Parashat Terumah contains G‑d’s instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Here are some nuggets of wisdom upon which to reflect.

Being a Giver Provides Dignity

“Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them.”1

The ending of this verse appears to be grammatically incorrect. It should read: “I will dwell within it.” This wording, however, is no accident. It expresses G‑d’s intention precisely. Constructing a sanctuary would ensure that G‑d’s presence would dwell among the people, not just in the Tabernacle.2

Here marks a turning point in the Exodus narrative. Up until now, although G‑d had provided amply for all their needs, the people complained and seemed ungrateful. It’s natural to take for granted that to which we become accustomed. Now, for the first time since leaving Egypt, the people were being asked to become active participants in this relationship. The building of the Mishkan, along with donating its materials, would start to transform them from recipients to givers.

It is human nature to take pride in and appreciate things we create ourselves. Whether it’s a tasty cake, a homemade challah or a DIY project, we value the work of our own hands.

In commanding the Jewish people to build the Mishkan, G‑d was gifting them something they lacked—human dignity. People will work tirelessly and enthusiastically for a cause in which they believe. By showing confidence in their capabilities, G‑d empowered a nascent people to develop their inherent potentials.

Living Authentically

“You should coat it with pure gold, coating it inside and out.”3

The Ark of the Covenant was holy. It contained the Tablets given to Moses at Sinai. This verse reminds us that sanctity expresses our inner values in an outward manner. Like the Ark, which was gold inside and out, our actions should correspond to our beliefs. The saying “do as I say, not as I do” is the antithesis of a sanctified life.

Just like the Ark and its contents, our bodies and souls are G‑d-given, and it is our responsibility to keep them safeguarded and sanctified.

This parallel is symbolic and powerful. Each of us can be seen as a dwelling place for G‑d if, by our own efforts, we strive to make it so. The fusion of body and soul can help increase inner and outer harmony. The gold on the inside and on the outside of the Ark reminds us to be genuine and authentic.

Feeling and Living Like a Jew

The Mishkan was to be constructed according to G‑d’s exact specifications. Does attention to detail really matter? Imagine leaving out an essential ingredient from your favorite recipe. You’ll quickly sense that something’s not right. Yes, something is missing!

We may think we can be “spiritual in our own way” or a “Jew at heart.” But this is like buying someone you love a gift that you want. Such a gift reflects your own tastes, but ignores theirs. Essentially, you’ve given a gift to yourself. What kind of gift is that? Giving to another should not be self-serving.

Similarly, we should love G‑d with all of our hearts, but for love to be real, it should be expressed through the specific actions and deeds that G‑d desires. We need to live like Jews, not just feel like Jews.

Some people choose not to follow directions. They prefer to do things “their way.” What’s wrong with that?

Well, would you want to be a passenger on a plane, or an astronaut on a space mission, whose pilot neglected the details of the flight plan? Just imagine the possible disastrous consequences!

We might think that it’s no longer necessary to observe the Torah’s mitzvot—that it’s enough to be “Jewish in our hearts.” After all, it would seem that it’s the spirit of the mitzvah that’s important; the details don’t matter, right?

But try sending a document that’s missing a single character in the email address. What if instead of “.com” you type “,com”? That email won’t reach its destination, all because of one seemingly minor, but important, detail. Attention to the small, precise, seemingly trivial details that appear to be just minutiae can have tremendous impact on our lives and our souls.

The inner sanctum of our very being is our G‑d-given soul. To function optimally, we’ve been given detailed instructions called mitzvot. Observing the mitzvot enables our soul to thrive and strengthens our relationship with G‑d.

Though the Mishkan no longer exists physically, we continue to gain relevant insights from understanding its details. By striving to live a more sanctified life, according to G‑d’s master plan, we can perpetuate that sanctuary in which G‑d’s presence will dwell.

Making It Relevant

  1. Strive to safeguard yourself and your home from harmful “outside” influences. Don’t bring them in.
  2. Have a bookshelf or library of Torah-related books and establish a regular learning schedule.
  3. Include a Torah-inspired thought or idea at every meal to nourish your soul as well as your body. Transform your table into a symbolic mishkan—a place where G‑d’s presence can dwell.
  4. Be mindful of your speech and your actions. Do they reflect who you are striving to be? Make sure that you are the same on the inside as you are on the outside and vice versa. If necessary, recalibrate and push your reset button.