insights and wisdom of our forebears, and our discussions of them elicit important thinking. Torah is a lifelong and continuing component of a conscious relationship with the Creator. If we want real consciousness, we need to study Torah.
We must also bring ourselves to the worship process—to services! This is where we meditate on the reality and nature of the Divine, drawing closer to its holiness and realizing our own divinity. Without this contact, this prayerful encounter with God, a spiritual life is undirected and ultimately incomplete. We need prayer, and we Jews need Jewish worship services. There is no substitute for it if we are to have a fully integrated Jewish Identity.
We must also bring ourselves to the mission of Tikkun Olam, the Repair of the World that we can effect with deeds of kindness and righteousness. There is no substitute for human agency in righting the wrongs and soothing the wounds of the world. We are uniquely created to be God’s partners in the ongoing process of creation, and we can do great good. Living with consciousness of God and working on a conscious relationship with God require that we recognize our holy potential and bring it forth. God is depending on us to bring godliness into our world.