Shabbat Shekalim: God has his place in our midst

This Shabbat, we are going to read the end of the second Book of the Torah, Parasha P’kudei. Because this year is a leap year in the Jewish calendar, this Shabbat is also Shabbat Sh’kalim.

Shabbat Sh’kalim is the first of four special Shabbatot in spring, guiding us towards Pessach. Therefore, a special Maftir – a final reading – from a second Torah scroll supplements the traditional reading of the Torah and a special Haftarah is read. For Shabbat Sh’kalim the Maftir is taken from Parashat KiTisa (2M30.11-16), the Torah portion we just read two weeks ago, and the Haftarah from the 2nd books of Kings (12,1-17).

The connecting theme is the “Dwelling place of God”, the Tabernacle/the Temple, and how the Israelites contributed to its construction.

Our sages took this as a model, when they instituted Shabbat Sh’kalim as a reminder for all of us to contribute to our Jewish communities, till today.

But why, one can ask, is the theme of contribution so strongly connected to the dwelling place of God?

Let me share with you the following idea:

The very beginning of God’s instructions for the new Tabernacle starts with a word from the Eternal to Moshe:

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me offerings; you shall accept offerings for Me from every person whose heart is so moved” (Ex. 25.1-2)

The Hebrew word for offerings, which is used in this quote, as well as in our Maftir, is TERUMAH, offerings for God.

But these offerings are not the animal sacrifices, not the “KORBANOT” we often encounter in the Torah. And they aren’t the offerings we give for charity, ZEDAKA.
 Meant are special levies for the building of the Tabernacle.
 In later times – as we can understand it from our Haftarah – these donations were used for the maintenance of the temple.
 Today, we should understand it as a contribution to the infrastructure of the community; for example the building and maintenance of our Synagogue.

But let me direct your attention again to the second half of our quote: “from every person whose heart is so moved”.

We shouldn’t make the mistake to understand Terumah only as a monetary donation. This may be one way of support, but silver and gold are only symbols for other things, we can give.
 It can be a cake for a Bracha (Kiddush),
 the offer of help, when something needs to be prepared or done in the Synagogue,
 or the visit of people who are sick or lonely.
 Sometimes, “just coming to the prayer services” can be a big contribution.

Today, I think, the offering of TIME is one of the most valuable “things” we can give to our community.
Jewish services aren’t solely meant to praise and worship God. There is also the concept of meeting other people. The Torah calls the tabernacle also the “tent of meeting”, because – to borrow an idea from Martin Buber – we can only meet God in dialog. Coming together and spending time together, that’s worship as well. Wherever we meet, we are creating a place for God to be.

Once, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk asked his students, where God is at home on this world. His students laughed and answered quickly: What a question, isn’t the whole world filled by the Shechina (the presence) of God? But the rabbi stayed earnest and answered his own question: God is there, where WE let him in.

All the readings of the last weeks about the building of the tabernacle sound like a huge task, hardly manageable, but when we realize that it starts with an offering, coming from the heart, and mainly means to get together with others, to create a real community by spending time together, than God has his place in our midst and dwells among us.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian Michael Schell​
Schabbat Shekalim 5774 @ Bet David, Johannesburg ZA

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