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Parashat T’rumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

“It is there that I will set my meetings with you, and I shall speak with you from atop the cover, from between the two cherubs on the ark of the pact…” (Exodus 25:22)

Nechama Leibowitz, (1905-1997; scholar who revolutionized the teaching of the weekly Torah portion worldwide) teaches the importance of looking at the events of the week through the lens of parashat hashavua, the weekly Torah portion.  Parashat T’rumah is case in point.

Sanctuary is a word much in the news these days, as individuals, organizations, and even US cities mobilize.  Their purpose is to offer a “safe space” to refugees and immigrants.  The sanctuary movement is based on a universal moral imperative to help the powerless.  It is opposed by those who maintain there is no obligation toward citizens of other countries, “other” people who come from “other” places.

Sanctuary is also a central word in this week’s parasha.  Parashat T’rumah introduces the extensive instructions for building the Mishkan, or Tabernacle.  The Mishkan is built for a practical reason:  to house luchot habrit (the Tablets of the Law).  Its spiritual purpose is articulated in the parasha: “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell b’tocham, among them.”  (Exodus 25:8)  Classic commentaries note the use of “b’tocham,” (among them), rather than “b’tocho,” (within it) indicating the Mishkan is a symbol of God’s presence among the people of Israel since God does not need a physical abode.

But refugees and immigrants do need a home.  The Mishkan in the wilderness is a real place where real things happen that serves a symbolic function.  Modern sanctuary cities are real places where real things happen that ask a very real question:  what does sacred space look like today and who is allowed to enter it?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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