February 2020 – Parshat Terumah

In 1952 in a small and shabby apartment in Bnei Brak a ‘summit meeting’ occurred between two seemingly polar opposite sides of Israeli society.

Founding father and Prime Minister David Ben Gurion arrived specifically at this Orthdox enclave in order to conduct a meeting with the spiritual head of the Ultra-Orthdox movement Rabbi Avraham Kareltiz famously known as the ‘Chazon Ish’. The primary goal of this meeting was in order to ‘iron out’ certain details surrounding religion and state in the newborn Israeli society- mainly centering around the issue of enlistment of haredi Jews in the IDF.

Despite their stark differences, the meeting was by all accounts friendly and amicable. Ben Gurion even wrote in his personal diary that the meeting was held “in a good spirit and with much laughter, lacking in a zealot’s anger.” Ultimately the two men were even able to reach an agreement in which a limited amount of Orthdox men were able to receive army exemption in order to maintain their rigorous Torah studies.

However when we contextualize this agreement, it should be understood that it was nothing short of revolutionary.

How could it be that the ardently secular Ben Gurion and the zealously devout Chazon Ish meet in the same room, let alone come to such an unconventional agreement?

These two great leaders of seemingly opposite ends of world Jewry understood that in order to build a cohesive and successful society, contributions – however “painful”- must be made by all parties.

This notion is nonetheless not new or foreign to Judaism, as seen in this week’s Parsha Terumah which literally means ‘contribution’.

At the opening of this week’s Torah portion, G-d instructs Moshe to command all of Israel to bring donations for the construction of the Mishkan (Temple) – the designated house of worship for the Israelites during their travels in the desert.

However, why was it necessary for all of Israel including man, woman and child to contribute?

Such a responsibility should have been exclusively granted to the priests who were tasked as being the select few allowed to serve in the Mishkan.

In short, G-d wanted each Israelite to contribute in the Mishkan’s construction because the ‘Temple of the desert’ was no mere regular edifice – but rather the epicentre of Jewish spiritual and societal life in which everyone was to have a role.

Hashem’s commandment of building the Mishkan, signified that every individual has a contribution to be made in the betterment of their wider community. No person was to be overlooked or ignored in improving the Israelite society.

This message isn’t a ‘once-off lesson,’ but still highly relevant today.

This past week, Australians were all rocked by two distressful stories. First the heart-wrenching video of the bullied 9-year old Quaden Bayles and secondly the shocking murder of Hannah Baxter and her children by her estranged husband.

How are we meant to respond to such tragic events?

I’m not sure there is a clear answer.

Society does not dictate a set amount that one must donate to Rizeup Australia (an organization which fights against domestic violence) or to young Quaden Bayle’s GoFundMe campaign to send him to Disneyland.

However, as it says in the opening verse of this week’s Parsha “‘asher libo yediveno tichu’- every person whose heart inspires them, should give generously.”

As Jews, Australians and simply as humans it must engrave within us the constant desire to better our surroundings. Whether in words, action or donation we are tasked with the responsibility to contribute to the best of our abilities.

At the Ark Centre this is something we strive to do daily.

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