‘Let them bring me gifts,’ says God to Moses at the beginning of this week’s sedra Terumah, ‘from every person whose heart so moves them.’ The gifts were gold, silver and jewels that the Israelites were given by their Egyptian neighbours as they left Egypt, and used to build the mishkan, the Tabernacle, the sacred place of God’s dwelling amongst the People. The Chasidic master the Sfat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, teaches that, ever since God said at Sinai: ‘I am the Lord your God,’ the children of Israel have a portion in the Torah that is higher than the sun, a connection to our root in Torah that is never severed. Our source in heaven longs for us in the same way that we long for it. The Israelites were indeed moved to bring gifts, an expression of this mutual longing described by the Sfat Emet.
This week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, a celebration of the satisfaction that comes from giving, and the joy experienced by the recipient. The act may be small or great; from buying a copy of The Big Issue from a homeless person on your local High Street, to donating a kidney to a stranger. The fulfilment that arises from an act of kindness is an expression of that mutual longing between us and our Source, since each of us houses a spark of Holiness within. According to Jewish teaching, each of us is a mishkan in miniature, a holy dwelling place for God’s presence.
The word terumah (gift, offering) comes from a root meaning ‘to elevate’. It originally referred to the physical act of lifting up that which was being offered. According to Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, it also implies that the act of offering a gift to God elevates the donor to a higher level as well.
At the beginning of March last year we celebrated Purim with social distancing and hamentaschen in individual cake cases, with the approaching first lockdown still hidden from us, mirroring the many hidden twists and turns in the Megillah’s tale. We little imagined that 12 months on we would be preparing to celebrate Purim online after an entire year on zoom, a whole year filled with so many unpredicted twists and turns of the Covid pandemic. We have relocated the mishkan of our community online, and so many SWESRS volunteers have engaged in countless acts of kindness, strengthening connections of mutual fulfilment and joy between our members.
On this Shabbat Terumah, as we prepare to celebrate Purim once again, may we all be inspired to bring gifts of kindness, and be blessed to receive in joy.
Shabbat Shalom, Stay Safe and Be Well,