Downshifting into the Details... and Tuning into the Big Picture Too!

Why -- it's easy to wonder -- does the Torah spend almost the same amount of time and energy walking us through the intricate blueprints for the construction of the mishkan/ Tabernacle, that it does moving through our most important meta-narratives such as yetziat mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) and revelation at Mount Sinai?

This week in our Torah cycle, we arrive at Parashat Terumah, and the Torah down-shifts abruptly into a lower gear!

Why -- it's easy to wonder -- does the Torah spend almost the same amount of time and energy walking us through the intricate blueprints for the construction of the mishkan/ Tabernacle, that it does moving through our most important meta-narratives such as yetziat mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) and revelation at Mount Sinai?  

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the 13th Century commentator also known as Nachmanides or Ramban) explains, "the secret of the mishkan is that the glory of God that dwelt on Mount Sinai also hiddenly dwells upon it." In other words, Ramban posits that the Tabernacle offers the Israelites an ongoing taste of the defining moment of Revelation on Mount Sinai. The Torah portion's specific measurements, detailed materials lists (acacia wood, gold, fine linens and goat hair, etc.), construction guidelines, and ritual rules are all the means, rather than the ends themselves. The many details are all designed to help the Israelites experience the Divine Presence in an ongoing way.

At Kavana, similarly, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the many details. (Just keep reading below for a long list of programs, descriptions, times and locations, and you'll probably see what I mean!) For myself, I know that sometime I feel like I take a detour down a rabbit hole when I spend hours working on curriculum for a specific program, lining up volunteers for a task, planning a single life-cycle event, or (recently) thinking about who our community's next rabbinic fellow should be. However, as is the case with the mishkan, all of these are the planks, poles, rings, and walls -- that is, the component parts -- in a larger system that echoes our history and points us towards a holier purpose. Both the details (the means) and the higher purpose (the ends) are of utmost importance; it's impossible to have one without the other!

At our February Havdalah Club program, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders had the chance to dig into the theme of kedusha (holiness) together and explore its meaning with our educators Maxine, Sprout and Cara. While there were certainly important points of debate (for example, the kids wondered, can a trip to Disneyland be classified as "holy"?), there was consensus that the concept of kedusha contains elements of "separate" and "special," and could be applied to time, space and relationships. For me, that notion of kedusha corresponds most closely to "uplift" -- that is, it implies a sense of higher connection and elevated purpose. 

Today, we are thousands of years removed from those ancestors who built the mishkan to take the Sinai experience with them as they wandered in the wilderness. But, we too continue their mission, in striving to build a holy community together. Parashat Terumah reminds us that when we pay careful attention to the countless small details of our work and our lives, we too have the potential to glimpse connection, transcendence, and uplift. What could possibly matter more, and be more worthy of our effort?

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum

P.S. - I had wanted to end this note with wishes for a happy month of Adar, as today and tomorrow are Rosh Chodesh Adar (the beginning of the month of the joyous holiday Purim). However, my heart is heavy today thinking about the senseless loss of life that has come with yet another mass shooting. So many kids. Unthinkable. 

My colleague Rabbi Jesse Olitzky’s words yesterday resonated with me — he wrote: “I don’t need thoughts and prayers from politicians. I’m a rabbi. We have the prayer department covered. I need politicians to do their jobs and pass laws so our children aren’t scared to go to school and parents don’t worry that each goodbye in the morning might be their last.” 

Returning to the theme above, sensible gun legislation, better access to quality mental health services, and addressing hatred and violence as a society are all planks that very much need to be on our radar screens, as we seek to build a society premised on the ultimate value of each human life and the principles of compassion and dignity. Hug a child today, or a friend or a colleague. Make a demanding phone call to a legislator who’s shilling for the NRA (or call the White House, for that matter). Donate to Rabbis Against Gun Violence or Moms Demand Action or any other organization you like that's working day in and day out to turn your fundamental Jewish values into policy. And yes, pray too - that is indeed our department. 

May we all be comforted so that we can experience the joy of Adar!