There is a new concept introduced into this week’s parasha, Terumah. It is not the idea to build a place of worship. That is not unique or radical. Many faiths and religions make it a point to construct a centralised place of worship or gathering where the rituals are to take place. What makes the construction of the Mishkan (centralised worship area) special is the process. The project is not entrusted to just a few people or an outside group of artisans or specialists. The materials and skills are to be sourced from within the community. All are to be responsible for the building.
This is the central message of not just the construction of the Mishkan but of Judaism itself. For generations, the Israelites as slaves in Egypt had all their needs provided for. They became dependent on others to the point that their will for autonomous action was broken. Now they are being told to take their lives and destiny in their own hands.
We are a faith that forces us to make things happen for ourselves, whether that be ritual observance or simple everyday actions. We are not a religion where others will act on our behalf. No one will light candles for us, keep kosher for us, pray for us, learn for us or repair the world for us. No one will build our community for us. We must do those things on our own. We as individuals must take the responsibility seriously. Each and every Israelite took it upon themselves to make a donation according to the generosity of their hearts. No one was expected to do it all, yet all were expected to do something.
As we have grown and evolved as a community, we depend on each and everyone of us to do what they can. We are not unique by virtue of being a community. What sets us apart is a drive to give something to the community: to not have it done by Someone Else. It is easy to rely on our ubiquitous friend Someone Else. We all know that person. The person who is always present, always volunteers, always completes the minyan, always arrives to set up, is always there to learn. This parasha is coming to teach us that we must not allow Someone Else to do that for us. We must step up and not depend on the rabbi, the community or the synagogue to do the things that we can, and must, do for ourselves. Our tradition, our synagogue and our heritage demands nothing less. Each of us has a role to play. Each of us must give of our talents and our resources to the best of our ability. Each of us must take personal responsibility and realize that Someone Else isn’t available to do the work that needs to be done. By doing that, we have a personal vested interest and ownership of our Mishkan.
Ever since our fledgling days as a community, we have opened our homes for prayer and learning. We have taught each other’s children. We have driven them to camps. We have laughed and cried together, sung and danced and debated and argued with one another. We have literally built this community from scratch and we will continue to do so. But it must be through the continued involvement of all. Where you have a suggestion, offer it and help implement it. Where you can give of your time, don’t just offer it, make it happen. Don’t offer empty words or vague promises. Contribute, as the Israelites did, with a generous heart and concrete actions.
I pray this week that we learn to become Someone Else; that we, just as the Israelites, contribute, to the best of our ability, to the construction and maintenance of our holy endeavour; that we are not satisfied by sitting on the sidelines offering advice or opinions without any intention of getting involved; that w e take our tradition and our community in our hands.