Parashat Terumah

Give And Take

The fundraising campaign to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) teaches us that in true Tzedakah, the giver benefits as much as the taker.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.


With Parashat Terumah, the major theme of the rest of the Book of Exodus is now introduced. Great detail is given about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the portable sanctuary that was the centre of the Israelites' religious life during the years they wandered in the wilderness. The Mishkan was "God's dwelling place amongst the people," where sacrifices were offered and God communicated with the people through Moses and the High Priest.

Very detailed instructions are given to Moses as to how the Mishkan should be built and what materials are to be used. Included among the Klay Kodesh ("holy implements") are the Menorah, the altar for sacrifices, the Ark, and the Holy of Holies. The portion begins with God asking Moses to ask the Israelites to bring Terumah, usually translated as "gifts," meaning something like "contributions" or "donations," but they are to be freewill offerings.

In Focus

Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for Me a gift offering; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. (Exodus 25:2)


jar of penniesMoses is up on Mount Sinai and God is giving him instructions to pass on to the Israelites. The specific topic of discussion at this point is the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). But before God passes on the details of how the Mishkan is to be built, they must discuss the building campaign--how they will collect the materials needed for this lavish construction project. The answer (you guessed it) is fund-raising. Moses is to ask the Israelites to bring Terumah--"gifts"--for the building of the holy place. However, these are not taxes, but rather donations--freewill offerings from each person "whose heart so moves him."


Anyone who has ever sat on a synagogue [board], school [board] or other non-profit board knows how important fund-raising is. Without that kind of important support, these significant institutions would not exist. But they also know how difficult it is. Convincing people to part with their hard-earned funds to support even a worthy institution is, understandably, not easy. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to convince a group of people just two weeks out of slavery to make contributions to build a house of worship for an invisible (in Egypt they could at least see the "gods" in the temples) God. Talk about a hard sell.

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.