by Ari Hart
"Building God's House"
Our parasha this week, Terumah, contains instructions to Moses, Bezalel, and the Jewish people on how to build the mishkan, the place for God's presence to dwell on Earth. The hundreds of instructions are detailed and precise, and in our tradition they are packed with meaning. Precisely what that meaning is up for debate: some commentators point to parallels between the building of the mishkan and creation, others draw philosophical, mystical, and cosmological ideas from the instructions. Here are two compelling ideas from the midrash on the importance of sustainable development and community empowerment in the building of the mishkan.
Sustainability: The midrash (Midrash Rabba, Chapter 35, 36:2) wonders why God chose trunks from עצי שיטים – shittim trees, to be the mishkan’s structural frame. The midrash’s answer? God wanted to teach future generations a lesson - shittim trees are not fruit bearing. If God, owner of everything and in need of nothing, chose to avoid using materials that don’t deprive future generations of fruit (aka he used sustainable materials in building his house), then so should we.
Community empowerment: The building of the different pieces of the mishkan (Chapter 35, 35:2) - the table, the walls, the menorah, etc. is commanded in the singular v’asita - you shall build. However, one item is commanded in the plural v’asu - y’all are going to build this one. And which is it? It’s the ark - the most important piece of the whole project. It’s at the center of the mishkan, it’s from where God speaks, and it contains the Torah. When we create any institution, there are always negotiations in who gets to design, who gets to contribute, who gets to build. However, the message from the midrash is that when it comes to the central thing, the raison d’être of the whole thing, what really matters, everyone gets to be involved.