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Imbued Meaning

02/03/2022 02:12:19 PM


My parents once gifted me a really nice tool set while I was still in high school. The set had every tool one could ever need, though as a high school student, there wasn’t much I needed them for. Once I graduated college and moved out of the dorms, I asked my parents to bring my really nice tool set to help me set up my new place. However, my parents had forgotten that the really nice tool set was mine and instead brought up the old smelly ones that did not have every tool in every shape and size. Particularly, it only had really long screwdrivers that were exaggeratingly bigger than any job I needed them for. Alas! However, I’ve since been privileged to inherit a pair of smaller more usable screwdrivers from Steven Freedman, a B’nai Torah regular who passed away during my earlier years working at the synagogue (He used to have a collection of screwdrivers that he would often give to people). Now, every time I use those screwdrivers, I can’t help but to think about him. To anyone else, they’re just a pair of old small screwdrivers. But to me, they are something a little more special. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Terumah, Moses receives the instructions to build the portable tabernacle; the mishkan. This project will require a lot of raw materials, from cloths, to precious metals, gems, wood, and other supplies. These materials are to be supplied by the Israelites, but the commandment is worded in a curious way. The Torah states, “Tell the Israelite people to take for Me a Terumah” with the word Terumah often translated as gifts or “offerings” (Exodus 25:2). A more colloquial translation would say “bring for me gifts,” but the way the Torah is phrased suggests that these gifts were more than just the items that were given. Rather they were removed from other things, and then given to God (Ibn Ezra on Exodus 25:2). The root of the Hebrew word Terumah supports this reading as it too means “removal.” By setting these things aside, our tradition imagines that while the physical properties of these items might be similar to other items, their removal confers on them a spiritual status that elevates them to a holier level, more appropriate for God. Thus, it wasn’t just gold that was offered, but rather gold that was set aside for this purpose, and elevated to the status of Terumah

Sometimes a screwdriver is just a screwdriver. To me, however, a particular screwdriver has a deeper meaning. We can look around our house and reminisce about many of the keepsakes that are imbued with sentimental value – things that have been removed from their ordinary counterparts. However, this ability to recognize that things can be more than their physical properties is also an important feature of rituals. Wine in a cup is just wine in a cup. But in the context of ritual, the wine in the kiddush cup sanctifies the holy time of shabbat and brings a deeper sense of holiness and meaning into our lives. This shabbat, as we reflect on the donated materials to the Tabernacle that were designated with an extra level of holiness and meaning through their removal from their counterparts, I pray that we can remember all the items in our own lives that are imbued with meaning and memory. And similarly, I pray that our ritual items will forever be effective in allowing us to create holiness this shabbat, and onwards for the rest of our lives.  

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784