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Parashat Terumah

02/28/2020 01:35:42 PM


            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Terumah, in which the people are asked to start bringing forth gifts to help build the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that gives God a place to dwell among the Israelites as they wander through the desert. In the Torah, the gifts in question are material goods – gold, silver, cloth, skins, and so on, to physically build. These are all considered “gifts from the heart,” but they aren’t the only gifts of the heart available. The artists and builders are also needed to give their talents, chieftains of the families are needed to help oversee the work, all manner of skills are called upon, and all hands are needed on deck to participate in this holy act.

            Yesterday, I attended the Clergy Caucus for VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement). We discussed the need for more secure affordable housing in our county and the concerning effects of mass incarceration on our communities. In the closing prayer, one of the ministers spoke of our gifts as houses of worship and our special responsibility as faith-based institutions to participate in local advocacy issues, and lift of the voices of the disenfranchised in our communities. These are not merely material gifts, though of course there is political power in money. These are the gifts of moral clarity and authority, the gift of the Divine sense of inherent worth in every human, the gift of the ability to speak truth the power, the gift of strong community networks that allow for safety nets in times of trouble. We can and should be extending these gifts to all those in need, working together to build holy spaces where God can dwell among us, a Kehilla Kedosha.

            In the play our friends from Grace United Methodist Church shared with us at the beginning of the service, we saw the beginning of the Israelites’ struggle toward freedom that we see continue throughout the rest of the Torah. Though they leave Egypt and slavery pretty early in the book of Exodus, we see time and again they need reminders to trust God, to believe in freedom, to break out of their slave mentality, to stop emulating the oppressive behaviors of their former taskmasters. Those interested in faith-based social justice work must also be reminded of these things. We continue to see the effects of chattel slavery and Jim Crow in our country, even long after these awful institutions have been abolished. The trends of mass incarceration, the stigma and ostracization, the statistics of who is imprisoned and why, reflect an ongoing commitment to oppression that we claim to have broken away from. Just as Moses and Aaron persisted through ten plagues and ten times Pharaoh changed his mind, just as they persisted in the leading a new generation of free people through the wilderness for forty long years, so too we who believe in freedom cannot rest, until all people are truly free and treated with equality and equity.

            May we all become Freedom Fanatics, tireless advocates for those among us in need of support, and may we all prepare ourselves to serve truly as living sanctuaries for God, that we may together build a holy community united under One Creator. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780