Terumah 5780

Parashat Terumah begins a series of parshiyot or Torah portions chiefly focused on the construction of the Mishkan or portable sanctuary for The Divine which the Jewish people carried with us in the desert. In the second verse of our parsha, we learn that all of the children of Israel are asked to contribute physical material gifts towards the Mishkan’s construction as their hearts so moved them. In other words, these gifts weren’t meant to be given under duress, or because it felt like the communally responsible or right thing to do but were instead explicitly intended to be heartfelt, genuine expressions of love of God and love of community.

We also entered the month of Adar this week. The Talmud teaches, in Taanit 29, that when the month of Adar enters, joy increases. Adar is the month during which Jews observe the festive holiday of Purim, on which the Megillah—scroll of Esther—is read, gifts of sweets are given to friends and family, known as mishloach manot, and giving tzedakah on Purim day is one of the central mitzvot of the holiday.

Though the building of the Mishkan and the observance of Purim are dramatically different—the Mishkan served as a dwelling place for the Shechinah or Divine Presence and Purim commemorates the overturning of Haman’s harsh decree against the Jews of Shushan and beyond, at the root of how both our Torah portion and upcoming observance of Purim are manifested in our tradition, gifts are centered. Gifts which come from a genuine place, gifts rooted in joy and sweetness. Indeed, we learn later in the Book of Exodus that the children of Israel joyfully contributed so many material gifts towards the Mishkan’s construction that they were asked to halt the campaign.

There is something radically subversive about the idea that in this time of profound fracturing, rupturing and chaos, our tradition encourages us to increase our acts of joy. How are we to act and feel joyful when the world is burning? In times as challenging as these, it is all the more important that we seek out things this week, this month and beyond we find joyful and pleasurable. That might include observing Purim in a traditional or less traditional way, it might mean indulging in a favorite food, hobby or activity, it might mean making extra time for reading, contemplation, or other practices that bring us a sense of groundedness and centering. May we find moments in Adar and beyond to increase our personal and collective joy. In those moments when the ability to do so feels far away—trite, even—may we remind ourselves that when we engage in something that brings us joy, we provide ourselves with a critical spiritual anchor we can return to again and again.



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