Drash on Parashat T'rumah 2023

Drash on Parashat T'rumah       
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple David, Perth, WA

In Genesis, the creation of the world is described in 34 verses; but the passage describing the building of the Tabernacle is nearly three times as long!  Some commentators suggest that this difference reflects the difficulty of the human challenge to build a sanctuary within our own hearts wherein God can dwell.  A beautiful idea, if you think each of us is trying to build a sanctuary, a holy dwelling in our hearts for God.  Another explanation has to do with the challenge of cooperation:  God created the world alone, while the Tabernacle was the work of many people.  

Our parashah this week Shmot (Ex. 25:1-2) begins with:  

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

“And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying:  Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

How different is this parashah from last week, Shabbat Shekalim, when we read in the Maftir where every person was asked to bring a half-shekel as an offering to Adonai. 

These two texts are so vastly different.  The shekalim text asks for a half shekel from each person, no matter the wealth, and the first, from this week’s parashah, asking for gifts, non monetary from those who are so moved.  

In a way we need both.  I guess that is why we have both donations and synagogue dues.  We need both to exist.   But, I want to focus on the idea of gifts.  We have very special gifts within our communities across the UPJ.  And they are our teachers.  They are the special people who chose to bring Jewish educaiton to our children, both within the day school system and the supplementary Jewish education system.  But it is especially the supplementary Jewish education system that I want to speak to. It is these gems in particular who give so much more than they give outside of their regular jobs, who often volunteer their time to teach our children, usually in one of our shules.  

Almost all of our shules run an after school program or weekend program for students who are not in attendance of a Jewish Day School and who are members of a shule.  

A few years ago, I remember being part of a strategy group that did focus sessions with parents and grandparents.  We found some principles that remained, some of which need to be changed.

  1. The integration of religious schools into synagogue life
  2. Parents are refusing to use the old adage “we suffered so you must suffer through Hebrew school.”  Therefore programs need to be engaging, relevant and fun.
  3. Experiential learning – there is a trend away from just acquiring knowledge and skills, but alongside that is a positive Jewish learning experience with creating jewish and meaningful memories.
  4. Doing better, more engaging programs increases morale.  If students are enjoying the programs more, then their morale is higher.  Further, if teachers are enjoying what they are teaching, then this is passed on in the classroom.  All common sense.

Jewish education is a gift.  Our students are a gift.  And, today, more than ever  we need to celebrate the gifts, the trumah of our teachers who are dedicating their time and their energy into helping our education programs to be a success.  We are growing and we are helping to develop young Jewish Neshamot, souls – who will hopefully enjoy their Jewish education and as adults live meaningful Jewish lives.  If we can give them this gift, then perhaps, they will give us the gift of Jewish continuity.  

Abraham Joshua Heschel said “What we need is not mroe textbooks but text teachers.  It is the personality of the teacher that is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget.”

The ultimate gift is the gift of Jewish education and Jewish identity – immeasurable in the short time.

A sanctuary is being built in our students' hearts, as well as our teachers and hence in the heart of our Progressive community.

Ken yhi ratzon.  May this be God’s will. 

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