Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What can Parashat Teruma teach us about public prayer?

The glory of the LORD was on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the children of Israel saw the appearance of the glory of the LORD as a devouring fire on the top of the mount. And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount; and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.  And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:  ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every person whose heart makes him willing you ‎‎(pl.) shall take My offering…  gold, silver, and brass; and blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair… And let them make Me a sanctuary (or “tabernacle,” Hebrew, “mishkan”), that I may dwell among them.                (Exodus 24:16-25: 1-4, 8).
The beginning of Parashat Teruma is in the middle of the above section. When the details of the Tabernacle’s construction are read not as the beginning of a new parasha but as a direct continuation of the revelation of God’s glory at the end of last week’s reading, the transition is sudden. Umberto Cassuto explains that the mishkan is necessary to maintain the connection between the people and God once they move away from Mount Sinai.

The mishkan is not intended to enshrine the memory of Mount Sinai, to be a static monument to a one-time event. Rather it is a focal point where that connection can continue and even become bi-directional. Therefore, the Torah says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” God does not reside in the mishkan, but rather among people who built it. Note also the transitions between singular and plural in the commandment to collect contributions. Each individual contributes as he or she desires and the collective, the community gathers the contributions, so that its agents can create the mishkan.

At Sinai, the entire people stood at the foot of the mountain and God spoke to them in the singular, addressing each one individually. Neither Moses nor master-craftsman Bezalel are capable of building the mishkan without the people’s contributions. The individual and the community need each other.
What was true in the past remains true today. This sanctuary, too, was built through the cooperative efforts of many people. It, too, is not intended to be a static monument but rather a place of prayer that is welcoming to individuals and groups.

What is true for the building is also true about the prayer services held within it. Public prayer is created out of the prayers of individuals, who join together in the community.  The leader cannot create it alone. The contribution of each willing heart is also necessary. The tabernacle was built of gold, silver & brass; wood, fabric & skins. Public Jewish prayer is constructed mostly of words. Sometimes we have trouble praying with intention, our mood wanders. At those times, the prayer book, which contains the collective experience the Jewish people in prayer, provides us as a map, showing us the way back. Attentive reading creates emotion and intention, if we take the first step.

In the introduction to Ve’ani Tefilati, Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum wrote words of encouragement. I will quote just a few but it’s worthwhile to read them all:
You are entering the gates of prayer, enter with confidence and do not fear, since the soul prays continuously. The Jewish prayer book is an experienced guide that helps individuals perfect their prayers and join together as a community… You are entering the gates of prayer, enter so you will leave changed. Prayer is an opportunity to look on the reality of life and the reality of the world honestly, with gratitude and hope… Don’t be a spectator, be a partner… Don’t hesitate pray with the community… Prayer spreads your wings, it is a runway for the human spirit, so it can to take off in gratitude for the morning light or in the darkness of sorrow, from which new hope always arises.
May it be God’s will that this sanctuary will be a place of prayer where Solomon’s prayer for the Temple is answered: “May any prayer or plea made by any person in this House be heard.” (2 Chron. 6:29-30)

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