This week's Torah portion begins a bit like a bill of lading, listing all of the raw materials that went into the construction of the Tabernacle. All told, this movable sanctuary required "gold, silver and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats' hair; tanned ram skins, [other animal] skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting."
After cataloging these 15 items, the portion goes on to describe in great detail how exactl to assemble the Tabernacle's various components, from the Ark of the Covenant and other furnishings to its walls and coverings.
And like bills of lading and furniture assembly instructions, this is not the most dramatic of texts. But with a name literally meaning "offering," Terumah contains the most central aspect of Judaism.
Implicit in the charge to build the Tabernacle was the idea that although it was by definition impermanent — designed for wandering through the desert, the movable sanctuary eventually gave way to the Temple in Jerusalem — it contained unchanging truths. That's why a literal reading of the Hebrew has the Almighty demanding that the people "build Me a Tabernacle so that I can dwell in them," not in some distant structure, but in the people themselves.
While the time of building a physical sanctuary has come and gone, the command to build a spiritual one remains. This directive is incumbent upon each and every person, and actually depends upon individual labor to, in the words of the Midrash, fulfill the Almighty's desire for "a dwelling place in the physical world."
'The Children of Believers'
Two types of offerings were needed to gather the raw materials necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. One of them was fixed: a half-shekel of silver each in order to build the foundations of the sanctuary's pillars. The other, however, allowed each contributor to give according to their heart's desire.
On the most basic of levels, Jews are all the same. We are all, as the Talmud asserts, "believers, the children of believers."
This is signified by the fixed offering of half a shekel, which the Torah specifies is not increased for those who are wealthy, nor decreased for those who are poor. This pure and simple faith must be the basis of any human endeavor, the foundation of any attempt to make the world a better place.
But ultimately, that's not enough.
Each and every one of us is also an individual, bearing unique traits, skills, emotional attributes and drives particularly suited to where and when he finds himself. As signified by the gifts of cloths of various colors and consistencies, of gem stones, special wood, oil and spices, each and every person has the ability to not only create a miniature Tabernacle within herself, but to beautify it as well.
In so doing, we give true life to our surroundings, turning whatever desert in which we find ourselves into an abode fitting for the divine.
Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at: jrunyan@ chabad.org.