Terummah 5778 – What Makes a Mishkan

By: Alan Bach

This week, we read in Parasha Terumah about the building of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary constructed from materials obtained from donations made by the Israelites.  Most of the parasha focuses on the intricate details of the construction of the Mishkan.  The core elements of our prayer space have only changed slightly in functionality.  We have the Aron Kodesh and the Torah which we treat with reverence.  Are these physical objects themselves sacred or is how we use them sacred?

The last third of the book of Shemot, which we begin today, is about the building of the Mishkan.  Chapter 26:30 sets the tone: “Then set up the Mishkan according to the manner of it that you were shown on the mountain. . . “.   By “shown on the mountain”, the intent implied is how do we maintain the feeling of Sinai?  There are three related methods:  (1) Perform daily acts of compassion and justice that we read about last week in parashat Mishpatim; (2) Use the Mishkan for observance of Shabbat and other holy days to maintain a sacred time; and (3) maintain a sacred space for your observance – the Mishkan.

Rashi’s commentary on this verse, “After you finish it [the Mishkan] then set it up”, tells us that building the Mishkan is not enough.  We all know in the world of synagogue observance, that build it and they will come is far from a reality.  Million dollar fundraisers do not automatically translate to a space of spirituality.   The building of the Mishkan is the beginning, not the end.  The structure of the original Mishkan was simple (show picture on page 1520).  It is the people that inhabit the space that bring the spirituality.  We can build a brand-new house, but until we move in with our belongings, there is a structure with no personality.

There is emphasis in the parasha on the portability of the Mishkan.  The Torah has foreshadowed that the Israelites will be a people on the move, never to inhabit a permanent space – a people constantly ostracized from country to country.  While the Mishkan is by design not meant to be a permanent structure, it is established at this early time that the Jewish people will be permanent.  We as a people have been exiled from many lands, but our Torah and our core beliefs have survived for thousands of years.

As a Kehillah, we will celebrate our fifth anniversary this May.  It is hard to believe we have come so far from where we started.  The Bradley’s have been most generous to provide us with this room from which we were able to turn it into a holy space.  We first borrowed siddurim from Beth Torah and Chumashim from Tifferet Israel, we purchased our first Torah in the first year, we obtained an Ark that was no longer needed by Levine Academy, purchased our own Chumashim and then our second Torah.  During these first years we went from hand me down folding chairs of assorted colors and shapes to the seats we have today.   With some additional modifications over time including updates to the ark by Becca and Joe Levy, we turned an empty room into a very functional space.  We created our Mishkan, our holy space.

But it is not just this space that makes our Kehillah so special.  It is the people that inhabit this space each Shabbat and on the Yom Tovim.  It is the people, the Kehillah, the Community that brings spirituality into the space and makes this space holy?  Each of you in your own way have made this space holy.  Too often a synagogue becomes preoccupied with the membership numbers which are necessary to support a building, a staff and programming without thinking about the original purpose of building the Mishkan.  What a unique opportunity we have, as they say in the world of startups, to utilize sweat equity.

We have come this far because each of us has gone outside of our comfort zone and learned to lead parts of the service previously undertaken by the paid professional staff.  We have several people that have read Torah and chanted the Haftorah for the first time.  We have many, including myself, that have delivered their first Dvar Torah here at the Kehillah.  We are led each Shabbat in prayer by some who had never davened prior to the Kehillah.

This D’var Torah was inspired by Melissa Steiner’s aspiration to learn to chant the Haftorah.  Melissa is one of several of our regular Torah readers that read Torah for the first time at the Kehillah.  She picked a Haftorah at the end of April and is now learning the prayers and the Trope to meet her personal goal.  I challenge each of you to venture outside of your comfort zone, learn the meaning of a prayer by utilizing the exceptional commentary in the siddur, improve your ability to read Hebrew in our class, attend one of our study sessions led by Fred Nathan, or take on a role in our weekly service that you previously have not done – no matter how big or how small.  Your community is here to make it possible for you to succeed.  My goal is to be able to daven one of our services provided you will be able to tolerate my out of key voice.  Set your goal on your individual path of growth and there will be many people available to make it a reality.

We strive to continue to blend the components espoused in this week’s Parahat of justice and observance coming together in this sacred space.  For some, that path to growth involves active and regular participation.  For others, that path means taking on roles previously not held.  We are fortunate to be a part of this unique offering in the Dallas Jewish community.  I look forward to being a part of the Kehillah’s continued growth, not measured by size or by numbers, but by the personal growth of each of our members.

Shabbat Shalom.