Parashat Terumah

The Role Of Ritual

In focusing on ritual laws, Parashat Terumah teaches us that by reliving heroic historic moments we can introduce the transcendent into our daily lives.

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The Way of Ritual

Parashat Terumah, on the other hand, gives us another way, a very different way, to make our lives heroic--the way of ritual. If the Israelites experienced at first-hand the drama of redemption from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we can also, through ritual, break through the less-than-heroic nature of our every day lives and experience these events for ourselves. The Temple ritual is the way to experience God the way the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. If we successfully give ourselves over to the strategy of the ritual, if we allow it to work for us, we can have that experience as well.

On Passover, at the Seder, one can transform oneself into someone who was himself or herself redeemed from Egypt. On Purim, with the reading of the megillah (Scroll of Esther) and the rituals of celebration, we can transcend our reality and in some way share the experience of the Jews of Persia, who actually lived through the terrible danger, and the miraculous salvation. Every Shabbat, the Rabbis tell us, we can, through ritualized rest, acts of prayer, song, Torah study, and feasting, experience something of the end of days, the Messianic era--ma'ayn olam ha'ba, a bit of the world to come--and transcend the travails of this world.

These, and other, rituals offer us the chance to live a heroic moment, fashioned out of what would otherwise be the dry stuff of history. It is through ritual that we can create existences and experiences not otherwise accessible to us, but for which the soul yearns.

The question that occurs to me now is this: Can we discern, in the Jewish world in which we live, two types, two strategies for achieving transcendence within the mundane: one which, through acts of morality, redemption, justice and charity, seeks to imitate and recreate the miraculous works of God in the book of Exodus, and another, which seeks to introduce the transcendent, the miraculous, the heroic, into our lives through acts of ritual?

And is not the Torah, by placing the laws of Mishpatim and then the rituals of Terumah immediately after God's miracles in Exodus, telling us that both paths are there for us to take?

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of Tani Goodman, who lived life heroically.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.