What kind of gifts would God want from me?
The Torah details very specifically what kind of gift God wanted in biblical times. In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses that the people of Israel are to bring terumot, gifts, for God. Indeed “terumah” is the title of this week’s Torah portion.
The Torah describes the gifts God requests in great detail. They include gold, silver, copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, and a whole host of other detailed gifts.Reading this long and luxurious list, we might ask, why would God need such fine gifts?
After requesting these gifts, God tells Moses, “vasu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham;” God tells Moses to “let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”
The people’s gifts would be used for a specific purpose--they would be used as materials to provide a physical place for God to inhabit. Everyone was responsible for the building of the Tabernacle. It wasn’t built by one person or even an elite few people. Everyone contributed to its creation, everyone contributed to the building of a place suitable for God to inhabit.
Once the Temple was built, the Kohanim continued the tradition of giving gifts to God—they instituted the giving of sacrifices on the altar.
Then, the Prophet Hosea introduced a very interesting idea—a revolutionary idea—he said, “instead of bulls, we will pay the offerings of our lips.” Meaning, that instead of offering up animal sacrifices to God, people could now offer words of prayer to God.
After the Temple was destroyed, the ancient and medieval rabbis affirmed Hosea’s idea and set up an entire system of prayer, a prayer service, to guide people in doing just that. They set up worship services each day, coinciding with the sacrifice services that had previously been made in the Temple.
In this way, they set up a system very different from the old system. Instead of understanding God as one who was interested in physical gifts like gold or animal sacrifices, they understood God as one who was interested in the spiritual prayers of the liturgy. The rabbis of old set up a system of offering prayers of praise, petition and thanks.
Now, I give God the most precious thing I have—my thoughtful attention. Dedicating my time and energy to God—thinking about God, questioning God, petitioning God and also praising and thanking God, I give God my honest attempt to transcend myself, to positively affect myself and the world through connecting to something bigger than myself.
Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk says that the verse in this week’s Torah portion says that God will dwell “among them”, meaning the people of Israel, and not “among it,” meaning the Tabernacle, to teach you that each person can build the Sanctuary in his or her own heart; then the Eternal will dwell among them.
By dedicating time to this action, we prepare a place in our hearts for the dwelling of the Divine.
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.