Parashat Terumah

Gifts Freely Given

By giving God our full presence we allow the possibility for intimate connection and for God to dwell within us.

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It is purely an accident of the calendar that juxtaposes Shabbat Terumah with the season of Valentine's Day. But risking a banal comparison, I suggest that Parashat Terumah is apropos for the season because it also deals with the subject of love. In this case, it is not romantic love but love in its more profound sense--love as it manifests itself in intimate personal connection, in our willingness to do for or to be fully present for another.

The parashah begins, "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts." The Torah then adds, "You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him."

Apparently, God does not want gifts from just anyone. The materials that are to be used to create the Mishkan (Tabernacle), to build a place of holiness, must come from those who give their gifts from their own free will. These gifts must be (to use a term from the realm of psychotherapy) ones "that are freely given."

The road to spiritual connection is an elusive one, but those who have experienced moments of God-connection will attest that such events only come as a result of open-heartedness. Even more significantly, those who testify that they have felt a God-connection compare it to the feeling of intimacy they have experienced with other human beings.

If we accept that premise for the moment, let us try to see the God-connection from the other side. Maybe the parashah gives us an insight into what God is seeking from us. In the milieu of the Bible, terumah, sacred donations, were a popular medium through which people reached for the Divine. The Torah, speaking in God's voice, suggests that God's love is not for sale, that what God wants from human beings is a gift freely given. Connection with the Divine is in its higher sense "a love connection."

God says, "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." Those who bring God their freely given gifts--not only material gifts but the gift of their fullest presence--invite the Divine to abide within them.

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Rabbi Maynard W. Bell

Rabbi Maynard W. Bell Emeritus, served as rabbi at Temple Solel in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, for 25 years. He is the executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Jewish Committee.