Parashat Terumah 5784 – Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

By: Dr. Bill Sutker

Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Andrew Carnegie said: “Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” I think we can all agree with these statements. Both apply to today’s parshah. In parshah Terumah, God says to Moses,”They shall make for me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell amongst them.” On the summit of Mount Sinai, Moses is given detailed instructions on how to construct this dwelling for God so that it could be readily dismantled, transported and reassembled as the people journeyed the desert. Many chapters in the torah are devoted to the fine details of this task.

The building of the Mishkan is the Israelites first great constructive and collaborative act after crossing the Red Sea, leaving the domain of Egypt and entering their new domain as the people of God. The tabernacle, small and fragile though it was, was an event of huge significance. It brought the divine presence down from heaven to earth. God came close to the Israelites through the building of this sanctuary. It was the fact that it was built out of the gifts of “everyone whose heart prompts them to give”. It was where people gave voluntarily to one another and to holy causes. That is where the divine presence rests.

Remember, it was after the occurrence of the Golden Calf that God tasked the Israelites with building a Tabernacle. The Jews compiled their resources including gold, silver, and leather, as well as their time and skill, to build this House of Worship. Up until this point, the Israelites were known for their complaining. The difference, however, between this event and others before this, was that they built the Tabernacle without complaint.

The building of the Mishkan will force the Israelites to work together in harmony and unison to construct something better than they would have constructed had they been tasked to do so as individuals working alone. It helped prepare them for a common future. The people’s participation in the making of the tabernacle will unify the nation in a different way. It will elevate the seemingly mundane work of construction into a sacred vocation, dedicated to the service of the one God who freed them from Egypt. These former slaves are no strangers to building monuments and cities. In contrast, constructing the tabernacle and all its finery will be holy work that aims to create sacred space and sacred instruments of worship.  This Mishkan became the model and prototype for all subsequent homes for God constructed on Earth.

Team building, even after a disaster like the Golden Calf, is neither a mystery nor a miracle. It is done by giving the group a task, one that speaks to their passions. You can turn even hostile factions into a single cohesive group, so long as they are faced with the challenge that all can achieve together, but none can do alone. It must be constructive. Every member of the group must be able to make a unique contribution, and then feel that it has been valued. Each must be able to say, with pride: I helped make this. That is what Moses understood and did. He knew that if you want to build a team, create a team that builds. The team in this case is not a small group, but rather the entire Israelite nation.

Teamwork occurs when a group of individuals work together toward a collective goal in an efficient manner. It involves the combined efforts of individual members who bring their unique knowledge and skills to the table. Rabbi Abramski suggests that the ultimate purpose of each individual is to combine his/her personality, with all of its contradictions and complexities, with the personalities of others. Thereby, the group will be composed of a multitude of individuals whose stark differences result in a harmonious and well-functioning group. Strong team dynamics enable individual members to divide complex projects into manageable tasks, which will enhance productivity and enable an organization to function more effectively. Moreover, successful teamwork creates a supportive network that can significantly enhance job satisfaction and morale. Team leaders play an important role in promoting open communication and ensuring that each member’s voice is heard which can lead to better decision making and positive effect on the desired goals.

Another interesting aspect of building the Mishkan can be found in the work of behavioral economist Dan Ariely. He did a series of experiments on what is known as the IKEA effect or “why we overvalue what we make.” The name comes, of course, from the store that sells self- assembly furniture. Most of us have been there. After we construct something, even if the item is amateurish, we tend to feel a certain pride in it. We can say, “ I made this,” even if someone else designed it, produced the pieces, and wrote the instructions.  Ariely’s conclusions of his studies were that the effort that we put into something does not change the object. It changes us in the way we evaluate the object. The greater the labor, the greater the love for what we have made.

The Mishkan was the first thing the Israelites made in the wilderness, and it marks a turning point in the Exodus. Until now, God has done all the work. He took the people out of Egypt to freedom. He gave them food. However, the people did not appreciate it. They were ungrateful. They complained. Now God instructed Moses to take the people through a role reversal. Instead of God doing things for them, he commanded them to make something for Him. This was not about God. This was about humans and their dignity, their self-respect. By making them build the Tabernacle, God taught them an important lesson about responsibility and adulthood, and that one must use the resources given to them and make something of themselves rather than wait for things to be given to them in a silver platter. One must create from what one is given.

God gave the Israelites a chance to make something with her own hands, something they would value because, collectively, they made it. Everyone who was willing could contribute from whatever they had. Everyone had the opportunity to take part: women as well as men, the people as a whole, not just the elite.

The teamwork culture empowers people, treats them as the individuals that they are and values utilizinging this power to work better. It means creating an environment where people have a voice and feel comfortable asking questions, raising concerns and sharing ideas. Individuals need to be supported and be supported for who they are, and they should be encouraged to become the best that they can be.

The word Terumah can be translated as a contribution, but it actually has a subtly different meaning for which there is no simple English equivalent. It means “ something you lift up” by dedicating to a sacred cause. You lift it up, then it lifts you up. One of the best ways of elevating our spiritual heights is simply to give in gratitude for the fact that things have been given to us. Divine presence was not in a building but in its builders, not in a physical place but in the human heart. The truth is that in giving, we actually receive more than we give. So, whenever you think you’re a big deal because you did something for a good cause, remember that you are receiving much more than you are giving.

Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift up yourself, lift up someone else.” May we all be lifted up, but more importantly, may we lift up others.