This week, I write in memory of Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, US Army Chaplain and former Scoutmaster, one of the Four Chaplains who gave up their lives saving others in the sinking of the troop ship USS Dorchester, February 3, 1943 (28 Shevat – last Sunday).
Recall some of the formal or ceremonial occasions that have inspired you:
An Order of the Arrow call-out at a rustic campfire carved out of some remote spot at camp.
A bar or bat mitzvah where the rabbi speaks to the young man or woman about all the work it took to get to this moment – maybe that was you!
One of your fellow Scouts receives his Eagle medal.
Each of these impressive events took place somewhere specially designated and decorated to have an impact on those participating in the ceremony.
That is the theme of this week’s parasha, Terumah.
In Terumah, we learn about the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which God commanded the Children of Israel to build. The Torah gives very detailed instructions on the parts of the Mishkan itself, and all the beautiful ritual items to be placed in it. The Mishkan was contained in a large courtyard, about two-thirds the size of a football field, and surrounded by a marvelous fabric enclosure. Inside the courtyard was a six-foot-high copper Mizbeach (altar), where the offerings were made.
Farther inside the courtyard was the Mishkan, 80 feet by 56 feet, with beautiful wooden walls fitted together with fastenings of gold, silver and copper, and fabrics of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool. It was covered with the multi-colored skin of the now-extinct tachash.
Inside the Mishkan were the Menorah candelabra with its seven branches, the Golden Mizbeach on which incense was burned, and the Shulchan (Table) of acacia wood, displaying the 12 ceremonial loaves of bread, the Showbread.
What made the Mishkan even more special is that the beautiful fabrics and precious metals used in its construction were donated by the Children of Israel, in obedience to God’s commandment to Moses, “let them take for Me a portion (terumah), from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion.” The Children of Israel – both men and women – brought their finest possessions to build the Mishkan.
So the place where the Children of Israel would concentrate their community worship was made with community contributions.
Soon we will learn why God chose to have one central place designated for worship, and why God gave very specific instructions for conducting holy services. For the next few weeks, think about the ceremonies in which you participate every day – opening exercises at your school or troop meeting, where you probably say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or have some patriotic or inspirational reading, or the services at your synagogue or temple on Shabbat, or the special things you do at your Shabbat table.
What communities are you part of, and why do each of those communities have their ceremonies?