Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Gifts. They’re not what they seem. More than wrapped packages we need to give or to be given, the most precious gifts are the ones we already possess. Call it your DNA or God-given talents, your gifts are in you. Now, the only question is what will you do with them?
Recently, a family told me about their loved one whose gifts were in his hands. Masterfully, his hands crafted remarkable objects out of wood, glue and nails in his workshop. It was his artistic canvas where he did his best work. Though they were just objects assembled out of simple materials, they reflected selfless devotion to the ones who received them. They were his gifts to them. Likewise, but sometimes less easily seen, we all possess gifts that need to be expressed so that others might receive them, too.
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, includes God’s command to bring “gifts” for the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among the people in the wilderness. Everyone whose heart was moved was urged to contribute something. The rabbis taught that even one person whose heart was moved sufficiently could accomplish the entire task of constructing the Tabernacle. Such is the power of the human heart to respond. Yet, Torah explains that artisans and craftsmen, every person according to his or her ability and spirit, contributed to the Tabernacle. To that end, so much was brought that Moses had to go out to the people and tell them to stop bringing; they were over-subscribed.
Today, we’re still commanded to bring “gifts” to reflect that God’s presence accompanies us on our life’s journey, too. And, we still build sanctuaries just as we were commanded, “Build me a sanctuary (mikdash) that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). But, unlike our ancient ancestors, we know that sanctuaries aren’t the only places where we seek and find God’s presence. For centuries, Judaism has held that a spark of God resides in everything in nature. Therefore, wherever we go, God’s presence is with us, not only in sanctuaries.
The greatest demonstration of God’s spark is the selfless devotion of the human spirit towards the good. When one’s deed changes the world for the better, it’s a gift given from a sacred source. A loved one who assembled a craft in his workshop for his family brightened their lives. In turn, they paid it forward many times. But, the opposite can also be true. The selfish possession of God’s spark, as if it were given only to enrich or empower its holder, can lead to insufferable deeds that destroy everything it touches. In recent weeks, in cities across America, perpetrators have committed terrible acts of anti-Semitism, including the destruction of grave markers in Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats to JCC’s, and buildings scrawled with swastikas. They’re not acting on behalf of any faith or its teachings. They’re not honoring any god who is worshiped. And, they’re not respecting our nation. The response by gracious neighbors, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, assures us that we’re not alone; but, it also reminds us that the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among us, is still under construction.
We’ll protect and defend our houses of worship and we’ll reset the grave markers in the cemeteries, but the hearts of offenders who plague us in our cities are a work-in-progress. We must insist that they be brought to justice; and, if they are, perhaps we can also turn their hearts towards the good. Some of the worst offenders against us have turned; and, if there really is a spark of God within them, then maybe they can use their gifts to join us in building a better dwelling place in a world filled with God’s glory. But, if not, let’s not pretend that any of this will simply go away. Let’s use the gifts inside us to live by Torah, to honor God, and to respect our nation. Then we will have moved our hearts, and, maybe then we can complete the work that needs to be done.