Cantor Peicott's Shabbat Message - February 16, 2024

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Cantor Peicott's Shabbat Message - February 16, 2024

According to research done in 2020 by the Hallmark corporation, 145 million cards are exchanged, 18 million stems of roses are purchased, and 1 billion dollars worth of chocolate are sold each year on the 14th of February. This makes Valentine’s Day the second biggest gift giving holiday, next to the Christmas season.

Now, I know what you are thinking, Cantor there is nothing Jewish about Valentine’s Day, and you are partially right, but let me explain. Our tradition has its own day, Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, that is dedicated to the concept of abundant and baseless love. But the idea and the importance of a gift leads right back to the Torah itself.

This week’s parashah, Terumah, teaches us the significance and purpose of building the mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried through the desert, as well as the many detailed instructions on how to build it.

The parashah opens with:

 “God spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (Terumah); you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.”(Ex. 25:1-2). 

A 19th century Hassidic commentary, Maor V’Shemesh Hashalem, cites the parashah's opening verse, and poses a very interesting question:

‘“The Eternal spoke to Moses saying: Tell the Israelites that they should bring me an offering, from every person whose heart is willing, bring for me a gift” (Exodus 25:1-2). Grammatically, we must ask why it says a “gift,” which connotes raising up?’

This question brought me back to my 1st year biblical Hebrew class, and the word used for an offering or gift, terumah. In that Hebrew word are the root letters, resh and mem. These two letters can form words that mean to lift up, raise up, or make higher, and so on. The idea is that when we give a gift, we are elevated to a higher place. That we become closer to God, or to holiness itself. 

Sometimes our presence is a gift -- when we show up at a house of mourning, when we bring food when someone is ill, or when we simply just show up for another person in time of need or time of joy. 

Sometimes our skills are a gift -- whether writing,  needlework, baking, cooking, party planning, carpentry or even grant-writing. 

Sometimes our time is a gift- the precious and sacred time that we spend with our family, our friends, our loved ones. The time we choose to reconnect and re-engage with the people who mean most to us.

And of course sometimes our actual money is a gift. "Ein kemach, ein Torah," the Talmud teaches: without food, there is no Torah. 

What matters isn't how much we give, or in what form. What matters is that we feel moved to give in the first place. The more of ourselves we give, the more connected we feel towards whatever we're giving to. This connectedness to one another,  is where I believe the presence of God dwells.

I will leave you with my absolute favorite line of Torah, which also comes from this week's portion, “Terumah”

Ve'asu li mikdash veshachanti betocham” 

Make for me a sanctuary​, so that I may dwell within them. (Exodu​s 25:8)

The message of this week’s Torah portion is simple and yet so incredibly profound. God doesn’t live in a house of brick and mortar, God’s presence lives in the hearts of those who give.

Shabbat Shalom,

Cantor Lisa Peicott