This week's Torah portion, T'rumot, contains a powerful and oft-quoted verse from Torah, Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them. (Exodus 25:6)
Enlisting Moses as the world's first chair of a capital campaign, God commands the Israelites to build a sanctuary. What follows is a master plan - so many cubits for the ark, this color paint for the artwork ... everyone is encouraged to give what they can. One of the things that has always inspired me about this portion is that it reminds us that all of us must give of ourselves - it's not for a small, wealthy minority. It's for everyone.
The word, T'rumot, the name of our portion, is interesting. It's often translated as "gifts" or "charity." The word's root meaning means, "to elevate." The Israelites give their gifts. They give their wealth and their time and their talents, and by these actions, they are elevated. The community becomes stronger and more cohesive.
Thinking about this meaning, we see that this portion of T'rumah isn't simply about a fundraising campaign for a sanctuary. It's about the need for constant engagement with each other, with our community and society. Sometimes, the giving of T'rumot can be joyful, such as making a pledge to donate to our new sanctuary, or providing treats to friends on Purim, or helping a DACA student apply to college. But sometimes, T'rumot can be painful. These are no less necessary.
There have been 18 school shootings since the beginning of the year. And our country has done nothing to stop them. God asks us: Where are our T'rumot?
When I was a teenager, I remember that there was a nation-wide spike in deaths related to drinking and driving. Thanks to advocacy groups, the anger and sadness of our communities, and the thoughtful thinking of lawmakers, steps were put in place. And over time, there has a been a decrease in these deaths.
I don't understand why the same isn't true for gun violence. 90% of all Americans support sensible measures for gun violence prevention such as universal background checks. 90% of all Americans, gun owners included. This is an astonishing super-majority - I'd be surprised if 90% of us in this sanctuary could agree about anything - but despite 90% of Americans feeling the need for some kind of gun reform, these desires have not yet translated into policies.
God asked Moses to collect T'rumot from the Israelites. The Israelites gave of themselves - their skills, their wealth, their time, their intelligence. You know what they did not do? They did not offer "thoughts and prayers." Thoughts and prayers do not build the synagogue. Thoughts and prayers do not elevate our society.
It's time for us to demand better for ourselves and our children. Check to see if lawmakers have taken money from the NRA. Call our senators and congressmen and congresswomen more. Advocate for sensible gun reform. Because it is our T'rumot that define us, not our thoughts and prayers.
Our portion teaches us that no one person built the Mishkan alone. Everyone must give, a little bit at a time, until it is an unstoppable force. Likewise, change isn't magic, it doesn't depend on a miracle. It depends on us and our actions. Will we give them, will we elevate ourselves? Will we allow God to dwell amongst us once again? I hope that our T'rumot answers the question.