Terumah: Appreciating the Individual

Each week we invite a different rabbi or Jewish thought leader to write a “Taste of Torah” on the weekly portion. To receive LAASOK’s Taste of Torah by email each week, subscribe to our newsletter.

This week’s author is Rabbi Alan Cook.

Rabbi Alan Cook is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Champaign, Illinois, where he lives with his wife Rabbi Jody Cook and their three children.  He enjoys cooking and writing poetry, and is heavily involved in interfaith collaborations in his community.

The Torah portion Terumah speaks of the gifts that individuals in the Israelite community contribute to support the construction of the Tabernacle.  The word “terumah” which gives the portion its title is usually translated as “gift” or “offering,” but it derives from a Hebrew root meaning “lifted up” or “exalted.”

The terumah contributions in this portion represent an odd sort of gift; the Israelites are invited to give as their hearts move them, yet clearly the expectation is that every household will contribute in some way.  However one heard and answered the call, though, the act of donating provided uplift in some manner.  It elevated the community overall to know that most (if not all) of the individuals therein had invested in building this special “home” in which God could dwell and bestow blessing upon the people.  But it also elevated the individual, for no contribution was deemed more or less significant; households were not evaluated on the basis of the quality or cost of their gift, but rather that they had participated in this communal project.

“However one heard and answered the call, the act of donating provided uplift .”

– Rabbi Alan Cook

Throughout Exodus, we are reminded not to lose sight of the individual even as we are reading the story of our emerging peoplehood: Shemot lists the individual heads of household who helped Jacob move his family to Egypt; Midrash on Beshallach reminds us that it was the courage of individuals that finally spurred the Sea of Reeds to split.  The new Pharaoh who arose and did not know of Joseph serves as a cautionary tale to remind us that we forget the contributions of those who came before us at our own peril.

Terumah reminds us to appreciate the gifts of every individual, for they are each significant in helping us construct an atmosphere of holiness.

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