Heading Home . . . a D’var Torah by Lisa Schwartz

A D’var Torah Offered at Wednesday Night’s Temple Shalom Board Meeting by Vice-President Lisa Schwartz

At our last meeting, Amy Stein spoke about the project for Heading Home. As part of the Temple’s ongoing work with this organization, we will help to furnish an apartment for a homeless family transitioning out of a shelter. Different groups at the Temple have taken on the task of furnishing different rooms, and each group has to consider not only the essential items that families need like mattresses and silverware, but choosing with care the items that will make their house a home. Like finding the right furnishings for a girl or a boy, a baby or an adolescent, single mom or a married couple. We seem to want to find whatever will be just right for them.

On that note, it’s fitting that this week’s parasha is T’rumah, which is Hebrew for gift or offering. The parasha begins with God speaking to Moses, and saying to the Israelite people, bring me gifts. God requests gold, silver and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns; fine linen; dolphin skins; and acacia wood; among other things. God commanded: let them make me a sanctuary and let me dwell among them. The verse does not say “and I will dwell within it” – instead it says “I will dwell among them.” – Perhaps meaning that God would dwell among each of us, not just in the tabernacle itself.

The Parasha then provides the details for building the ark – two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide and a cubit and a half high, to be overlaid with pure gold. There are specific instructions for the making and attaching of poles, and the design and dimensions of a table of acacia wood. The instructions for the construction of the tabernacle are dense and include specifications like the number and size of strips of cloth, and the number of loops for connecting the cloth, the layers of materials and the directions that certain objects should face. The instruction remind me of buying a set of shelves from Ikea: the directions seem to have been previously written in another language that doesn’t neatly translate into English, the units of measurement are a mystery and there is no phone number to call with questions.

Some scholars say the materials for the tabernacle correspond to the components of a human being: Gold is the soul, silver is the body, copper is the voice, blue are the veins. Another interpretation is that the materials for the tabernacle correspond to the heavens: gold is the sun, silver is the moon, copper is the western horizon at sunset, blue the sky and purple the clouds.

I’d like to extend the metaphor to the Heading Home project and I envision the home for our family moving from a shelter: Gold is the light shining on the family eating a meal together, silver is the nightlight as the family sleeps safely in their beds, their own beds, copper is the giggling from a game of hide and seek, blue are the drawings and pictures taped to the fridge.

The parasha has measurements for the structural components, but also instructions for the furnishings, the colors and the decorations. The text implies that it’s not just the four walls that are important, but the fabrics, patterns and ornaments that add warmth and color.

The directions in this parasha, the directions for building the tabernacle become a prototype for our work – not building a tabernacle – but making our lives and our work homes for God. So how do we make our lives and our work here a home for God? Not really in cubits of wood and tables of Acacia – but in the way we live – and in this instance – in the way we celebrate our sacred space and in the ways we will decorate a space for a family nearby. Here, we do it with Torah covers needle-pointed by temple members, quilts of the handprints of our consecration class, stained glass windows, embroidered ark doors and a brand new handicapped access system. And for the Heading Home project – we could easily just write a check, or do nothing – but we have chosen this wonderful gift of furnishing a home for a struggling family – to consider their needs – and include the furnishings that create a warm respite from their past chapters in a homeless shelter. And this is how we make our work here a blessing. These are our gifts, our T’rumah. – Creating the next chapter of building a home – so God can continue to dwell among us.

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