"The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts”
As we read the narratives of Genesis and early Exodus, one can easily see all of the compelling stories being told. The drama of creation and the wonders of the Israelites escape from Egypt are great tools for our work with young children. Once we get to these latter sections of Exodus, however, we begin to see a larger focus on the laws and guidelines that shape the future rituals and beliefs of the Jewish people. In T’rumah, we are talking less about behaviors and more about the literal dimensions of the Mishkan the Israelites are told to build. This Parashah has proven to be a challenge for teachers and Bar Mitzvah tutors alike as they struggle to find relevance and meaning for our younger students.
So let me propose three components of the story that have had success in letting students find relevance and feel connected to the story. In many ways this Parasha, more than others that come before it, is actually more vital for our students to see their role in the story that is unfolding. We read amidst all the details that describe the Mishkan or "sanctuary” this sentence. "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
We can ask three revealing questions about this sentence that can unearth incredibly meaningful ideas.
1) What is a Mishkan or Sanctuary?
2) Why is it important that the Laws of Moses be housed there?
3) What are the different meanings of "so that I may dwell among them?”
The concept of a Mishkan – a sanctuary or place of safety for the Laws of Moses – is one that can be either literal or figurative. And what is amazing in this case is that both meanings are incredibly impactful for children. If it is a literal home – a home is a place where they feel safe. It is a place where they are protected not only from the elements, but by their parents who bathe them, feed them and love them.
So home is as much a physical structure as it is a place where you find all the things and people you love. If that is how we talk about the Mishkan – as a place built with care and love for one of the most important things in our lives – like our children are for their parents – we can begin to attach amazing feelings of love and compassion for Torah and God. And of course, by saying that God is not just dwelling on earth but "among” the people, we have an excellent way to talk about God wanting to be among the people and not wanting be a distant God.
On an entirely different level, we can speak about using the learning we get from Torah – and the literal reading of Torah – to talk about God and God’s laws living in us and being realized in the world through our actions. How awesome is to be able talk both about a physical Sanctuary for those who prefer a concrete lesson – and then to be able to talk about PEOPLE as a kind of Mishkan that also keeps the laws alive and safe by learning them and living them?
This week in Torah service with our 4th and 5th grades, this was a large focus of our conversations and worship. Rabbi Foster introduced the song V’asu Li Mikdash which presents these English lyrics: "Oh Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary - pure and holy - tried and true and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”
The concept of BEING a living sanctuary can be a powerful message for a child and a teen. To not only be the one who is meant to keep these special words safe, but also to be the one who is living out these values – for God – can be an "ah, ha” moment for many who hear this idea for the first time.
Additional Torah Study Resources:
ReformJudaism.org Torah Study /T’rumah for Tots
/ T’rumah for Tweens
/ Leading a Family Torah Discussion