Parashat Terumah – Something You Lift Up!

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Please Note: On this page I will show the four letter blessed *“Memorial Name” of the Almighty in Ivrit -  - Y-H-V-H, which we usually pronounce as “Adonai” or “HaShem”. At all times treat the most blessed Name with sanctity and when we even see the Name, we should say “blessed be His Sanctified Name.”


*This is My Name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” Shemot - Exodus 3:15.


On this site I will mostly use a version based on the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh (JPS)


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

It was the first Israelite house of worship, the first home Jews made for Elohim. But the very idea is fraught with paradox, even contradiction. How can you build a house for Elohim? He is bigger than anything we can imagine, let alone build.

King Shlomo - Solomon made this point when he inaugurated another house of Elohim, the First Temple:

“But will Elohim in very truth dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded!” Melachim Aleph - 1 Kings 8:27 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

Whilst the prophet Yeshayahu - Isaiah in the blessed Name of Elohim stated:

“The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that ye may build unto Me? And where is the place that may be My resting-place?” Yeshayahu - Isaiah 66:1 (JPS).

Not only does it seem impossible to build a home for Elohim. It should be unnecessary. The Elohim of everywhere can be accessed anywhere, as readily in the deepest pit as on the highest mountain, in a city slum or a palace lined with marble and gold.

The answer, and it is fundamental, is that Elohim does not live in buildings. He lives in builders. He lives not in structures of stone but in the human heart. What the Jewish sages and mystics pointed was that in our parsha Elohim says;

- And let them make Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” Shemot - Exodus 25:8 (JPS version of the Torah).

Elohim, blessed be He, might as well have said “not that I will dwell in it.”

Why then did Elohim command the people to make a Sanctuary at all? The answer given by most commentators, and hinted at by the Torah itself, is that Elohim gave the command specifically after the great sin of the golden calf at Mt Sinai.

Tragically the people made the calf after Moshe had been on the mountain for forty days to receive the Torah. As long as Moshe was in their midst, the people knew that he communicated with  Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, and Elohim with him, and therefore Elohim was accessibly close. But when he was absent for so long, they panicked. Who else could bridge the gap between the people and Elohim? How could they hear Elohim’s instructions? Through what intermediary could they make contact with the divine presence? Not that this was any excuse for what they did!

That is why Elohim said to Moshe, “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” The key word here is the verb sh-kh-n - – ‘to dwell’. Never before had it been used in connection with Elohim. It eventually became a keyword of Judaism itself. From it came the word  – ‘Mishkan meaning a ‘Sanctuary’, and ‘Shekhinah, the ‘Divine presence’.

Central to its meaning is the idea of closeness. ‘Shakhen in Hebrew means a ‘neighbour’, the person who lives next door. What the Israelites needed and what Elohim gave them was a way of feeling as close to Elohim, blessed be He, as to a next-door neighbour.

That is what the patriarchs and matriarchs had. Elohim spoke to Avraham, Yitzchak - Isaac and Ya’aqov - Jacob, Sarah, Rivkah - Rebecca, Ra’Chel Rachel and Le’ah - Leah intimately, like a friend. He told Avraham and Sarah that they would have a child. He explained to Rivkah - Rebecca why she was suffering such acute pain in pregnancy. He appeared to Ya’aqov - Jacob at key moments in his life telling him not to be afraid.

That is not what the Israelites had experienced until now. They had seen Elohim bringing plagues on the Egyptians. They had seen Him divide the sea. They had seen Him send manna from heaven and water from a rock. They had heard His commanding voice at Mount Sinai and found it almost unbearable. They said to Moshe;

“And they said unto Moshe: 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not Elohim, speak with us, lest we die” Shemot - Exodus 20:15 (JPS).

Elohim had appeared to them as an overwhelming presence, an irresistible force, a light so bright that to look at it makes you blind, a voice so strong.

So for Elohim to be accessible, not just to the pioneers of faith, the patriarchs and matriarchs, but to every member of a large nation, was a challenge, as it were, for Elohim Himself. He had to do what was called tzimtzum, “contract” Himself, screen His light, soften His voice, hide His glory within a thick cloud, and allow the infinite to take on the dimensions of the finite.

But that, as it were, was the easy part. The difficult part had nothing to do with Elohim and everything to do with us. How do we come to sense the presence of Elohim? If you think about it, possibly it would not be so very difficult whilst you are standing at the foot of Mount Everest or seeing the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, which is so spectacular. In fact, you do not have to be very religious or even religious at all, to feel awe in the presence of the sublime. Whilst I was there in the 1970’s I met a Jewish professor from Belgium and we spoke about what we called “Peak and grandiose experiences”, and we saw them as the essence of a spiritual encounters.

But how do you feel the presence of Elohim in the midst of everyday life? Not from the top of Mount Sinai but from the plain beneath! Not when it is surrounded by thunder and lightning as it was at the great revelation, but when it is just a day among days.

That is the life-transforming secret of the name of the Parsha - Terumah. It means, “a contribution” or “an offering”. For Elohim said to Moshe:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering (terumah); of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering (terumah)” Shemot - Exodus 25:2 (JPS).

The best way of encountering Elohim, blessed be He, is to give. The very act of giving flows from, or leads to, the understanding to what we give is part of what we were given. It is a way of giving thanks, an act of gratitude. That is the difference in the human mind between the presence of Elohim and the absence of Elohim.

If Elohim is present, it means that what we have is His. He created the universe. He made us. He gave us life. He breathed into us the very air we breathe. All around us is His majesty, the plenitude of Elohim’s generosity: the light of the sun, the gold of the stone, the green of the leaves, the song of the birds. This is what we should feel when reading the wonderful Tehillim - the Psalms we read each day during the morning services. The world is Elohim’s art gallery and His wonderful masterpieces are simply everywhere.

He has given us life, but if life is not given, it is because there is no Giver, thus remember we are part of the creation for if the universe came into existence only because of a random fluctuation in the quantum field, if there is nothing in the universe that knows we exist, if there is nothing to the human body but a string of letters in the genetic code and to the human mind but electrical impulses in the brain, if our moral convictions are self-serving means of self-preservation and our spiritual aspirations mere delusions, then it is difficult to feel gratitude for the gift of life. Then there is no gift if there is no giver. There is only a series of meaningless accidents, and it is difficult to feel gratitude for an accident.

The Torah therefore tells us something simple and practical, give, and you will come to see life as a gift. You don’t need to be able to prove Elohim exists. All you need is to be thankful that you exist – and the rest will follow.

That is how Elohim came to be close to the Israelites through the building of the Sanctuary. It wasn’t the quality of the wood and metals and drapes. It wasn’t the glitter of jewels on the breastplate of the High Priest. It wasn’t the beauty of the architecture or the smell of the sacrifices. It was the fact that it was built out of the gifts of “every man whose heart maketh him willingShemot - Exodus 25:2 (JPS).

Where people give voluntarily to one another and to holy causes that is where the divine presence rests. Hence that special word that gives its name to this parsha “Terumah. Although I have translated it as “contribution” and “offering” but it actually also has a subtly different meaning for which there is no simple English equivalent. But it means “something you lift up” by dedicating it to a sacred cause. You lift it up, and then it lifts you up.

The best way of scaling the spiritual heights is simply to give in gratitude for the fact that you have been given. Elohim, blessed be He, doesn’t live in a house of stone. He lives in the hearts of those who give and I am not just speaking of money, but love help, I am sure you get the picture by now! You lift someone’s life up who needs help, and be assured, your life is also lifted up!

Shabbat Shalom.


For those who have a yearning to learn more about the Torah and grow in being a good and faithful Jew, there are many valuable studies on Hebraic Studies enter the index below. If you have any questions you are welcome to email me.

And please remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for  Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

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