Is Half of a Cubit Really That Important?! (T'rumot)

You maybe remember that this Torah portion, Parashat T'rumah is the first example of a synagogue's capital campaign. God tells Moses that the Israelites should give generously in order to hopefully be able to build a new synagogue in Athens, GA ... Sorry, that's not quite right ... but God does command the constrcution of the first synogugue. This is what God tells Moses:

Speak to the children of Israel that they shall take a donation for me. You shall take my donation from every man whose heart will move him. And this is the donation that you shall take from them: gold and silver and bronze and blue and purple and scarlet and linen and goats' hair and rams' skins .... While I'm talking about it, if you feel so moved, please feel free to leave behind your goats' hair and rams' skins tonight.

God asks for donations, T'rumot. As I've commented upon in past years, each member of the community was expected to give, yet another inspiration for modern fundraising attempts. Some gifts were large and some were small. Some were gifts of supplies and others were monetary donations. Some gifts were the crafting of art works, and some were the leadership of the community.

The important takeaway is that each person gave gifts from his or her own unique and special gifts.

The second verse of the portion provides an insight: Speak to the children of Israel that they shall take a donation for me. This can be read two ways. One is very functional. The donation will be for the sanctuary, which as God later states, will be a place of God's dwelling. So quite literally, it will be a donation for God. But another way of reading it highlights the fact that a donation or a gift only because a T'rumah when it is done with a whole heart, in the service of God. It is the intention that makes it a donation for God.

If you go through this Torah portion, you'll see that it reads almost like architectural blueprints. You shall make a table of acacia woo, its length two cubits and its width a cubit and its height a cubit and a half. Here's another: You shall make an atonement dais of pure gold, its length two and a half cubits and its width a cubit and a half. I promise I'm not going to quiz you later on your cubits recollection, but these are just two examples of the specificity involved in creating the Tabernacle.

These examples, and many others throughout T'rumah, delineate a measurement of a half of a cubit. A cubit is the length of your forearm, often measured as the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. The length of half of that distance is not special in any significant way.

But these half-cubits are essential to understanding a wonderful message about Judaism, charity, and gifts. The half-measures of all of these physical structures mirror the fact that without the guiding principles of the Torah, each of us are like all those halves of a cubit - incomplete.

Remember, after the construction of the Tabernacle, there's a whole lot of Torah left. It's not the end of a process. It's the continuation of a journey. The collecting of the donations and the organization of everyone involved and the building and fixing ... it's an incredible achievement ... But without Torah, it's only half.

Perhaps like some of you, I can't read this portion and not think about the excitement surrounding the prospect of a new and renovation sanctuary for us to dwell in. It will require patience. It will require creativity. It will require compromise and teamwork. But mostly, it will require T'rumot. Yes, money and donations and artwork and things that can be measured in cubits. But more importantly, like the Israelites that built the first sanctuary, it will require T'rumot for a higher purpose, for God, for Torah, for holiness. Our donations combined with our faith and righteousness will create a whole sanctuary, and as this Torah portion says, God will most certainly dwell within.

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