Terumah -- Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

Master architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) once remarked that "God lies in the details." His refined glass and steel structures defined mid-20th century architecture, and anyone looking carefully at his Seagram Building or the Barcelona Pavilion will notice the way his materials meet with their surroundings – the way form and function work together – and will understand van der Rohe's teaching about the essence of divine design.

In this week’s reading, the Israelites are called upon to contribute a remarkable panoply of the most moral of all materials: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. Together, these precious materials will allow the Divine to dwell in the details of the Mishkan (the portable desert Tabernacle). The command given to Moses could not be any more clear:

Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell amidst them.” (Exodus 25:8).

The inner chamber is veiled by a woven curtain. That chamber is the sacred space where the Ark of the Covenant is placed, and the Ark houses the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the Ark’s cover hover two winged cherubim hewn of pure gold. In the outer chamber, the seven-branched menorah stands and showbread is arranged upon a table.

While van der Rohe once quipped that he preferred to be good rather than merely interesting, clearly the Tabernacle is more than just good design, it is the template for a transformative encounter — and that is simply divine!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts a different kind of portable Mishkan, a heart enthused with G-d’s holy presence. Rabbi Stuart Weinberg Gershon writes that "the physical sanctuary of G-d is just a reminder of what G-d really wants – that each person builds a sanctuary within his or her heart for G-d to dwell therein. … G-d has no need to dwell in buildings. What G-d desires more than anything is to dwell – to live – in each of us." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Julian Rapaport's Bar Mitzvah

Shalom, my name is Julian Rapaport. I am a seventh grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. People describe me as an "old soul" and I guess they are right. I love playing Beatles records on my new turntable, listening to Mel Brooks2,000 Year Old Man, and following politics. I also play saxophone in the Brandeis Middle School jazz band and a rock band called Another Man Out the Window.

This Saturday, February 17, I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. At first, I was less than enthused about this – lots of extra work learning the trope and the prayers and, besides, I really didn’t want a party. But that all changed when I started to learn Torah – both how to sing the trope and the meaning in the text. I also realized how special it is for my entire family to be here and watch me carry on the tradition of officially joining the greater Jewish community – at Beth Sholom, in San Francisco, and beyond.

I will be chanting from Parashat Terumah in the Book of Exodus. In this portion, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to build a Sanctuary. The Sanctuary will house the Torah, as a symbol of God’s presence among the Israelites. God also gives very specific instructions for how the Sanctuary is to be assembled. But interestingly, when God tells Moses how the supplies are to be collected, it sounds pretty vague. God simply tells Moses "have them take for me an offering (a terumah)." I feel that vagueness is symbolic of the Jewish people coming together as a community, by giving whatever they could give to the common goal of building the Tabernacle to God’s specifications.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer for inspiring me in the writing of my D’var Torah. I also want to thank my grandparents, my mom, my dad, and my brother for all the love and support in getting me to this day. But most of all, I want to thank Scott Horwitz, my bar mitzvah tutor. Scott helped me get excited for this important moment in my life, and helped me learn how to chant Torah and sing all the prayers. His calmness, humor, musical talent, and teaching skill helped guide me through this process.

Terumah -- Exodus 25:1–27:19

Facebook_CoverDesign_Terumah"Color and I are one."

So quipped Paul Klee during his 1914 painting journey to Tunisia, which he viewed as a major breakthrough for his art. He insisted that the trip enabled him to embrace his calling: "I am a painter."

In this week’s reading, the Israelites are called upon to contribute a remarkable panoply of the most moral of all materials: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. Together, these precious materials will allow the Divine to dwell in the details of the Mishkan (the portable desert Tabernacle). The command given to Moses could not be any more clear:

Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell amidst them.” (Exodus 25:8).

The inner chamber is veiled by a woven curtain. That chamber is the sacred space where the Ark of the Covenant is placed, and the Ark houses the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the Ark’s cover hover two winged cherubim hewn of pure gold. In the outer chamber, the seven-branched menorah stands and showbread is arranged upon a table.

The Tabernacle is the divine Artist’s template for a transformative encounter, all contained within a "living shell and skin of the earth on which we live" – that is how color and ritual life become one!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is a graphic depiction of the Ark’s cherubim. "The cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another." (Exodus 25:20) The profiles of the cherubim are eagle-like, a nod to the more esoteric descriptions of the cherubim provided by the prophet Ezekiel, the Kabbalists, and others. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

CoverDesign_PekudeiThe American investment manager Diane Garnick (born 1967) once remarked that:

"Accounting does not make corporate earnings or balance sheets more volatile. Accounting just increases the transparency of volatility in earnings."

Just how volatile are the earnings of the burgeoning Jewish community we read about this week in Pekudei? An accounting must now be made of all the gold, silver, and copper the Israelites have donated for the construction of the Tabernacle -- as prescribed last week in Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20). Meanwhile, Bezalel, Aholiav, and the assistant artisans complete the Tabernacle as communicated by Moses in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19).

There appears to be recurrent repetition in these later parashot of Exodus — but is this merely repetition? Too often in life, we realize that once we regain something we previously relinquished, we appreciate it as though for the first time. In experiencing repetition, you come to learn that everything that exists does so only by divine grace. In this way, repetition is instructive.

The blueprint for Tabernacle closes Exodus and thus teaches us an important lesson about our relationship to Torah learning. All the gold, silver, and copper of thinking must ultimately be accounted for in how we construct our lives. How to go about making a sanctuary -- one that provides a space or way for the divine to dwell in everything we do -- this is the closing challenge of Exodus to every individual in search of religious community.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the divine presence manifesting itself in the form of a cloud that descends upon the Mishkan. From Exodus 40:34: "And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan." Seen here, however, the cloud also calls to mind the column of smoke/pillar of fire theophany that appeared earlier in Exodus to guide the Israelites out of Egypt. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Terumah -- Exodus 25:1-27:19

CoverDesign_TerumahAddressing fellow architects at a meeting sponsored by the Art Workers' Guild at Barnard's Inn, London, on November 20, 1891, renowned English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris (1834 – 1896) critiqued a recent building project:

I repeat again, I think it is the most important side of architecture altogether, the choice of material and the use of material… But what he has produced, at the very best, is not a building which really forms part of the living shell and skin of the earth on which we live, but is a mere excrescence upon it, a toy which might almost as well, except for the absolute necessity that the people should have a roof to cover them, have remained simply a nicely executed drawing in the architect's office."

Morris was vexed by buildings that he felt no longer reflected the noble ideals of architecture and that had abandoned the morality of materials, namely, the ways materials meet and mesh with their surroundings, the way form meets with function, and the way in which design becomes a transcendent experience.

In this week’s reading, the Israelites are called upon to contribute a remarkable panoply of the most moral of all materials: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. Together, these precious materials will allow the Divine to dwell in the details of the Mishkan (the portable desert Tabernacle). The command to Moses could not be any more clear:

Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell amidst them.” (Exodus 25:8).

The inner chamber is veiled by a woven curtain. That chamber is the sacred space where the Ark of the Covenant is placed, and the Ark houses the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the Ark’s cover, hover two winged cherubim hewn of pure gold. In the outer chamber, the seven-branched menorah stands and showbread is arranged upon a table.

Mies van der Rohe once quipped that he preferred to be good rather than merely interesting. Clearly, the Tabernacle is more than just good design; it is also the template for a transformative encounter within a “living shell and skin of the earth on which we live.” That is simply divine!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Another in our series of original illustrations inspired by mid-20th century graphic design. The artwork that accompanies this post is an abstract depiction of the spiritually and creatively charged space between the Ark's cherubim. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.