Shabbat Terumah: Balancing Heart and Hands

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ 

Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. (Ex.25.2)

Life is so often about balancing contradictory opposites, or at least clashing inputs. Our parashah begins with such a moment. At first glance we seem to read a message that all of us are equally valued in equal ways – and this tugs at some deep place in us that longs for safety in the group and value for our contribution.

The second verse in the parashat hashavua is therefore a bit of a harsh surprise:

וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵאִתָּ֑ם 

And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them (Ex. 25.3)

This seeming contradiction is a lesson we can only learn in a group: that heart and hands are two very different aspects of human being and interaction.

In community one sees this all the time: not every follower is a leader. It flies in the face of an ideal which seeks to value each of us equally. Or it seems to; but only a Procrustean equality insists that we are all the same. In the Talmud a midrash is preserved that describes one of the sins of the people of Sodom:

הויא להו פורייתא דהוו מגני עלה אורחין כי מאריך גייזי ליה כי גוץ מתחין ליה 

They had beds on which they would lay their guests; when a guest was longer than the bed they would cut him, and when a guest was shorter than the bed they would stretch him.  (BT Sanhedrin 109b)

Real equality, as any DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) expert will tell you, requires us to see each individual for who we are and what unique gift we bring. It’s a necessary exercise in noticing each other when we tend toward generalities just to bring the scale of our existence into a manageable embrace.

So while it may be a lovely gesture to welcome all contributions equally, such an approach actually erases our uniqueness. This is why the Torah imagines the holy mishkan which we are to build to be made of all our heartfelt gifts filtered through the actual reality of what is needed to create the structure, and who is best able to do each task.

There is room for us all; each task needs to be addressed. But first we have to come to know not only what our heart yearns for, but what our hands are capable of bringing. This is no time for participation trophies that overlook the precious differences that make us each who we are. 

Some of us are leaders, some followers; some teach, some learn. Some have superior executive function, others can read a spreadsheet, and others can lead a dance. Betzalel is singled out by HaShem to lead the building; not you and not me. We can either sulk because we weren’t nominated, or applaud and support the talented person who was. 

The mitzvah needs doing; how shall we do it best? Not by fighting over our place in line but by learning to balance our heart and our hands, our desires and our capacity. All of us is best at something, but we won’t learn that through envy of what others have or do.

I like to sing; our Gabbai;s voice is better. I enjoy working with our brit mitzvah candidates; our Brit Mitzvah coordinator’s talent is greater. I can’t read a spreadsheet; our Executive Director can even create them. My job is to figure out in what way my heart’s gift is best offered. That’s how we’ll get this mishkan, this holy place, sustainably and joyfully built.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Ariel


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