On the surface, this week’s sedra, Teruma, would not make an exciting film. But let’s remember the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” a crazy plot about the search for the lost Mishkan.
In this Torah portion, Moses receives God’s commandments on stone tablets. God tells Moses to create a dwelling place for God, where the Israelites can bring God gifts. God details what this Mishkan (Tabernacle) will look like and how it should be made. The Tabernacle includes an ark, two cherubs, curtains and a menorah.
The sedra covers several key themes. Teruma means “gift” or “offering”. The Israelites are asked to give to the building of the mishkan. God teaches us a lesson in fundraising at this point. He asks for “an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity”. He asks that the donation be freely given.
God says the only way to break off the shackles of slavery, both physical and emotional, is to give; but that giving needs to come from within. Freely. So much so that Moses has to ask them to stop, becoming givers is who we are from the moment of our inception as a people.
A key concept that ultimately emerged from having a portable Ark of the Covenant, was what later became known, many centuries later, as the synagogue. A new environment for divine service, of a type unknown anywhere before. The synagogue became Jerusalem in exile, the home of the Jewish heart. It is the ultimate expression of monotheism – that wherever we gather to turn our hearts towards heaven, there the Divine Presence can be found, for God is everywhere.
This world-changing idea did not come from the Temple, but rather from the much earlier institution described in this week’s parsha: the Tabernacle. Its essence was that it was portable, made up of beams and hangings that could be dismantled and carried by the Levites as the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. The Tabernacle, a temporary structure, turned out to have permanent influence, whereas the Temple, intended to be permanent, proved to be temporary.
If the concept of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is that God lives in the human heart whenever it opens itself to heaven, then its physical location is irrelevant. This led the way, seven centuries later, to the synagogue: the idea that if God is everywhere, He can be reached anywhere. The structure described in this week’s parsha became the inspiration of an institution that, more than any other, kept the Jewish people alive through almost two thousand years of dispersion.