Drash on Parashat Trumah
Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue
As we move from the Exodus story, through the giving of Aseret Ha’Dibrot (the 10 Commandments) and their elaboration in last week’s parsha, Mishpatim, we now find ourselves moving into the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), or “the portable Temple.” What intrigues me about this week’s parsha – Trumah – is that before discussing how to put up the tent (the mishkan), the parsha focuses on what items are to be used within the mishkan. And before discussing the items used within the mishkan, the parsha opens with the “trumah”, translated as “gifts” to be brought to G-d (Plaut, Torah commentary, p.604). These “gifts” are to be brought by “every person whose heart so moves him” (Plaut, p.604). This implies that before the construction of something sacred, our heart needs to be in the right place - in an open & giving place. One can infer that before we focus on the outside – image, security, stability – we must focus on the inside – how we use what gifts we have been given (our skills and strengths) and how we can use those gifts for a sacred purpose.
While considering this idea, I came across an interesting commentary by Rabbi Shraga Simmons on the Aish Ha’Torah website. Rabbi Shraga points out the connection between the Hebrew word for face – panim – and the Hebrew word for inside – pinim. This connection supports the idea that one’s face (our outer appearance) should reveal one’s insides (our true character and intentions). This connection is literally the antithesis of being “two-faced”- of saying one thing and doing another, in other words, being a hypocrite. How many of us have been in situations where a person told us one thing in private and said the complete opposite in public? How many of us have found ourselves making that mistake, knowingly or unknowingly (having it pointed out to us by another)? This type of behaviour profanes a relationship and chips away at one’s sense of trust. This is the opposite of creating a sacred space.
Honesty and sincerity are two qualities that contribute to healthy relationships. Both qualities assume a synchronicity between what happens inside a person and what words or actions occur outside a person. In other words, honesty and sincerity imply a consistency between what a person thinks and feels to what a person says and does.
Just as our parsha reminds us the importance of starting with the inside before constructing the mishkan, so too must we start with looking inside ourselves and being honest with ourselves before we consider our relationships with others outside of ourselves. How many of us have been in bad situations, known that we were in a bad situation, yet tried to convince ourselves otherwise? How many of us still reject compliments, or feel inadequate despite evidence to the contrary? How many of us think we’re better than others despite evidence to the contrary? (If you fall in this last category, there is probably no evidence that would change your self-aggrandising perspective!).
When we live our lives in dissonance, putting on a façade, we are like the mishkan that had been created from the outside in. It is putting more emphasis on presentation and image over authenticity and meaning. An interesting etymological difference demonstrated in the connection between the English words “face” and “façade”- and between the Hebrew words - ”panim” and “pinim” is that the English words focus on the interconnection between the physical exterior (face) and fake front, either of a building or a personality (façade), often understood as inauthentic; whereas the Hebrew words focus on the interconnection between the exterior (face/panim) and the authentic interior of one’s character or one’s soul (pinim). The Talmud teaches us that a person’s outward appearance must reflect one’s inner self (Yoma 72b).
Parshat Trumah provides guidance in our journey to constructing a holy space. We must begin from the inside out. We must first enter a space with an open heart - open to ourselves, to our flaws and our strengths; open to others around us, to their flaws and their strengths. We must identify our innate gifts with which we have been endowed and developed for a greater purpose, a sacred purpose. We must ask ourselves what is that “sacred purpose”. Then we must erect our exterior to both protect and reflect our interior.
Our divine purpose is achieved when we can align our inside with our outside. When we engage with other people, ensuring that they are dealing with our authentic selves as we connect with their authentic selves, we are creating a sacred space. It is that alignment that ensures our every action is a trumah, a sincere gift from not only our hearts but our inner core, our authentic selves, building sanctity in the world that surrounds us.