Parashat Terumah

Using Our Contributions To Create The Sacred

In order to help build sacred space, the act of giving must be accompanied by a heart that reaches out to others.

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One of the ways we create a moral and spiritual environment is by volunteering our own time to come to the aid of other people, and to work for wider social change. We learn from these two experiences of the Israelite nation that the act of giving is not inherently good.

Volunteering Heart

The root of the word yidvenu is nadav, to volunteer; a literal translation of the phrase in Exodus 25:1 might yield "from every person according to the volunteering of his heart," or "according to the generous nature of his heart." The act of giving must be accompanied by a "volunteering heart," a heart that is reaching out to serve the other.

We can understand the phrase, "volunteering heart," to mean one who invests their time and energy in trying to understand and relate to the other person or people in need. When we act toward others with generosity of spirit, we create a place in our lives which is a mishkan, a place where God dwells with us.

Sforno, a 15th-century Italian commentator, writes about this verse that no items of monetary value could be given, but rather items that would themselves be used for the work of building the sanctuary. The Israelites did not contribute money; instead, they brought the thirteen materials actually needed for the building project and its accoutrements: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, 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.

Such is the case with community service: we must understand and be involved with those we are serving in such a way that we bring what is most needed and join together in the project of meeting communal needs. If we approach service like we came to the project of the Golden Calf, we will risk only furthering our own needs, giving our money and time for our own well being. With a "volunteering heart" and a true effort to reach beyond our selves, we create a true sanctuary for bringing God's presence into our lives.

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Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow was ordained at JTS, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. She served as the National Program Director of Spark: Partnership for Service, is the American founder of the Bavli-Yerushalmi Project, and worked as a Program Officer/Educator at the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation. She is currently the Rabbi/Director of Religious Services at Hebrew SeniorLife, a multi-faceted organization serving seniors in the Boston area.