Parshat Terumah focuses on the construction of the 'Mishkan' (Tabernacle), a portable tent filled with sacred objects used in early Jewish ritual. What is the purpose of this building? Why would Israel want a portable building, or any building at all? Isn't a 'brit' (covenant) with the God of the universe sufficient? Apparently not.
All of us yearn after transcendence of some sort. For some people, transcendence is the ideal of the good or the beautiful; for others, it is a sense of awe at the workings of nature and the subtleties of the human mind. For yet others, transcendence subsumes those previous categories in a striving after the Holy. But transcendence, by itself, is a rather distant and inaccessible quality.
Our human nature seeks relationship, so we search for ways to enter into relationship with the unreachable. We launch rockets into space, plumb the depths of the oceans and look deep into human history and human emotion to grasp a sense of identity with transcendence in all its starkness.
For the Jews, from the very beginning, our sense of transcendence has borne a personality. We call the transcendent "God." And we seek, through community, value and deed to build a relationship with God -- a relationship which simultaneously respects God's transcendence while also accommodating our need to love and to be loved.
The 'Mishkan' was a representation of that love. Moses and the Jewish people built a building in which they could concretize their lofty conceptions of the living God. In the 'Mishkan,' the voice of God could be sought, just as it had reverberated during the encounter at Sinai.
Rabbi Moses Nachmanides (13th Century Spain and Israel) articulates that insight when he writes that "the secret of the 'Mishkan' is that the glory which abode upon Mount Sinai openly should abide upon it in a concealed manner." The Mishkan is a portable, internalized Sinai. With that moving building, the Jews could carry a representation of their bond with God throughout their wanderings. In each place, they could see a physical emblem of their special 'brit' with God.
And we? At what do we gaze to remember that same special 'brit?' Our generation has to look no further than our own book shelf, our own community, and our own homeland.
Do you want a reminder of your love for God and of God's love for you? Pick up a Jewish book (the Torah with a commentary is a good place to start). Involve yourself in a synagogue (where the People of the Covenant will help activate the spark inside of you). Visit Israel (where our ancient holy language lives in the mouths of our own people). We are loved. And we can yet share that love.