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What is Your Gift? #712

02/04/2022 05:58:56 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Terumah
“Build a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)

What Is Your Gift

“What am I doing here?”

The question came up recently as I sat with a congregant during lunch, musing over life’s perpetual swing between triumph and challenge.

We arise each day and engage in life’s routines, hoping to add new experiences and meaning along the way.

But there are moments for all of us when we ask ourselves, “What am I doing here?”

It’s a question that cannot be easily answered if we rely totally on logic. So, we as Jews turn to our understanding of God and a faith, which has carried us through more than 3,000 years.

Judaism holds that there exists within each of us, a spark of God. We call it our soul. In Hebrew, it is known as Tzelem Elohim. We are created “in God’s image.” Within the Kabbalah — our mystic tradition — it is referred to as a spark of God — spread through the universe at the dawn of creation.

In short, God is the electricity, and we are the light bulb, bringing light to all of humanity.

It’s a tall order, and it begins with you and me.

Our tradition teaches that each one of us has a gift — a talent — a mission that is implanted within us at birth. And it is up to each of us to embrace that spark — to put it into practice in order to bring God’s presence to earth.

That process is referred to in this week’s Torah portion. Two weeks ago, we read in the Torah that the Israelites received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

This week, the Torah addresses an extremely practical question:

“Where do we house the Ten Commandments?” So, God tells Moses to “build a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)

In this week’s parashah — Terumah —God requests gifts, and Israelites line up with gold, silver, copper, gems, skins, yarns and wood.

But is it really material gifts that God requires?

As a rule, Jews do not build huge, bejeweled synagogues to worship God. Many of our parents and grandparents prayed in synagogues known as shtiebels — little houses, or rooms. They exist to this day.

They are intimate. They are sacred. They bring God closer.

In the year 70 CE, after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, the Rabbis asked, “Is this it for Judaism?”

We know the answer.

We didn’t need a Temple. We didn’t need padded seats or chandeliers. So how is it that over 2,000 years — often as outsiders, often persecuted and oppressed — we have survived?

For centuries, rabbis turned to that sacred line in this week’s Torah portion, as they comforted those in exile to build a sanctuary within “so that God may dwell in you.”

When we are kind. When we clothe the naked, feed the hungry and take in the homeless. When we visit the sick or comfort the mourner. When we act like menschen — when we inspire children and grandchildren who look up to us — God’s spark is energized.

Over generations, scholars have examined this week’s Torah portion and have marveled at the riches people brought to the first Jewish sanctuary. 

The great kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593), taught that the best way to explain “why we are here” is to embrace the idea that Judaism is more than a place. It is a space.

How else — without permanent synagogues, without the security of a national homeland, and with the constant threat of persecution — could we have survived?

God is the melody played by that fiddler on roof, who reminds us that God does not live in the sky. God lives on earth, reinforcing that when we exercise generosity, both materially and spiritually, we embrace our self-worth, and that spark which resides within us.

In this week’s Torah portion, God asks Moses to instruct the people to bring gifts. In many ways, God is challenging the people:

“Show me what you got.”

Some of us labor with our hands. Some excel with words. Some light up the world through the arts. Some devote their lives to raising children and grandchildren. Some are healers. Others help build economies in order to help sustain livelihoods.

Each of us has something.

In this week’s Torah portion, our Sages inspire us to consider, “What are the gifts that each of us brings to be table?”

And by considering that, we gain a better understanding of why we are here.

How interesting, that through the miracle of Zoom we have been reminded for almost two years that God does not live in a building. Rather, we can experience God virtually, provided we make room for God to dwell.

Many years ago, I met a salesperson, a Jew from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a small city where there is no longer a synagogue or Jewish community. He told me that on the anniversary of his parents passing he would go into the forest among nine trees, and within God’s creation recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.

God has been and remains with us everywhere we travel — in the forest, in the shtiebel, in the sanctuary, on Zoom, in our living rooms, around our kitchen tables, within our hearts.

Each day, within our relationships, our work, our interactions, we possess the capacity to create a sanctuary.

For not only did the Israelites contribute material gifts to the building of Judaism’s first official place of worship, but they also contributed the gift of who they are. So do we.

And in so doing, we bring God to earth wherever we go.

Each one of us is amazing. Each one of us is blessed. Each one of us has something to contribute.

Sometimes life can feel a bit cloudy. Light seems distant. But let us be reminded of that spark of God that exists within each of us. Feel it. Embrace it. Have faith in it.

For each one of us is a gift. And we are blessed with the capacity to share that gift every day. Perhaps that is why we are here.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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