Parashat Terumah

Is God Present in Our Consumption?

We are given God's world and the material within to construct a house for God--one of peace, harmony, and sustainability.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The Mishkan, the traveling "House of God" built by the Israelites in the desert, is an elaborate structure built of royal and expensive materials. Reading the passages that describe its construction, one could easily be led to ask, "What does such a grandiose and this-worldly building have to do with God?"

canfei nesharimYet the Mishkan is the epitome of Divine presence. The word Mishkan means "dwelling place" and is also inherently connected to the word Shekhinah, "presence." The Mishkan is the essential place of the Shekhinah, God's presence in this world. About the Mishkan God says, "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me--so that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8)."

Parashat Terumah opens with an elaborate list of the materials that will be used in the building of the Mishkan and instruments within: "…gold, silver, and copper; and turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tahash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate (Exodus 25: 3-7)."

Jacob's Foresight

About the forementioned wood, the Midrash Tanhuma on Parashat Terumah teaches that Jacob received a prophecy that his descendents, while in the desert, would be instructed to build a Mishkan, a dwelling place for God. He subsequently planted saplings in the land of Israel and instructed his children to diligently transplant them to Egypt. By making this wise decision, Jacob prepared a whole forest that would later supply the Mishkan with at least 800 cubic feet, or twenty tons, of usable wood.

Jacob longed to participate in the building of the house of God, and took the necessary action to ensure his own involvement. Perhaps more significantly, Jacob's actions express the teaching of our sages "Who is wise? Those who foresee the consequences of their actions (Tamid 32a)."

Jacob had the wisdom to project the need for large amounts of wood in the Sinai desert, an environment that could not sustain wood. He therefore looked ahead and created a sustainable solution for the sacred needs of the Israelites.

Deforestation in Our World

We too, must look ahead and ask ourselves if we are creating sustainable environments for the needs of our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren. Since the industrial revolution, our predecessors have not taken forest management seriously enough to warrant the respect that Jacob earned for his foresight. In fact they, and we, have acted all too foolishly with the resources of God's creation. Humankind, and in particular the industrialized West, has imprudently plundered one of earth's most precious and critical resources. 

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Ariel Shalem is studying for rabbinic ordination at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in Israel's Judean Hills.