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Drash on Parashat Terumah 2013

Special Gifts--Parshat Terumah

Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue
Adelaide, South Australia

This year, Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue is celebrating our jubilee year--fifty years since our founding. Our planning committee has hit on a brilliant way to make the festivities last year round: it is encouraging Beit Shalom members to celebrate by taking a part in a Shabbat service on the anniversary of their own bar/bat mitzvah. Our first such commemoration will take place this Shabbat when two of our members--born 23 years apart--will each step just a little beyond their own comfort zones and participate in different ways in the service.

Of course, many of our members never had an opportunity to have a bar or bat mitzvah when they turned 13, and a number of them are interested in making up for that many years later. I am looking forward to next Shabbat, when a member will read out three verses of Torah in honour of her 94th birthday! Another member whose birthday is in September has already been in touch with me to let me know she wants to read Torah and deliver a d’var Torah near her birthday. Those for whom reading Torah seems too daunting a   challenge will find other ways to participate, whether it means delivering the Torah commentary that day or just coming up to say the blessings over the Torah.

I have become a great cheerleader for this project, and I have been rewarded by the enthusiasm of our members. I am quite certain that each Shabbat service that is graced by a special guest will be a memorable event, and altogether it will add up to a thrilling year.

This project appeals to me especially because it means that just about every adult member of our congregation can find some way to participate. Those with a strong Hebrew background (like my 94-year-old member, whose family moved to Palestine not long after her thirteenth birthday in 1932) will push themselves to learn to read or chant a bit of Torah or haftarah. Those who find Hebrew too difficult will contribute in their own way by sharing a bit of their wisdom with the congregation. I am certain that each individual contribution will feel unique to those who bring it, and I am also certain that the cumulative effect will be dramatic.

And so too with the Israelites in the wilderness. In this week’s Torah portion, God hands Moses an enormous shopping list of requirements to build the sanctuary, tent of meeting, altars, utensils, and also to sew the beautiful clothes of the priests. In a future parshah, we will read how Moses called upon the Israelites to donate what their hearts were prepared to give in order to bring this ambitious project to fruition. The Israelites were so deeply generous that, in the end, Moses had to ask them to stop giving. Certainly, some of the donors were able to give more than others: we read that the tribal princes in particular made lavish gifts. Some in the Jewish people gave gifts of raw materials, while other contributed expertise in metal-working, carpentry, and embroidery. Each member of made a gift, and each gift was special.

And so too with us within our own communities. Each of us has a special gift to bring. And all of them are worthy of celebration. Shabbat shalom!

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