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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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Parashat Terumah 5781

Posted on February 19, 2021

Feb. 19th, 2021

Dancing the Mishkan

When my kids were little, I used to do little dances with them after they did something especially good. A couple of months ago I did something that particularly pleased my daughter Arielle who lives with us and she said, “Ima, we are going to do a ‘hurray you did that special thing’ dance” and we did. I don’t remember what it was that I did to deserve the dance, but I do remember how warm it made me feel and how it made me laugh with joy. 

Have you ever wondered why the various models of the mishkan desert tabernacle that have been constructed based on the detailed written blueprint in the Torah are all different? The instructions are given with great technical precisions. All we have to do is follow the directions. Why don’t the models come out identical?

The Torah, of course, is not illustrated, and neither were the plans that the mishkan’s expert artists (or were they artisans? or architects?) Betzalel and Oholiav were given. Interestingly, four(!) different times in parashat terumah, a set of directions concludes with a reference to something _shown_ to Moses. What did he see up there on Mount Sinai?  Some commentators conclude that Moshe was shown diagrams of what he was to build, or maybe a model. Other commentators suggest that Moshe got to see a heavenly Tabernacle, an otherworldly mishkan, upon which the desert mishkan was to be based. But Betzalel and Ohiliav were given only words of description to build upon, not visual aids. 

Likewise, we have the words, but anyone who has layned parashat Terumah –or tried to build a model of the mishkan using its words– would pay good money for a simple blueprint. Our words are sometimes inadequate. Sometimes we need to go beyond words. 

There is a story in the Talmud about a certain Rabbi Peraida who had enormous patience. If he explained a passage to a student 400 times and the student still did not get it, he would not give up on the student. He would repeat his words 400 more times! We can be impressed with Rabbi Peraida’s patience and exasperated with him at the same time. He used his words 400 times and it did not work! Why did he not draw a picture or design a chart or provide manipulatives to help his student understand? Why didn’t he dance a dance? Sometimes words are not enough. 

And so it is in our own lives. Words are important. But sometimes they are inadequate. When our messages do not seem to be getting through, when the pictures we think we are painting with our words do not seem to be received, that is when we need to seek other modes of communication, non-verbal or at least not-only-verbal modes of communication. 

Next week is Purim. One of the mitzvot of Purim is giving mishloah manot, gifts of food, to our friends and neighbors. That is an example of communicating by showing rather than by saying. When we send an emoji or a meme or a video clip, that can be a way to communicate by showing rather than by saying. We may bake bread — or hamentaschen. We may offer flowers or a song — or a dance. We may do a favor, or where safe, we may give a hug. We may issue an invitation to us in a special mitzvah that we are doing or in a special experience that we are having. 

This week of parashat terumah when we read the words of how the mishkan was constructed let us think about ways to communicate through showing and not just telling, just as Moshe was shown the mishkan on the mountain. And when we enhance our communication, let us celebrate.