Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Y. Gavriel A. Levi Ansara finds deep spiritual meaning in the instructions given to Moses for building the Tabernacle.
Parashat Terumah opens with G-d speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai and commanding him in meticulous detail regarding the construction of the
, or “tabernacle,” the portable dwelling place of G-d’s presence that the Israelites could promptly assemble, dismantle, transport, and then reassemble during their sojourn in the desert.
G-d tells Moses: “Daber el Bnai Yisrael veyikchu li terumah me’et kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et terumati./ Speak to the Children of Israel and have them bring Me an offering. Take My offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give.” (Exodus 25:2) Hashem continues by commanding Moses to acquire fifteen materials for the construction of the Mishkan — each item a gift or offering (terumah), and each to be brought by someone “whose heart impels him.” The offerings include gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, and animal skins; acacia wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. This lengthy description of the offerings necessary for the Mishkan emphasizes the multiplicity and diversity of color and material, a symbolic acknowledgment that sacred community cannot exist without embracing the unique experiences and identities of all Jews.
The glaring contrast between the luxurious aesthetics describing the Mishkan and the profound displacement of our people is intentional. It is at precisely this juncture in our history that our people achieved what many Jewish sages characterize as the height of human achievement. The Mishkan becomes the standard from which